The TARDIS lands on an unnamed planet in the future. Here, a human colony is policed by the Pilot, but is really led by the Controller – a ‘Big Brother’ figure, with a tannoy-voice akin to the loudspeaker addresses in Quatermass II (actually provided by Nigel Kneale). He is only ever seen (via monitors) as an imposing man, given the disembodied voice. The true masters however, are huge crab-like creatures, the Macra.
The colony’s holiday camp image (complete with cheerleaders, public-announcements, and jingles) belies the truth – the brain-washed colonists are closely watched, and kept in a state of complacent contentment (21 years before The Happiness Patrol). They’re forced to mine gas, lethal to humans but vital to the Macra’s survival.
Ben succumbs to Control’s conditioning, and he betrays his friends. When he recovers, Ben destroys the gas pumping equipment, thereby killing the Macra and restoring the colony’s freedom. The travellers depart before the Doctor can be appointed the new Pilot!
The Macra Terror has obvious Orwellian parallels, and Ian Stuart Black‘s scripts address themes of propoganda and conformity, at a time when the electorates of the West were increasingly disillusioned with government and the establishment. In the wake of political scandals and assassinations, people were questioning their obedience to authority in the 1960’s. The age of deference was over. This idea is best illustrated by the Doctor’s comment to Polly: “… you’ve been given orders while you’ve been asleep… Don’t just be obedient. Always make up your own mind” (echoes of 1984, The Manchurian Candidate, and A Clockwork Orange). Similarly, the story’s funniest scene has the Doctor rebelling against this ordered regime. When his unkempt appearance is questioned, the Doctor’s clothes and hair are styled by a grooming machine. In dismay, the Doctor uses a toning device to get messed-up again: “But who wants to see their face in a pair of suede shoes?”
True, the story is let down by the Macra themselves, but this can be overlooked because their scenes are kept to a minimum, and the suspense is only heightened in the audio version.
- This four-part adventure originally aired in March and April 1967, and achieved average ratings of 8.3M
- Working titles for the serial were The Spidermen, The Insect-Men, and The Macras
- A History of the Universe (Parkin, 1996) sets the action in the year 2366
- This is the first story to feature the face of the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) in the title sequence
- Cast members Sandra Bryant (Chicki) and John Harvey (Official) had both appeared in The War Machines, and Gertan Klauber (Ola) was in The Romans – Peter Jeffrey (the Pilot) would return in The Androids of Tara as Count Grendel
- None of the episodes exist in the BBC archives
- Colin Baker provides the linking narration on the cassette (1992) and CD (2000/2012) soundtrack releases
- The Macra made a surprise return 40 years later to menace New New York in Gridlock
- The story was placed 137th in the DWM Mighty 200 Poll (Issue 413, September 2009)