March 20: The Macra Terror Episodes 3 & 4

So how do you get out of a cliffhanger where everyone's seen that the Controller of the colony is himself being controlled by an alien creature?  Why, just order the people to forget what they've seen!

This episode doesn't have much happen, but there's quite a bit of Troughton flexing his mental muscles; he works out a complicated formula regarding the gas and he also tries to work out the purpose of the gas.  He, Jamie, and Polly have been sent to work in the mines, which pump a huge amount of gas for an unknown purpose.  Ben is still working for the colony under hypnosis, but he's starting to break free of their influence a bit.  And Jamie manages to find a way out of the mine into a disused shaft, where he encounters some Macra.  And that's basically it; it doesn't sound like much, but it is an entertaining episode -- hearing Troughton at work is a delight, and you wish you could see it.  Here, more than anything that's come before, is the first real instance of Troughton's Doctor as we know him, where he finds the right balance between quiet humor and quiet investigation.  No slamming heads on tables or dressing up as old beggars here.

The Doctor and Polly find the Macra in the control room of the
colony. (The Macra Terror Episode 4 - from Doctor Who
Photonovels: The Macra Terror - Episode Four
) ©BBC
Episode 4 ties it all together.  The Doctor and Polly rescue Jamie from the Macra by pumping fresh air into the disused shaft, and then they head into an unused door where they find the Macra controlling operations.  When they show the Pilot, the Macra panic and start issuing orders to have the Doctor, Polly, Jamie, and the Pilot killed.  But Ben has overcome his influence and saves the day, presumably killing all the Macra in the process.  Er, yes...  That's certainly the impression given, and even the earlier descriptions of the Macra as a bacteria or type of germ don't really soften this point.  The script hopes you don't notice, as it moves on to a parade in the "strangers" ' honor, but it's a bit of a sticking point.  No wonder Russell T. Davies retconned this 40 years later in "Gridlock".

Still, this is a story that seems very visual -- there are lots of sequences of throbbing heartbeats and quiet music with no dialogue to illuminate what's going on, which suggests that this is another one of those stories that we really need to see to evaluate.  But unlike, say, The Celestial Toymaker, what we have on the soundtrack inspires confidence.  In a story about paranoia and possession that's also about giant crabs, there's an element of subtlety that's rather lacking, but what we get instead sounds like a solid, entertaining tale.