The TARDIS lands on an unnamed planet [400 years*] in the future. Here, a
human colony (another base-under-siege) is policed by the Pilot, but is really led
by the Controller - a Big Brother figure, with a tannoy-voice akin to Nigel Kneale's loudspeaker addresses in Quatermass II. He is only ever seen (via monitors) as an imposing man, given the disembodied voice. The true masters however, are huge crab-like creatures, the Macra.
The colony's holiday camp image (complete with public-announcements, jingles
and cheerleaders) belies the truth - the brain-washed colonists are closely watched, and kept in a state of complacent contentment (presented twenty-one years before
The Happiness Patrol). The colonists are forced to mine gas, lethal to humans but vital to the Macra's survival.
Ben succumbs to Control's conditioning, and he betrays his friends. When he recovers, Ben destroys the gas pumping equipment, thereby killing the Macra and restoring the colony's freedom. The travellers depart before the Doctor can be appointed the new Pilot!
The Macra Terror has obvious Orwellian parallels, and Ian Stuart Black's scripts address themes of propaganda and conformity, at a time when the electorates of
the West were increasingly disillusioned with government and the establishment.
In the wake of political scandals and assassinations, people were questioning their obedience to authority in the 1960's. The age of deference was over. This idea is best illustrated by the Doctor's comment to Polly: "you've been given orders while you've been asleep... Don't just be obedient. Always make up your own mind"
(clear echoes of Nineteen Eighty Four, The Manchurian Candidate and A
Clockwork Orange). Similarly, the story's funniest scene has the Doctor rebelling against this ordered regime. When his unkempt appearance is questioned, the Doctor's clothes and hair are styled by a grooming machine. In dismay, the Doctor uses a toning device to get messed-up again: "who wants to see their face in a pair of suede shoes?"
True, the story is let down by the Macra themselves, but this can be overlooked because their scenes are kept to a minimum, and the suspense is only heightened
in the audio version.
- location (at a cement quarry in Dunstable) and studio (at Ealing and Lime Grove) filming was recorded in February and March 1967
- this four-part adventure originally aired in March and April 1967, and achieved average ratings of 8.3M
- working titles for the serial were The Spidermen, The Insect-Men and The Macras
- Lance Parkin's A History of the Universe (Virgin, 1996) sets the action in the year 2366*
- this is the first story to feature the lead actor's face in the opening title sequence
- cast members Sandra Bryant (Chicki) and John Harvey (Official) had both appeared in The War Machines, and Gertan Klauber (Ola, pictured centre) was in The Romans - Peter Jeffrey (the Pilot, left) would return in The Androids of Tara as Count Grendel
- none of the episodes exist in the BBC archives
- Colin Baker provides the linking narration on the 1992 (cassette) and 2000 (CD) soundtrack releases, whilst Anneke Wills narrated the reissue of 2012
- the Macra made a surprise return forty years later to menace New New York in Gridlock
- the story was placed 137th in the DWM Mighty 200 Poll (Issue 413, September 2009), then 150th in the magazine's 50th Anniversary survey (Issue 474, June 2014)