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11 June 2013
8/10 z

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 162: The Macra Terror, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It was always going to be a hard task following on from yesterday's episode. I didn't really know how to approach today's episode, because one you've hit a 10/10 for one, it's always going to be tricky moving forward into the next part. There's nothing wrong with this third episode, but whereas I praised yesterday for not feeling like Doctor Who, today's limitation is that it feels too much like Doctor Who.

That's not the complaint it sounds like. Even when it's being 'just' Doctor Who, it's better than most other things ever invented. It just feels like today has been pretty much standard Episode Three fare. The Doctor and his friends are captured, there's an escape, and the cliff-hanger ends with Jamie being menaced by the story's monster.

Even though the Macra are still scary (I'm continuing to picture them like real crabs as opposed to the prop used in the story), this is the fourth cliffhanger in a row that centres around them, usually bearing down on someone. At the end of The Moonbase, we had the claw appearing menacingly on the scanner. It was the Doctor and Medok in Episode One being cornered by one, giving us our first proper look at the creature as a whole. At least in my head. Episode Two saw the Controller being grabbed by a giant claw, and now you've got Jamie, edging his way around one sleeping crab while another scuttles up behind him. There just comes a time when they start to lose their impact a little.

It has to be said that - once again - it's Partick Troughton who salvages the episode for me. He gets two scenes today where he really stands out, and they each showcase him in a different way. In the first, he works out the equation to find out what the gas is for. Listening to it on the soundtrack, almost the whole scene is narrated by Anneke Wills', and it's very visual few minutes. Even so, I've gotten used to Troughton to the point now that I can just picture his movements as he hurries back and forth across the control room in pursuit of data.

The highlight of the scene has to be when he discovers that not only has he worked out a correct formula, he's worked it out exactly right, and it took the colony's best computers years to figure out. With a joyful tone, he happily crosses out the 10/10 he's given himself (written in chalk on the wall, just under where he's being doing his calculations), and corrects it to an 11/10. It's a great little moment, and another example of something that I just can't picture Hartnell doing.

The other scene that gives him a chance to shine comes slightly before his comedic runaround with chalk. The Doctor is left alone in the control room with Ben, who is still under the control of the colony. It's a beautifully played scene by both Troughton and Michael Craze, as the Doctor tries to break Ben's conditioning subtly. He picks his way through a bag of sweets as he muses that this 'just isn't like you, Ben…' and warns him to stay away from Jamie, who might not be forgiving. It's another of those moments that I'm really sorry doesn't exist - as I'd love to see this pair on screen together more.

One of the key things that people tend to note about The Macra Terror is that it's the first time that the titles for the programme have changed. It's less obvious to me, listening to it on audio, as the music won't alter for another couple of days. The Troughton titles set the template for the rest of the programme's classic run, and I usually think of them as the 'default' titles for the show. In a recent Doctor Who Magazine Poll, they were voted people's 6th favourite (out of 13), so perhaps not as popular as I'd expected.

The thing I always remember about this particular sequence is my mum's reaction to it. Mum's not a fan of Doctor Who in any shape or form. I can recall watching Smith and Jones for the first time, on a visit home, and mum sitting in another room because she didn't really want to watch. Every five minutes or so, she'd walk through the living room and make a point of looking at the screen and loudly declaring that it was 'a load of old rubbish', with a bit of a smile. Still, the last time she visited me in Cardiff, Ellie and Me took her to the Doctor Who experience, as it's only a ten minute walk from the flat. She ended up quite enjoying that, so perhaps we can make a fan of her yet?

Anyway, in the early days, when I was first getting into Doctor Who, I'd picked up a Troughton story on DVD and I was settling down to watch it for the first time. As soon as the titles came on, mum decided that it was time to up and leave, as it was these titles that put her off Doctor Who for good. She'd have been about seven when they started, so old enough to really take note. She'd always found the sight of Troughton's face appearing from the howl around to be just a bit too scary, and took that as her cue to leave the room.

Often, she'll talk about just hearing the theme music as a child, and that being enough to scare her, so I think it's safe to say that these new titles weren't perhaps the greatest of successes the show ever produced - at least not in the eyes of some children!

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