Chapter 122. Doctor Who – The Macra Terror (1987)

Synopsis: When the Doctor and his three friends visit a colony on a distant world, they find a community of cheerful, contented people who are free to enjoy life. There are machines for pampering and relaxation and nobody is unhappy or scared. Especially Medok, who is ill and needs to be taken care of, because he is shouting nonsense and disturbing the peace. The Doctor and Polly aren’t convinced, but Ben and Jamie know the truth – there is no such thing as Macra men! No such thing as Macra men!

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Interference on the Scanner
  • 2. A Wash and Brush-up
  • 3. The Man Who Suffered from Delusions
  • 4. There’s Really Nothing There
  • 5. A Voice in the Night
  • 6. The Colony by Night
  • 7. Down the Pit
  • 8. Escape
  • 9. A Breath of Fresh Air
  • 10. One of the Dancers
  • 11. Forbidden Territory
  • 12. Four Minutes to Countdown

Background: Ian Stuart Black adapts his own scripts for the 1967 story.

Notes: The time travellers have seen something on the TARDIS scanner. The Doctor tries to pass it off as mere ‘atmospherics’:

‘Atmospherics cause interference. A build-up of forces. Electrical discharges. A thunderstorm. A number of things can cause the normal pattern to be broken, and then a radio signal or a television picture suddenly is broken into, and you get an alien signal. We have checks and balances on board the TARDIS to counteract such interference, but every now and again a message or picture breaks through from another point in space and we pick it up.’

He fails to convince his young friends and while Polly refuses to discuss it any further, Jamie makes sure to grab a big branch as he leaves the TARDIS (as he did on TV). The TARDIS scanner has ‘vision control’, an automatic program that scans for items of importance and allows the travellers to see into the colony before they arrive. The Controller initially orders that ‘There is no such thing as Macra men’, though Medok hears ‘There is no such thing as Macra’ during his later programming and Ben chants ‘There is no such thing as the Macra’.

Medok says the Macra are ‘horrible to look at… like insects…. like huge crabs’, while Jamie notes its ‘scaly flanks’, ‘long feelers’ and a ‘rope-like tentacle’. The creature has heavy eyelids (so not like an insect) and it moves at ‘the speed of a tortoise’. The Doctor gives a multi-sensory observation:

It was more horrible than he had visualised, more nauseating – giving off a suffocating odour – a very alien creature; moonlight glinting on its hard shell, a skin that glistened, prehistoric, giving the Doctor a feeling it was already dead… Yet moving slowly, with the speed of a gigantic slug, towards them.

He speculates to Polly that the Macra lived on the unnamed planet for millions of years, but that maybe the atmosphere changed, the natural gases that the creatures thrive on dried up, or ‘some other factor altered’, so they had to bury underground where the gases were available. There’s no direct correlation between the changing atmosphere and the arrival of the colonists, which is something we’d instantly assume nowadays [and see Gridlock for how that played out].

Medok survives his encounter with the Macra and is present to witness the departure of the four strangers in the TARDIS but decides on not ‘pushing his luck’ by telling anyone about it. Strangely, Medok doesn’t recall ever seeing the TARDIS before, even though he ran past it at the start of the book (presumably he was too distracted or distressed to remember it).

Cover: Tony Masero takes great artistic license in creating a slavering, oozing Macra that still bears a strong resemblance to what was seen on screen. 

Final Analysis: Another solid novelisation from Ian Stuart Black with very little changed from what we can gather from the surviving footage and audio tracks (although apparently the author worked solely from the scripts, so any changes made by the actors and director during rehearsals would have been absent anyway). The nature of the Macra remains non-specific – even the Doctor can’t be drawn as to whether they’re crabs, insects or overgrown bacteria – and they’re often described as being ‘alien’ despite the likelihood that they’re an indigenous lifeform. In 2021, we’re a little more sensitive to post-colonial views and this does stand out as an unresolved gap in the text, from a time when monsters were fought and destroyed, rather than understood and accommodated – and perhaps not even thought of as ‘monsters’.

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