Written by Ian Stuart Black
Directed by John Davis
The Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie arrive in a colony where rejection of the status quo and the insistence on the existence of a creature called “The Macra” can lead to devastating consequences.
I think I like The Macra Terror more than I should. I think what draws me to The Macra Terror is the same thing that draws me to shows like The Prisoner. For some reason, I enjoy stories that question the happy status quo, stories that show a dark, sinister core to existence. Or maybe I’m fascinated with mind control and brainwashing. I even enjoy that the main villain in this story is a race of super-intelligent, giant crabs. I enjoy this version of The Macra more than the version that appears in the RTD story Gridlock (but don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Gridlock. More on that much later.) If I had one (well, two) complaints, they would be that this story seems to be padded in the middle, and we still seem to have difficulty balancing the action between three companions. This won’t be a problem for much longer, however.
Of all the companions, I think I enjoy the developments with Ben the most. Early in the story, as The Doctor and companions take advantage of the colony’s hospitality, Ben becomes subjected to mind-controlling gasses. In truth, it was the intention of The Macra to gas all the companions, but The Doctor interfered before everyone succumbed. Thus, Ben suddenly turns against his friends, and until the gas wears off, he is a continual threat. In some ways, this reminds me of Dodo, but rather than shunt Ben off at the end of the story, he recovers and is welcomed back with warmth and joy. (You are lucky, I almost joked that Ben didn’t go the way of the Dodo. That would have been completely uncalled for.)
While this story was most-likely conceived as an analogy for Soviet propaganda, it still has some relevance in the 21st century. I think most governments are happier when their citizens are more focused on the day-to-day activities of living than on the actions of the government. A subdued populace is preferred. In The Macra Terror, the populace mined for the gasses that The Macra needed to live. Sometimes governments want the populace to work so they can pay taxes. Often, in our post-Nixon world, we want to believe that the injustice or controlling actions of governments are the actions of a small, dark group at the core of the government. Sadly, that is not always true. Bureaucracy often becomes a self-sustaining beast, devised by humans but not necessarily controlled by them. In this way, a government, once set up and active, can continue to exist by people merely performing their jobs without question. It can control without any malice or intention. At that point, those who shape policy become the controllers, they become the pilots. The Macra Terror is vague enough to become an analogy for whatever criticism you wish to level at the government. Truly, you can even interpret it as a criticism of any type of system that demands allegiance, from corporations to economic systems, even to an entertainment franchise that would give consumers shallow yet exciting, visual and emotional stimuli, for continual patronage of merchandise and ratings. (Oh, let’s not go there, shall we.) The hero, as is frequently the case in Doctor Who, is the individual who questions, who doesn’t just accept things. It is the person who thinks.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the “We are happy to work” song. I wish I had that on a CD because I would love to play it as I shelve at the bookshop.