The Macra Terror

This story is not known to exist in its original format
(4 black-and-white 25-minute TV episodes)
in its entirety.
See below for clips available on DVD / video CD Audio
(Doctor Who Story No. 34, starring Patrick Troughton)
  • written by Ian Stuart Black
  • directed by John Davies
  • produced by Innes Lloyd
  • music by Dudley Simpson (incidental), John Baker (source), and Wilfred Johns (jingles)
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Ben and Polly are pleased to enjoy the good life and holiday pampering offered to them by an idyllic society on a colonized planet in the future, but the Doctor and Jamie are more skeptical. Why are those who protest sent to a mental correction center? What exactly is the "hard work" that the colony's inhabitants so joyfully put their hearts and souls into? What is their refined gas used for, if not for heating or fuel? Is it true that giant crab-like creatures lurk and crawl through the streets at night? Is it just colony propaganda that there are no such things as "Macra"?

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)


Writer Ian Stuart Black is back with another dystopia for the Doctor to unravel. This one perhaps doesn't work quite as well as "The Savages" (story no. 26) in terms of the story making sense, because many of the characters aren't in fact developed well enough to make the set-up of today's situation credible.


As a model of perfect happiness, the colony presented in this story will not appeal to any but the most simple, tasteless, blind followers. Their whole daily routine revolves around music, as the colony's "Pilot" proudly announces, and it is probably the least palatable sections that will stick out and leave the most lasting impression on the viewer/listener. Much of Dudley Simpson's incidentals backing tense encounters and possible encounters with creatures are cheesy and random, sounding almost as though they are played on some synthesizer organ with one finger, and as though they were made up in the moment as the story was being taped live, with awkward pauses as well, as though the musician was desperately panicking to figure out what he should play next. This material competes strongly for the honour of being Simpson's worst ever for Doctor Who, and really doesn't work well for those scenes. It's no wonder so many other directors preferred BBC library music.

Yet another musician was hired to produce "jingles" for the story, which are even worse. Realistically speaking, the jingles are more likely to motivate people into instant passionate rebellion as they attempt to silence the vocalists. This story, as scripted, needs music that will hypnotically take you into states of contentedness and mindless submission whether you intend it or not. But instead of catchy tunes and jingles, we get revolting ones, which really just makes "The Macra Terror" an unpleasant experience for the viewer/listener.

"What about John Baker's `Time In Advance' track?" ask those who, like me, enjoy listening to it on the Radiophonic 60's Doctor Who CD. Yes this is a great and appropriate piece of music for the story. Trouble is, its one and only appearance in the finished TV episodes is very brief and almost inaudible under a wash of dialogue surrounding Troughton's antics in episode one. Had it been used front and center and more often, like Mr. Simpson's music, it might have a chance to weigh in better towards the story's ratings.

Alright, the music doesn't work (understatement), but other dystopian brain-washing techniques do, and episode two brings this front and center extremely well. Michael Craze's performance as Ben, and the lines that Black gives Ben in the script, really help sell many of the tale's critical ideas.

Music by Dudley Simpson and John Baker;
Sound Effects by Brian Hodgson
:
Heartbeat Chase (Hodgson, 1:57),
Chromophone Band (Simpson, 1:56),
Controller Chimes (Hodgson, 0:10),
Musak - from "Time in Advance" (Baker, 3:19), and
Propaganda sleep machine (Hodgson, 1:08)
are available on:
Audio CD -
Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Volume 1:
The Early Years 1963-1969

Find out more here.

Quality in "The Macra Terror" changes radically from scene to scene, going from dramatically excellent to excruciatingly bad throughout - a really decent Troughton adventure could be salvaged from the original footage, IF the trash was edited out and/or pared down, and the dialogueless action/suspense scenes had their soundtrack overhauled. The bad stuff is worse than "The Underwater Menace" (story no. 32), but has virtually no impact on plot, making it very disposable/replaceable. And what is left afterwards is a fairly intelligent drama.

The Macra creatures of this story are only really working on a level other than the obvious.... but on that level they are working well. To avoid spoilers, I'll only say more in the in-depth analysis version of this review. There's some really good stuff in this adventure.

The story does wrap up a little too quickly, and the final scene has very little going for it. The ending begs for some explanations and details, but none are given. What actually happens is somewhat left as a matter for speculation.


All in all, "The Macra Terror" is a sci-fi social drama with much potential, but lacking severely in many areas of execution.



Doctor Who: Lost in Time - Patrick Troughton
2 DVD discs

(also included in Lost in Time Boxed Sets)

Coverage on The Macra Terror includes:
  • censor clips from episodes 2 & 3 (1 min.)
  • 8mm off-screen clips from episode 3 (1 min.)
More details & buying options for "Lost in Time" DVD's
Audio CD - Doctor Who - The Macra Terror.

This audio CD set features the complete audio tracks of all 4 television episodes of this story, narrated by actor Colin Baker (who also played the sixth Doctor) to help listeners follow what used to be visual aspects of the story. (This is the only story to reuse the narration from the cassette version [see below] on the subsequent CD.) This version is playable in any normal audio CD player.
Audio Cassette - The Macra Terror (2 tapes).
This earlier release of the audio from the television episodes is narrated by actor Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor).

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Faceless Ones"



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