The Macra Terror gets more ordinary and less interesting as it goes on. This final episode consists of the Doctor mucking about with some switches, running through a corridor, and unmasking the Macra to the Pilot – whose response is pretty understated given his entire worldview has just been torn down in front of his face.
After the previous episode revealed that the Macra are in charge of the colony, this episode sets out to explain why – and it’s a bit garbled, to be honest. The explanation is that the Macra need the human colonists to mine the poison gas they need to survive. But if that’s the case, why are they running the colony like a holiday camp instead of a labour camp? What’s in it for them? It’s not even as if the happy campers are willing collaborators who get to enjoy luxury lifestyles in return for selling out their comrades: they’re in thrall to the Macra, and it seems the miners – who are the ones ensuring the Macra get their gas – who are the rebellious dissidents.
A particularly strong episode that builds on the sinister weirdness of the first part, and confirms that beneath the veneer of happy order the colony is in thrall to monsters. There are clear overtones of Ian Stuart Black’s other first Doctor serial, The War Machines, in the mind control asserted over the colonists and, shockingly, Ben. The reveal of who’s really in charge is brilliant: a peeling back of layers as the benign publicity photo of the Controller dissolves to reveal a bewildered old man, who is in turn only a front for the Macra.
Having settled the Doctor’s character, Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis finally drop a new title sequence, four months after Hartnell left. It’s similar – howlaround patterns – but more symetrical, less disconcerting, and incorporates a very benevolent photo of Troughton, reflecting the show’s more familiar, less weird tone.
Kit Pedler clearly took a leaf out of Terry Nation’s book when he wrote The Moonbase: so much of it is repurposed from the earlier Cyberman story, including both the broad plot beats, like the base under siege, but also in specific details – like the Earth rocket the Cybermen deflect into the Sun in both serials.
This continues to be both less disconcerting and more satisfactory than The Tenth Planet. Whereas the earlier story lost both the Doctor and the Cybermen for its third episode, Pedler has held the full reveal of the Cybermen back for this, and we’re finally allowed to hear them speak, and act directly against the Moonbase crew.
This episode contains what’s pretty much the second Doctor’s mission statement:
THE DOCTOR: There is something evil here and we must stay… There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought.
While latterly the first Doctor stayed and helped because it was the right thing to do, and he couldn’t abide injustice, he was principally ‘a citizen of the universe and a gentleman to boot’ exploring a universe of wonders. The second Doctor is a pensive traveller through a universe of terrors. From being an unguessable, even alarming figure 12 weeks ago, he’s now become a much more reassuring character – probably a necessary sacrifice of unpredictable whimsy in favour of something more palatable to most of the audience.
From the depths of the ocean to the surface of the Moon: the TARDIS has arrived 101 years after the First Men. Given the backdrop of the space race, this feels as contemporary 1960s as The War Machines, and the iconography here is almost consciously quintessential: the Moon, a flying saucer, a base under siege and, at the cliffhanger, the first appearance of the familiar, silver-suited Cybermen.
After two episodes of rare video material, it’s tough to switch back to telesnaps and audio for this final instalment, particularly as there are large chunks that involve fiddling with equipment, or water rushing through the caves. From the sounds of it, this was a suitably apocalyptic climax to a story that threatened the end of the world, with photos showing the statue of Amdo toppled and hurled into the sea: another fallen civilisation joining Troy and the Elders’ in the Doctor’s 500 Year Diary.
I know this is generally viewed as a cheap and rubbish story, but there’s a level of detail over some of the sets and costumes that shows a touching amount of effort. The market place has a little fountain, the idol face of Amdo and the hieroglyphics suggest an ancient culture with African and South American roots, and the visual signifiers – the scientists in lab coats, Zaroff’s guards in wetsuits, priests in Lionfish headdresses and robes, and the Atlanteans in their elaborate shell costumes – differentiate each class. Partly converted Fish People wander round the market, and the stallholders worry about their goods. It’s hardly Star Wars, but this world does feel more complete and lived in than the planet of the Savages.