Skip to main content

No one on the Colony believes in the Macra. There is no such thing as Macra. Macra do not exist. There are no Macra!


Doctor Who
The Macra Terror: Episode Two


There are two elements that let this episode down. The first is the titular monster as, thanks to surviving footage, we can see that it’s absolute shit. The second is the scene leading up to the cliffhanger, from which one can only conclude that the Macra are incompetent bunglers (how likely is that, when they have an encompassing system of mind control?) or just not very on-the-ball when it comes to spontaneous responses. It’s been suggested that the Macra, as a parasite, aren’t actually smart at all, and that that controlled humans respond by creating a system of control. I’m not sure how much I buy that, but it’s an element that is not really elaborated on either way.


The cliffhanger is resolved when Ola takes the Doctor and Medok captive. Ola cuts short any conversation of the crabs with “We don’t want to know what strangers think”. Taken to see the Pilot, we can see that he has an attractive secretary taking his dictation. And observe that the tannoy has an increasingly annoying bad American accent. Trout’s on good form here, with the Pilot not quite sure how to respond to him.


The Doctor: Good evening, Pilot. Oh, what a very nice office you have here.

What transpires in this scene, and becomes even clearer as the episode progresses, is that the Pilot is not some urbane mastermind who gets his henchman to do his dirty work. Which I was half expecting following the first episode. He’s as much in the dark in respect of the truth of the Colony as everyone else. The emphasis on character makes the episode stand out as a particularly strong one, and refreshing after the last couple of stories. So Medok lies that the Doctor was trying to get him to give himself up, in order that the Doctor can continue to have free range.

Pilot: He’ll be given another course of treatment. And, when he returns to the Colony, Medok will be a changed man. He will co-operate. And he will obey orders. He will be just like the rest of us.

That could be an utterance from The Prisoner, even if the motivation of the rulers is decidedly less oblique.

The Doctor: Why do you want everyone to be the same?
Pilot: … Our ancestors believed in the virtues of healthy happiness and we have tried to keep their ideas alive. Sometimes, alas, it is necessary to use force.

 We’re told that the Colony’s ancestors arrived many centuries before, so we’re looking at a period significantly later than the last two Earth bases we encountered (Vulcan and the Moonbase).


The meat of this episode is the brainwashing attempts on the TARDIS crew and the consequences thereof. The implementation of the “deep sleep and thinking patterns” adaptors are rather overstated, since it’s clear that these are standard devices used on the population (Pilot is instructed by the Controller). It was presumably felt that this needed explaining to the audience in advance, but since the Doctor goes through it with Polly later I’m not sure it was.

There’s a curious, but undeniably effective rant from the voice of Control. Why are they announcing their identity when they are so careful to conceal it elsewhere? Laying it out for the audience (most likely)? Or perhaps they don’t think it matters too much as the brainwashing will quickly take hold and anyone who hears them discuss their presence will forget.

Control: Control must be believed and obeyed. No one on the Colony believes in the Macra. There is no such thing as Macra. Macra do not exist. There are no Macra!


Jamie’s got his head doon for the second story running (this is where we hear Colin Baker’s infamous “Jamie was tossing restlessly” on the BBC audio). The messages given are quite soothing, sinister and relaxing, a bit like something out of Dougal and the Blue Cat, but Jamie is singled out as resistant (it is “an evil voice”). This is the first story in which he’s been properly included as companion and, while it is a good Ben story (as he gets to act up), the latter has clearly been moved to secondary status.

Voice: The sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders. The leaders of the Colony know what is best. In the morning when you wake up you will be given some work. You will be glad to obey. You will question nothing in the Colony… You will not resist the sleeping gas. Breathe deeply. In the morning when you wake you will obey.

The intervention of the Doctor, sabotaging the devices by Polly’s bed and bringing her to her senses (“I think you’ve been listening to some very bad advice”) sees him offer up something of a mission statement.

The Doctor: My advice to you is don’t do anything of the sort. Don’t just be obedient. Always make up your own mind.

Despite some intrusive Dudley electronica, the confrontation with Ben is tense stuff. The sailor instructs the Doctor to desist from his sabotage.

Ben: Lay off, mate. You’ll find yourself on a charge.
The Doctor: Better some damage than loss of willpower.
Ben: Get out of it! It’s against the law!
The Doctor: What law?
Ben: The law of the colony.


In some respects, Ben is the ideal candidate for mind control. He’s used to regimentation and following orders (the reference to “a charge”) and spent his earlier adventures fretting about getting back to his ship. He also displayed undisguised contempt for the second Doctor initially. As a result, his tone doesn’t seem that unlikely even if his change of allegiance is dramatic.

