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12 January 2016 @ 07:47 pm
The Randomiser: The Macra Terror  
I've always found it hard to distinguish The Macra Terror and The Underwater Menace. They lie either side of Moonbase which, in my childhood, was the prominent story of this season being not only novelised but having one of the more gripping novelisations in the range. It also benefits from a famous monster and the classic second Doctor base-under-siege format. The Macra Terror and The Underwater Menace on the other hand I had hazier ideas about: they were both about isolated societies and involved sea-creatures.

I've seen the surviving The Underwater Menace episodes which exist on my Lost Years DVD. My impression is that it is following the "lost world" trope (which doesn't actually feature in Doctor Who all that often) of a forgotten underground society dominated by a priest cult. The Macra Terror on the other hand reminds me of The Prisoner particularly in its first (and strongest - at least so far as can be judged by sound track and stills alone) episode.

There is something genuinely a little unsettling about the forced jollity of the colony, but it is hard to place a finger on what at the outset. Everyone seems perfectly friendly and reasonable. The authorities react to Medok's behaviour more in sorrow than in anger. I suspect, at the height of the Cold War, the endless catch-phrases and slogans might have seemed more straightforwardly sinister than they do now. Of course, since we know this is Doctor Who, it isn't a huge surprise when it subsequently turns out that brainwashing is involved. Even so, one can't help wondering how evil the Macra actually are, beyond the fact they aren't prepared to give the colonists much of a say in helping them. The citizens, even if their happiness is imposed upon them, appear neither malnourished nor over-worked. It is not a question the show is, at this point, interested in exploring but one suspects a Tom Baker episode would have had a character to argue the Macra side, even if they would have been something of a straw man. At this point the show seems content with the argument that the Macra are monsters and therefore automatically bad.

The later episodes are less strong and definitely suffer from the lack of visuals since they seem to mostly involve a lot of crawling around pipes and running down corridors.

Polly's hair seems to suddenly get short. This came as a shock since she has long hair in pretty much every photo I've ever seen of her. It's possible I am being misled by the slight blurry tele snaps - no, I'm not, Wikipedia confirms Anneke Wills had her hair cut short which makes sense of the prominence given to getting her a "shampoo" in the first episode.

On the whole I'd say The Macra Terror has an excellent and genuinely unsettling first episode but that it then devolves into a fairly standard story which isn't really all that interested in exploring the set-up that makes the first episode such a success.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/182643.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 12th, 2016 10:20 pm (UTC)
I've long been fond of this story (actually listened to it again a few weeks ago, during a longish plane flight). I'm fond of The Underwater Menace too (to a much lesser extent), but this is definitely superior, certainly bringing more and better ideas to the table. I think later episodes hold up better than you give them credit for, although the ending does feel like "stereotypical Doctor Who ending #7" or some such.

The Prisoner parallels have often been remarked upon; the dates are wrong for direct influence, but Ian Stuart Black worked with Patrick MacGoohan on Danger Man so there may have been some indirect cross-fertilization. Then again, in the Cold War atmosphere, this was probably in the air e.g. The Avengers episode Man with Two Shadows also features a holiday camp where people are replaced by a foreign power.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 13th, 2016 10:31 am (UTC)
At the end I couldn't help feeling that the "Dance of Stage" escape was something the show couldn't get away with now, at least not as the close of the episode (though people tend to ask the Doctor to lead their planet far less often in general). I think its another of those tiny hints that far fewer adults were expected to be watching and, if they were, that they would be watching with their children rather than as adults in their own right.
parrot_knight: JamieZoeparrot_knight on January 12th, 2016 11:25 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued by the use of Jamie's attitudes and reactions as a form of comic relief at the opening of the first episode. He carries a big stick, I recall - although after the events of the previous two stories this is perhaps eminently sensible!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 13th, 2016 10:34 am (UTC)
There's a bit in the Moonbase novelisation where Jamie refers to "in my time" and Polly explicitly notes it as the first time he's acknowledged that he's travelling in time. I don't know if that was just the novelisation or is reflected in the show itself (which would suggest he's still struggling with the concept throughout the Underwater Menace).

I think, in general, Jamie shows that a historical companion, could work both in his need to have things explained and in his ability to bring a different perspective to things. I'm not sure why the attempt was so much more successful with him, though, than with Victoria who really didn't seem to bring much to the table that a contemporary modern girl wouldn't have done.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 13th, 2016 04:38 pm (UTC)
It's possible that a Victorian is that much nearer to us, not so much in technology, but in possibility of technology - in the idea that radical technological and social change are possible, which is quite alien to Jamie, coming from a time when change happened over much longer periods.

That said, I think the problem with Victoria is that the authors tended to write her as a wimpy girl and keep her out of the interesting parts of the story!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 13th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC)
I think another problem may have been a tendency for writers to put her with the Doctor on the "explain things to Jamie" and "be more civilised than Jamie" side of the equation. Which again is related to the comparative similarity of the Victorian era to our own time.