Aired 11 March – 1 April 1967
Warning about superficial judgments and channeling some of the totalitarian themes of George Orwell’s seminal 1984, ‘The Macra Terror’ is yet another lost story with often overlooked merits in part because of the rather dubious photographic stills of the titular crablike foes.
Fascinatingly, although the Macra have taken over complete control of the human colony and enslaved its denizens, the majority of the humans themselves are completely oblivious and believe that life is wonderful thanks to some very clever propaganda and more insidious brainwashing. As the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie arrive and are initially treated to the splendours of this holiday environment, there are also odd warnings that anyone who breaks curfew will be punished as the ever more sinister broadcasts from Control insist on continuing work for continuing happiness. Even more disturbingly, most of the people who have at least a notion that something may not quite be right are still quite content to leave things as they are, either because they are afraid of change or because they enjoy some degree of power within the current system. The truly dark side of this setup manifests in the mines where those deemed unhappy are literally worked to death.
While this sort of forced and uniform happiness could easily cause the episode to falter, the nuance of the major guest characters helps to sell their plight. This is perhaps best exemplified with Peter Jeffrey’s Pilot and Gertan Klauber’s Ola, both characters in powerful positions but the former sincerely concerned about the colonists while the latter simply enjoys using his power to deal with others. As the one real voice of dissent shown, Terence Lodge’s Medok undergoes a fascinating journey as, knowing that monsters are at large behind the scenes, he comes to realize that the colonists don’t want to hear his truths.
‘The Macra Terror’ is also the story that best utilizes this large TARDIS crew, Ben and Jamie both having meaningful roles for the first time. With Ben succumbing to the effects of brainwashing, Michael Craze does very well in portraying a conflicted character trying to choose between his friends and what he believes in the common good and later denies what he has seen to keep his mental conditioning intact. This setup also allows Polly to be the one to challenge his new beliefs without causing any unwanted hostility. Though it is Ben who ultimately brings about the downfall of the Macra, the majority of the story thrusts Jamie into a more heroic role, showcasing his quick thinking and bravery better than any story so far. However, it’s Patrick Troughton himself who really steals the show, his Doctor at his most proactive as he searches for the lurking menace he saw glimpses of on his time scanner. He shows a fierce loyalty to his friends while encouraging the colonists to think for themselves and humorously giving himself full marks when deserved.
Without the advent of the visual medium, it’s hard to say how effective the Macra props were used and whether they helped or hindered the production. However, the silent and behind-the-scenes nature of their intelligent threat is certainly brought to life effectively regardless. With this setup, it’s not hard to realize why the Macra were only utilized once in the classic series, but they certainly provide a unique and suitable menace for an episode that really highlights its leads and core guest characters.