Polly: Since when did you start to worry?
Ben: He thinks he knows best all the time but this time he’s wrong…

In a touch far more disturbing than any monsters lurking in the dark, Ben’s cockney accent becomes noticeably RP as the he continues.

Ben: Control knows what’s best for us. They want us to co-operate. We should be helping.
Polly: What’s the matter with you, Ben? This doesn’t sound like you at all.
Ben: You should obey. The Doctor’s causing trouble. I’m going to turn him in.

The Doctor admonishes Jamie to let him go (“Violence will get you nowhere” – until final episodes, that is) but the inter-crew friction here is like nothing we will see again the JN-T era (although the same season’s The Evil of the Daleks comes close, and there’s the odd possession along the way). Ben even heckles the Doctor as Ola leads him off.

Ben: The hospital! He needs correction more than Medok does!


Speaking of whom, the correction he is undergoing seems to be in the background as the Pilot decides what to do with him (send him to the pits for life). The voice Medok hears is decidedly less soothing than the sleepy-byes one.


Now that’s acting!

Ben’s pursuit of Polly just sees him become more and more sinister, grabbing her as she protests “Leave me alone!” We will later see villainous performances from companions in Inferno and Terror of the Zygons, but at least they aren’t supposed to be the same character. Unfortunately this good work comes crashing down when Polly spies, and is then set upon by, a Macra (“Like an insect or a giant crab” – because the two are interchangeable…) It would certainly be better left to the imagination than the sight of Polly sat between Macra claws with some dry ice wafting about. It’s sadly risible.

Cobblers.

The episode does recover, almost immediately, though. When they join the Doctor, being interviewed by the Pilot, Ben has reverted to his controlled state. And the preceding exchange between the Doctor and the Pilot, where the latter accuses him of destroying the nerve circuits, sees the former realise just how indoctrinated the Colony is.

Pilot: What do you have to say?
The Doctor: Rather neat, don’t you think? And so simple. I did it with this (proffers whatever he did it with).
Pilot: You admit it?
The Doctor: I’m proud of it.
Pilot: Well, (noticing the Doctor is distracted)… What is it? What’s the matter?
The Doctor: My dear Pilot, your wall. Even you are subject to this form of subconscious control.

So it’s a shame that the blundering logic of the Macra is then highlighted. Ben tells the Pilot that there were no creatures attacking him and Polly, but adds “There are no such things as Macra”. A bit of a give-away, that. And then, when the Controller appears on the screen suggesting that Polly has hallucinated it all, the figure meets with disbelief (Jamie’s in particular).

Jamie: That’s not the Controller. That’s just the picture of a man.

Any self-respecting Macra would not fall for the bait of showing the actual Controller.

Control: This is your Controller. This is your Controller.
Jamie: But he’s an old man.

Doh! I guess the Macra are partially-sighted and couldn’t tell. The companions might also ask whom the voice of Control belongs to. It gets worse, as Jamie goads that the Controller can’t talk.

Control: You will speak. Speak, Controller, speak.
Controller: Am I to speak? I will tell them. I’ll do what you say.

Er…

Oh dear, oh dear, these Macra are screwing up big time now. Just so long as they don’t stick a dirty great claw onto the screen and drag off the Controller. In front of everyone, including the Pilot and Ola. Well, I guess that’s it. The Macra have been exposed, hoisted by their crabby petards.

But the Doctor and his companions are off to the pits.


The climax is wretched, and the Macra are pretty pathetic. But everything else in this episode is first rate, shockingly adult in fact after the patronisation of The Moonbase. Can it continue?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

The world is a dangerous place, Elliot, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on, and do nothing.

Mr. Robot Season One
(SPOILERS) With all the accolades proclaiming Mr. Robot the best new show of the year, the tale of a self-styled “vigilante hacker by night and regular cyber security worker by day”, intent on bringing down E/Evil Corp, the largest conglomerate in the world (as opposed to multinational Comcast, the 2014 “worst company in America” which owns the USA Network, home of Mr. Robot), I expected something a little more substantial than a refitted Fight Club, “refreshed” with trendy (well, a few years old) references to Occupy, Anonymous/hacking incidents and a melange of pop cultural signposts from the last fifteen years. There are times when the show feels entirely suffused with its abundant derivations, rather than developing into its own thing, its lead character’s pervasive alienation a direct substitute for Edward Norton’s Narrator. And yet, it has a lot going for it, and the season concludes at a point (creator Sam Esmail’s end of first act) where it has the potential…