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"?

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


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 this time it must centre on a monster, and the giant Macra crabs are not very fully developed as a species with a credible backstory or motivation. How the contrived situation on this Earth colony could have realistically developed is something never satisfactorily answered on television, however the plot is structured in such a way that you won't miss that until the story ends and you realize that not all of the questions raised were answered.


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 what does work in terms of dystopian brain-washing is the gas-hypnotization of the colonists as they sleep, and episode two brings this front and center extremely well. Not that the hypnotic voice is all that great, but rather Michael Craze's performance, and the lines that Black gives Ben in the script are what really sell the idea. Ben wants to help the colonists out and do his fair share, that's all. Very noble characteristic. Tough to argue against.

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.

Ben nearly makes a disgrace out of his last fully-featured adventure with the Doctor, but redeems himself at the last minute, going out in all the glory of being the prime sidekick. Jamie, whose simple straight-forward goodness is a major credit to him throughout the story, winds up more as comic relief in the final episode, though he gets no dramatic support from the cheerleading idiots hamming themselves into lyrical redundancy in the rehearsal room.

The conspiracy of secrecy, combined with the fear of unknown truths, are the true menaces of this adventure. As giant crabs, the Macra are not really scary. As glimpses of unknown, behind the scenes, string-pulling power-wielders, they are excellent dramatic devices. It also sends an odd chill down the spine when they panic and become desperate, as conveyed by the control voices over the loudspeaker system - they are abandoning their benevolent-seeming plans..... is some more deadly course of action about to be taken up? There's some really good stuff in this adventure.

The story does wrap up a little too quickly, and the final scene has nothing going for it with the time-travelers making their exit by dancing to more gay music with the TARDIS nowhere in sight, or in ear-shot for that matter. Indeed, this story may belong, as does "The Savages", to the small collection of Doctor Who stories in which no one dies, but the case is not clear-cut. The ending begs for some explanations, but none are given. As with "The Three Doctors" (story no. 65), there may indeed be deaths, but none of these are confirmed. The deaths of some Macra creatures are implied when warnings of danger are discussed earlier in the final episodes, and the event later becomes a split-second reality. What actually went down is 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 In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Faceless Ones"



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