jj

23/07/2011 4:17 PM

The Macra Terror: my review

4 episodes. Approx. 97 minutes. Written by: Ian Stuart Black. Directed
by: John Davies. Produced by: Innes Lloyd.


THE PLOT

The Doctor and his companions arrive at a human colony in the distant
future. The colony appears to by an idyllic place, populated by people
who are happy in their work under the guidance of the kindly Pilot
(Peter Jeffrey) and the patriarchal Controller (Graham Leaman). But
something nasty lurks at the heart of the colony: parasitic monsters
feeding off the Colony's dangerous labors. When the Doctor sees the
insect-like Macra, he and his friends find themselves prisoners,
assigned to "The Danger Gang" - effectively, under sentence of death!


CHARACTERS

The Doctor: The Colony stands for conformity. Throw a nonconformist
like the Doctor into its midst, even as an honored guest, and
resistance is inevitable. And practically instantaneous. When put into
a machine that cleans his suit and leaves him looking like a proper
gentleman, he instantly jumps into another machine to restore his
rumpled appearance. It's a tiny act of resistance, played cheerfully
for laughs, that nevertheless establishes the Doctor's entire
relationship with the Colony. The authorities want him to conform, and
he insists on retaining his individuality. Despite the struggle, the
Doctor remains compassionate in his treatment of the Pilot (a
basically well-meaning man) and the brainwashed Ben. A brief, 8 mm
clip from Episode Three shows the softness in the Doctor's face
matching that in his voice as he talks to Ben about how hard it is "to
struggle against the voices in (his) head." He has far less compassion
for the rigid Ola or the bureaucratic Officia, but the serial as a
whole reinforces the 2nd Doctor's essentially genial nature.

Jamie: The first story in which Jamie registers as something other
than a glorified extra. He's still decidedly in the supporting cast,
but we do get hints of a character emerging. One thing that would come
to define Jamie is his sense of humor even in a crisis, which shows
itself memorably in Episode Four when he pretends to be a dancer to
escape the guards' notice. His dance? "The Highland Fling... because
at the end of it, we fling ourselves out the door!" He is protective
of both the Doctor and Polly when they are assigned to "The Danger
Gang," protesting about giving dangerous jobs to "old men and
lassies."

Ben: Jamie's first decent story as a character is also Ben's last good
one. Ben is the member of the party who is successfully brainwashed by
the Colony's conditioning. He does regain himself temporarily when
Polly is attacked by a Macra, putting himself in harm's way to save
her. Even then, it's a struggle. At first, he can't even see the
Macra, because he has been conditioned to see "nothing evil in the
Colony." The brainwashing reasserts itself after the crisis is clear,
but he spends the second half of the story struggling visibly against
it. Michael Craze's performance is quite solid, as he gets to show a
more earnest side of Ben, notably when he struggles to apologize to
Jamie after reporting him to the guards in Episode Four.

Polly: It's her turn to be a glorified extra. Other than getting
herself into trouble in Episode Two, which temporarily breaks Ben's
conditioning, she basically stands around and provides the Doctor with
someone to talk to as he works things out. Anneke Wills still tries,
but where Polly has any character at all in this story, it's as a
source of useless whimpering... Though the attempt to condition her
does provide a good bit early in the serial, in which the Doctor urges
her to always question rather than just mindlessley obeying.


THOUGHTS

Doctor Who does 1984, and the results are surprisingly excellent. The
cheerful tyranny that is The Colony is expertly portrayed. With the
forced cheer and uniform happiness that pervades the populace, the
setting is downright eerie long before we ever see the monsters. This
was the last of Ian Stuart Black's three Doctor Who scripts, and the
best of the three by a considerable distance. At 4 episodes, it fairly
zips along. It establishes a tyrannical society that at the same time
appears at a glance to be idyllic, and spends the first two episodes
stripping away the cheerful facade to show the truth: The tyrants at
the heart of The Colony are parasitic monsters - In this case,
literally so!

We don't see much of the Macra in The Macra Terror. Which is a good
thing, because the Macra themselves are pitiful - and, thanks to some
censor clips, can be seen in all their very fake (even by 1960's Who
standards) and artificial glory on the Lost in Time DVD set. The
oversize, near-immobile Macra were not quite the last straw for the
BBC's use of Shawcraft Models - but they certainly sped the way toward
the company's dismissal from the BBC payroll, their association with
Doctor Who lasting for only one serial after this. Looking at the
existing footage of this oversize, unthreatening monster, it's not at
all hard to see why. The best thing that can be said for the Macra is
that we rarely see them when they aren't obscured by gas and shadows.

