Skip to main content

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


Doctor Who
The Macra Terror: Episode Three


The post-cliffhanger events at least resolve one question from the previous episode. With the Doctor, Polly and Jamie dragged off to work in the Danger Gang (“They’re condemned to the pit!”) and Ben agreeing to spy on them, order is reasserted.

Control: You will forget all that happened.
Pilot: Yes, Control.

This is a particularly good episode fro Troughton, and he has a couple of encounters that lift what would be otherwise a rather run-of-the-mill installment. He’s on witty form, reacting with disdain to a particularly poor rhyme (“The man who wrote that should be sent to the Danger Gang, not us.”)

Jamie: Well, you don’t send a lassie and an old man down to dig.
The Doctor: Old? What do you mean old? I’m not old, Jamie.

Anyone know “Come On, Eileen”?

Reunited with Medok, who has a Number Six-like resistance to conditioning (“They threw me out of the Correction Hospital. Apparently I’m a hopeless case”), the Doctor is persuaded to remain in mine control room as a supervisor (“Ah… I would have liked a mask”). Which is a convenient device to allow him to get up to no good, but not an entirely convincing one; why exactly is a supervisor needed when Officia is there (John Harvey, Professor Brett in The War Machines)? It also grants him an opportunity to chip away at Ben.


The Doctor: Hello, Ben. Oh. Don’t go. Come in, don’t be afraid.
Ben: I have nothing to be afraid of.
The Doctor: No, of course not. It’s not your fault you betrayed your friends.
Ben: The voices tell me what to do.
The Doctor: The voices may not be right, Ben.
Ben: I do what I am told.
The Doctor: Yes, I know. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To spy on me. What does Control want to know this time? Can’t you answer me? You know, Ben, this is very unlike you.
Ben: I don’t know what you mean. It is my duty.
The Doctor: It’s hard for you to struggle against the voices, isn’t it Ben?

Troughton’s kind but authoritative voice in this exchange is striking, and it’s a point in favour of the characterisations here that Ben’s recovery is spread over the course of two episodes. Later he will admit to the Doctor that he observed Jamie take Officia’s keys but did nothing about it, and then goes to inform the Pilot of this. He doesn’t suddenly revert to normal, but continues to obey Control even when questioning it.


Another winner is the conversation between the Doctor and the Pilot. The characterisation of the latter is a model of subtlety. He’s neither signposted as a good guy or a bad guy until the last episode, with only Ola’s sadism providing a contrast and a suggestion that he is a reasonable man. Pilot finds that the Doctor has written sums all over the wall (for which gives himself 10 out of 10, written after the calculations).

The Doctor: Ooooh! You did give me a turn!
Pilot: Where did you find it?
The Doctor: What?
Pilot: The formula.
The Doctor: In my head. You know…
Pilot: Don’t lie. That is a secret known by only three people in the Colony.
The Doctor: And you’re one of them.
Pilot: Naturally. And you’re not asking me to believe that in a few moments you have been able to work out a formula that has taken out combined computers years to perfect?
The Doctor: It does seem rather a tall order. Hmm-hmm!
Pilot: Yes. Of course. I know what you’ve done. You’ve broken into our secret files, haven’t you?
The Doctor: I wouldn’t know how to do that. Take a look.
Pilot: Well, you must have seen the document. That’s the exact computation.
The Doctor: Really? Huh, well in that case (he alters the mark to 11 out of 10).

On Pilot’s demand, the Doctor throws water over the calculations with the latter then noting that there’ll be an almighty explosion if the altered sums are followed (“X to the power of Y has dribble into two threes and six”)


Events in the mine are less engrossing, certainly in audio form. This is the second time in three stories that companions have been set to work mining, and on both occasions they don’t hang around long to get dirtied up. Jamie nabs Officia’s keys and makes a break for it, to be followed by Medok. Polly, who doesn’t make a great show of things generally in this story, whimpering and moaning a lot, stays initially to help Medok then fails to accompany him when he makes a break for it. Not much chivalry being shown by anyone there. It seems a bit mean to have Medok survivive brainwashing only to be pincered to death by a malignant Macra.

A darling ensemble.

The increasing hysteria of the voice of Control is one of the most amusing aspects of the later episodes, particularly as its flustered state sees it continually dropping vital information (no one is to go in or near the old shaft, which results in the question of why that is.)

As mentioned, Ben goes to see the Pilot. He’s not there so he ends up talking to Sunae.

Ben: I’ve got these voices in my head. Sometimes I just think I’m having a bad dream.
Sunae: The voices are here to help us. They are our friends.
Ben: That’s it. What about my friends?

The final section is taken up with Jamie trapped with a monstrous Macra while the Doctor tries to work out a means to help him. He realises that gas is being pumped into the old shaft to revive a Macra trapped in there, rather than as a means of killing Jamie.


The Doctor: The Macra have come to the surface of this planet and not found sufficient gas in the atmosphere. So they’ve had to get somebody to pump it up from down below.

Getting trapped does suggest that maybe the Macra are morons, with only the ability to latch onto humans’ intelligence to use against them. They are compared to germs and bacteria in the final episode, but it isn’t clear how literal this is intended to be.


Not quite up to the level of the first two episodes, with more of an emphasis on action and scares than the mechanics of the Colony. But Troughton is magnificent, and the alienation of Ben continues to be a stand-out plot point. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).