The Macra Terror ★★★★

The Doctor must save a human colony from insidious crab-like parasites

60

Season 4 – Story 34

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“Our ancestors believed in the virtues of healthy happiness, and we have tried to keep their ideals alive. Sometimes, alas, it is necessary to use force” – the Pilot

Storyline
In the distant future the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly visit an apparently contented Earth colony resembling a huge holiday camp. But the inhabitants, under mind control, are mining a gas that is poisonous to humans but vital to the survival of crab-like creatures called the Macra. Ben turns against his friends after subjection to the aliens’ evil influence, but eventually comes to his senses. With the Doctor’s help, he destroys the gas extraction controls, killing the Macra and liberating the humans.

First transmissions
Episode 1 – Saturday 11 March 1967
Episode 2 – Saturday 18 March 1967
Episode 3 – Saturday 25 March 1967
Episode 4 – Saturday 1 April 1967

Production
Location filming: February 1967 at Associated Portland Cement quarry, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Filming: February 1967 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: March 1967 at Lime Grove D

Cast
Doctor Who – Patrick Troughton
Polly – Anneke Wills
Ben Jackson – Michael Craze
Jamie McCrimmon – Frazer Hines
The Pilot – Peter Jeffrey
Ola – Gertan Klauber
Medok – Terence Lodge
The Controller – Graham Leaman
Officia – John Harvey
Chicki – Sandra Bryant/Karol Keyes
Alvis – Anthony Gardner
Barney – Graham Armitage
Questa – Ian Fairbairn
Sunnaa – Jane Enshawe
Broadcast voice – Richard Beale
Control voice – Denis Goacher
Macra operator – Robert Jewell

Crew
Writer – Ian Stuart Black
Incidental music – Dudley Simpson
Designer – Kenneth Sharp
Story editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Director – John Davies

RT Review by Mark Braxton
A holiday camp infested with crabs doesn’t sound like somewhere you’d want to go, does it? Fortunately, whatever horrendous experience inspired The Macra Terror, it’s a surreptitiously creepy story, a variation on the camp-under-siege yarn that is structured along similar, snake-in-paradise lines to Ian Stuart Black’s debut story, The Savages. And this one backs up the hidden-horror thrills with an intelligent workout on totalitarianism.

The omens are visible from the off. Beneath all the steam baths, moonlight treatments, refreshing departments and cheerleading sessions there is perturbation and menace. It’s right there in episode one, in the desperate flight of the half-crazed Medok, and in the tannoyed greeting to the time travellers: “Welcome again, friends. Now, back to work everyone!”

While the companions are submitting themselves to assorted leisure activities, the Doctor finds the conviviality disquieting and won’t be jollied along by any old tarting-up machine or Big Brotherly pronouncement. There’s such an atmosphere of fixed-grin bonhomie that you almost expect the campers to be reading copies of the “Tally Ho” and greeting each other with “Be seeing you”.

Into this Orwellian nightmare, Black thrusts the regulars, and his distribution of work among them is remarkably even. The Doctor is by turns caring, curious and calculating; Ben adds a distressing unease to the group dynamic in his brainwash-induced betrayal of his friends; Polly persuasively conveys panic at the lurking beasties (the scene in which she and Ben clutch each other like Hansel and Gretel in the deep, dark forest is especially touching); and Jamie is honourably obstinate throughout (“They’re a weird sort of folk”; “You don’t send a lassie and an old man down to dig”).

Ian Stuart Black’s original decision to call the serial “The Insect-Men” seems to have filtered through to the shooting script, with the Macra referred to several times as “insects”. Giant crabs is what they are! And to begin with their realisation is impressive, their glowing eyes beaming out of the shadows and their flailing claws signalling malign intent. The scene where the Controller is clamped around the neck on screen is pure, Doctor Who magic. But the Macra are, shall we say, lacking personality, so their resurrection by Russell T Davies in 2007’s Gridlock was a surprise, to say the least.

The Macra Terror isn’t without error, and some scenes date it horribly: the rehearsing cheerleaders look like bobbysoxers from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, their “Ra! Ra! Ra!” chant is excruciating, and why the majorettes feel compelled to dance to what sounds like a stylophone with its batteries giving out is a mystery.

The story, continuing the irksome tradition of deleted adventures, had a good cast led by fine journeyman actor Peter Jeffrey as the Pilot. It also saw the debut of the title sequence featuring Troughton’s face – only five stories into his reign, but never mind!

Ian Stuart Black’s output is undervalued. Yes, he gave us The War Machines, but both The Savages and The Macra Terror are top-hole. And, as that great sage of pomp-rock Meat Loaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

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Radio Times archive material

Macra feature
Macra billings

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Annekedotes
“I’ve just done the narration for that [on an AudioGo CD]. It was really dark story. They wouldn’t get away with it now. I’m listening to Michael and me running down corridors with nasty creatures looming out of the darkness, and I want to stop the recording because I’m getting upset. This is so frightening.”

“When it was on telly, my daughter at home was asking, ‘Dad, is Mummy coming at home tonight?’ My character was going up inside the mouth of this ghastly crab with my little white boots kicking about. Being sucked into a monster… What fun!” (Talking to RT, March 2012)

Anneke Wills 2012

RT’s Patrick Mulkern interviews Anneke Wills

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[Soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]