Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

Part One

"Would you call these ladies off? I'm frightened of what they might do to me."

It's times like the start of this story that I wish I was coming to these stories completely fresh, without the accumulated little bits of knowledge you pick up by osmosis from being a fan. Then I'd probably be saying things like "How shocking! They've changed the title sequence! And it's got the Doctor's face in it. This is clearly part of Lloyd's face agenda. Bring back the swirly things!" but alas, I can't.

Ah, Peter Jeffreys. Splendid! The story starts off well, with a society which seems all happy and shiny on the surface but you know something's not right- after all, what could possibly be more horrifying or sinister than the holiday camp style scenes of forced jollity we see here? "You will have fun! That's an order!" Semi-repressed memories of hearing S Club 7 at university club nights and having to dance to it are surfacing here. Truly chilling. And the muzak is suitably horrible too. Although these early scenes are not too dissimilar in terms of basic structure to Ian Stuart Black's earlier The Savages.

I couldn't resist a slight raising of the eyebrow at the Doctor's saying "Well, this is gay!", but this is very good indeed, however obviously based on both Brave New World (the drugging and parasitism) and 1984 (the totalitarianism) the premise may be. The Doctor's anarchistic streak comes splendidly to the fore here as he instinctively releases Medok before he even knows what's going on. The revelations are unfolding nicely and gradually and the creepy, totalitarian atmosphere builds up. There's a touch of the real life contemporary Soviet Union in the "psychological treatment" of the dissident Medok. This is very good indeed. And at the end we even get a bit of not-very-good footage.

Part Two

"There is no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!"

The Macra's eyes are clearly headlights, but I'm willing to overlook the rubbishness of the monster as everything else is bloody fantastic. Lots of nice touches illustrate just how repressive this society is- the Pilot has a "viewing machine", a kind of panopticon, which allows him to see exactly what everybody is doing. One thing that grates with me here is the way Medok gets the Doctor off the hook too easily, but generally this episode basically serves to ratchet up the totalitarianism. The Pilot says of Medok "He will co-operate and he will obey orders. He'll be just like the rest of us."

The deep sleep gas and "thinking tablets" raise the stakes brilliantly, and the Doctor's speech to Polly about thinking for herself is great. The only disturbing thing about this whole sequence is Jamie's statement that he'll take orders from no one "but the Doctor"!

The script's treatment of Ben and the lines he's given are actually quite clever. In real life many people, perhaps even most people, react as he does, accepting things at face value without questioning why.

Once again, the episode ends with some actual footage of our crap monster. It's interesting that Polly, such a strong character a few minutes earlier as she resisted the mind control, is now screaming her lungs out!

Part Three

"The voices are here to help us. They are our friends."

Our heroes have been caught, and sent to what is essentially the gulag. Fascinating that this was written at the height of the cold war.

We get lots of short snippets of off-air footage this episode, which show us very clearly all the facial acting from Troughton that we're missing. Troughton is great explaining how he worked out the formula, every inch the genius who likes to play the fool.

I'm not sure about "Officia" as a name! But apart from this we get another excellent episode. The plot's ticking along nicely- in fact very nicely for a third episode- the TARDISeers are all well used, and the cliffhanger is excellent.

Part Four

"The colony's in the hands of grotesque insects!"

Much as I'm loving the story- and, incidentally, the splendid new Loose Cannon recon which makes my hiatus almost worth it- I have to admit that it's probably improved by our not being able to see the full awfulness of the Macra in all their moving glory. Still, another great episode. The Doctor gets a nice line to Polly: "I'm sure there's no need to be afraid. Well, I think there's no need to be afraid."

Surely the colony cheerleaders are the most terrifying and spine-chilling thing we've seen in all of Doctor Who so far? My intense dislike of anything that smacks of forced jollity means I'm probably genetically designed to love this story, but even so, the song they perform is genuinely sinister.

There's a slight potential worry that occurs to me once we realise the full situation- the Macra, native to this planet, are acting as parasites on the human colonists. This threatens to raise the obvious colonial issues, but I think the story gets away with it- the Macra aren't shown as oppressed native peoples but rather as predators with the humans essentially caught in their web. Also, I suppose it helps that the overall tone of the story is far from reactionary.

Another great line from the Doctor; "Bad laws were meant to be broken!"

Overall, superb. Well plotted, great lines, all of the regulars being well-characterised and given plenty to do- no easy feat with this TARDIS crew- and some truly literate and thought-provoking sci-fi themes. 5/5.

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