Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Macra Terror – Part 1

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Rewatching... Doctor Who: The Macra Terror – Part 1

Saturday 11 March 1967

Alright pedants, I'm not strictly watching or rewatching. This story hasn't (at time of writing) been rediscovered. So I'm listening, although I am also looking at still images.

We're straight into the action this week with a man on the run. Not sure of the specifics, but the authorities are after him for refusing "treatment." The action is backed by an ominous heartbeat sound, which works well to increase the tension.

The fugitive runs through a crowd of people, past a couple of men who appear to be in charge. I can confirm that this is the very first Doctor Who episode to feature majorettes. The music the band is playing is a bit of a racket.

Leaving the building, the man stumbles across what looks like moorland and there is a familiar sound accompanying the appearance of a familiar blue box. I always enjoy the episodes where the TARDIS appears unexpectedly in the middle of the action. You almost forget you're watching Doctor Who and then suddenly, that sound! Brilliant.

Shortly after our regulars exit the TARDIS, Fraser Hines is finally given something to do as Jamie is jumped on by the man on the run. A tussle, and they pin him down just as the man's pursuers arrive and thank the travelers for apprehending him. "Anyone would have done the same" says the Doctor modestly. The chief is called Ola and the fugitive Medok. They accompany the group to their colony.

Lots of colonies this week. Well, alright, two including the one in Star Trek the other night. In fact, this story shares another similarity with the same week's Star Trek episode as we'll find out later: a colony involved with mining. This colony appears to be a sort of holiday camp, except everybody has to work hard, and there's a controller and a pilot. The camp is on an Earth-like planet (or so the Doctor guesses) though I'm not sure what the pilot is for. I've never been to Butlin's but I'm pretty sure they don't have pilots, controllers, enforced labour or enforced treatment, but you may know different. Personally, I definitely wouldn't spend my summer holidays anywhere that had a controller, Olympic sized swimming pool or not. Ain't no-one controlling me.

It's all smiles now back at the colony. The travelers are made very welcome, and shown around by a chap, hilariously named Barney. A rather human name, so are these Earth colonists? But then there's a jingle over the PA system - alas, nothing about ballroom dancing or knobby knees contests, but rather about changing work shifts. How dull. Jamie's piper senses are tingling and he warns Polly to be careful: "They're a weird sort of folk. I don't know if I understand them." But then again he's from 1746, so I imagine that he'd feel the same way about 21st century estate agents...

Polly swoons over an enormous photo of the controller. That's another bad sign: I tend not to stay at places where there are enormous portraits of the person in charge. But I suspect Polly might have different thoughts about being 'controlled' as she gushes that he looks "smashing." This Space Spa weekend is right up Polly's street and she's delighted at the opportunity of a shampoo. "And you sir would like your clothes cleaned of course," Barney informs the Doctor! If only we could see the Doctor's face at this! Ben and Jamie are tended to by ladies providing massage with some spectacular acting from Frazer Hines as Jamie, who pretends to object to the pampering ("Can you call the ladies off. I'm frightened what they might do to me")...but he's not fooling me. No such protestation from Ben: "I'm going to enjoy this!"

A great comedy moment as the Doctor's protests about being tidied up have been ignored and he finds himself inside a sort of washing machine for people, with his head sticking out of the top. He steps out looking immaculate and Polly is absolutely delighted at his clean and tidy appearance, hair combed. I wish I could see this properly, it sounds hilarious! "Oh Doctor, you look gorgeous!" Polly teases. The Doctor has other ideas though, and uses the incredibly named "rough and tumble machine" to restore his scruffy 'hobo' look! "That's more like it!" He says as he steps out. I suspect we're really missing out, not being able to see this scene. I'd so love to see the Doctor's neatened-up look.

Elsewhere Ola is telling the colonists that Medok is violent and delusional. Medok seems to think there's something sinister going on that the authorities are keeping quiet about. Specifically, creatures infesting the camp at night. And in case that doesn't sound sinister enough, creatures that might "crawl all over you."

Medok is locked up but the Doctor seems to believe his story (having seen a giant crab claw on the TARDIS scanner last week). He manages to set Medok free in order to talk to him, but the man makes a break for it without talking.

So now the Doctor's in trouble for releasing him, although he denies it. "He can run you know. He's got legs. He doesn't have to crawl over the ground." A ploy, I presume, to test their reactions. Clever Doctor. It works, as Ola picks up on that comment and threatens him about spreading rumours.

The Doctor is sent to that favourite of holiday camp locations, the Labour Centre. En route he spots Medok hiding, but says nothing. Labour in this place concerns tapping and refining gas. An alarm sounds, signifying a mining accident, so the Doctor slips away to find Medok.

There are more annoying happy jingles, announcements and claims that's it's a privilege to work for the colony. Seems like your classic Dystopian brainwashed society to me. I suspect Ben and Polly have not read Orwell though, as they happily go along with it all.

The Doctor catches up with Medok and this time, he talks. He's seen creatures that look like insects apparently. Not crabs then. Anyone who reports seeing them is sent to that other Butlin's standard, the Correction Hospital.

An alarm goes off so the Doctor hurries back to his friends, tootling on his recorder and nonchalantly asking if someone's looking for him. We're not finished with the recorder yet then! A curfew is announced, so everybody is sent to cubicles for the night. It's dangerous to wander off, apparently. Presumably the escaped Medok is the only thing they're worried about...

Of course the Doctor ignores the warnings and leaves his cubicle to locate Medok again. There's an awful lot of back and forth this week. The controller's big face appears on a screen again warning the colonists of a dangerous man outside. He wishes them "happy sleep time." Ah, lovely. The Doctor's not impressed by all the superficial cheeriness. Now there's a man who's bound to have read Orwell! Probably gave him his ideas. He catches up with Medok, and out of the darkness comes what looks like a giant crab with glowing eyes!

Well, I'm not sure whether that was a good episode or not with my limitation of mainly audio, but it was certainly entertaining. Unusually, the Doctor strikes out on his own this week. He's pretty much having his own adventure while everyone else enjoys a break, none the wiser about what's going on behind the scenes, or what the Doctor's been getting up to. The episode also continues the brilliant Doctor Who tradition (if one can have tradition after only 3 years) of a complete change of style from one story to the next. This really does keep it fresh, and even if you get a weaker story you suspect that if you wait a few weeks the next one might be wonderful. I'm loving Doctor Who at the moment and can really see this series going on forever now...

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Nick Brown
Nick Brown
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Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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