Fortunately, the human monsters are a lot more effective than the
mechanical ones. We see the friendly public faces of tyranny in the
well-meaning Pilot and the image of the strong, confident Controller.
The Pilot is genuinely a decent man, but he is strictly conditioned to
obey Control without question. Meanwhile, the end of Episode Two and
the start of Episode Three show us the reality behind the Controller's
public image: a thin, frail man, seeming frightened and confused as he
is used as a puppet by the Colony's true masters.

The human monsters are rounded out by the sneering Ola, a man who is
cheerful largely because his position allows him to abuse his power at
will. Ola ultimately doesn't care whether the Colony is in the claws
of the Macra. He just wants his own position to be secure. Finally,
there is the bureaucratic Officia, who is... Well, he's appropriately
named. And everywhere, at all times, the false face of Control stares
out from viewscreens, issuing orders which are obeyed without
question.

Though The Macra Terror benefits from an outstanding script, it is a
visually weak production. In addition to the Macra themselves, the
production design is weak. Sets are bland and generic, and from the
existing clips and still photos it seems likely that they were badly
overlit as well. The ending is also quite weak, with the Macra
defeated by flipping a couple of switches, followed by a tacked-on
tag. These issues are balanced out by the strength of the overall
story, excellent performances by the regulars, and an above-average
guest cast.

Also of note is the incidental score, one of Dudley Simpson's most
effective compositions for the series. Harsh, atonal and machine-like,
it creates a jarring atmosphere all on its own, bringing tension to
scenes that otherwise would lack it. Of course, the serial is also
notable for the introduction of the Troughton title sequence. I love
these titles - they vie with the Season 11 title sequence for my
favorite of the entire series - but I am glad they adjusted the music
after the first two episodes. The Hartnell theme, unaltered, simply
doesn't mesh well with the Troughton graphics, and the sequence is a
much stronger package after the score has been tweaked to match the
visuals.

A weak production is trumped by an excellent story, further buoyed by
a terrific score. Certainly one of the most ambitious stories of the
Troughton era, it's also probably among his best... at least, as long
as the monsters are kept off-screen.


Rating: 9/10.


This topic has 3 replies

sp

"solar penguin"

in reply to "[email protected]" on 23/07/2011 4:17 PM

24/07/2011 3:19 PM

[email protected] wrote:

> MISSING EPISODE NOTES
>

As usual, YouTube gives us a "telesnaps with added narration" recon:
http://www.youtube.com/user/johnnyfanboy#p/c/C63D48E0444A879A/0/m6qNa74ZYFM

jj

in reply to "[email protected]" on 23/07/2011 4:17 PM

23/07/2011 4:20 PM

MISSING EPISODE NOTES

After a couple serials that benefitted from existing episodes, The
Macra Terror returns us to the "fully missing" story. Save for a few
censor clips (including the particularly memorable Episode 2
cliffhanger) and some brief 8 mm clips, no substantial footage from
this serial exists. That leaves fans the following ways to enjoy the
story:


1. The BBC Audio: Narrated by Colin Baker, who does an effective job
of conjuring up the visual elements - probably more strongly than the
actual visuals would, given that this is a visually weak story. There
are a few uninentional sniggers within the narration, some unintended
double-entendres slipping through. Still, the typical clarity of the
BBC audio combines with the ability of the listener to summon up an
atmospheric setting and a scary monster to make this the better of the
ways to enjoy this story.

2. The Loose Cannon Reconstruction: The first-ever Loose Cannon
reconstruction was very blurry, and watchable mainly because of the
strength of the actual story. Thankfully, it has been redone with
crystal-clear images and unbroken audio. The video effect laid over
the Controller's photo on the monitor keeps some motion in several
shots. Still, the clarity of the images just makes the blandness of
the sets and the poor monsters all the more apparent. Despite the
enjoyment of the many short clips in Episode Three, the audio is still
the more effective way to enjoy this one.

dT

[email protected] (The Doctor)

in reply to "[email protected]" on 23/07/2011 4:17 PM

23/07/2011 6:25 PM

9/10 . Sounds about right. Even the novel is intriguing.
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