I want to start right off by saying I really liked this story. It has a lot going for it, the intersection of a few themes, Jamie finally steps up, and Patrick Troughton gives, I think, his best performance thus far. And we have a new intro! I was wondering when it would change, I didn’t expect it mid-season. I have to admit that the picture of Patrick Troughton is kind of creepy, but it’s a good change and the update of the graphic improves the overall look. The change/improvement was a reminder that the show will eventually move into a more modern time. Color must also be coming soon, I think.
So, the travelers arrive at The Colony just as the police are chasing Medok, some apparent criminal. As can be expected based on earlier stories, the criminal is, of course, the good guy. His crime is telling people about the Macra, terrible beasts that he say are hanging out in the Colony. Those in charge, led by the Pilot and the Controller and Ola, Chief of Police, all claim he’s crazy. Meanwhile, we learn that everyone in the Colony is super happy to be working and living and their schedule is punctuated by music. The travelers are given a buff and a shine in a scene reminiscent of Dorothy and friends arriving at the Emerald City in the film version of the Wizard of Oz, and then told that they are happy, but Jamie doesn’t like the look of things. He’s apparently smarter than he looks.
It turns out that the Controller, who appears as a still image on a large video screen (similar to Big Brother in the film version of 1984), sends them secret messages while they sleep. “you like to work. You are happy. The Colony is good. The Controller knows best.” All in a nice, soothing voice. Ben falls victim, Jamie is too smart to be duped by such nonsense, and the Doctor saves Polly. Apparently these voices make people think that because they get what they want and the sing and dance that everything is alright and they are happy. This is an interesting theme that I think was done well. Of course, it’s kind of like consumer society. As long as we get what we want and can freely spend our credit..i mean money…we tend to look the other way and ignore the ways we are being controlled. We remain hypnotized in a way by the culture industry.
What went on to be interesting about this was the Doctor’s understanding of the Macra, who were responsible for the state of things. He describes them as a bacteria or a parasite that got into the brain of the Colonists. An infection of sorts. I found this theme and commentary to culture to be brilliant. Well done, Ian Stuart Black.
The travelers, known to the Colonists as the Strangers (another brilliant choice that conjures thoughts of propaganda automatically inclining the people against them), begin to think Medok is correct and he shows the Doctor a Macra. The Macra are large, crab-like creatures with glowing eyes. Ben, seduced by the soothing messages of the Controller, turns on his friends and beings helping the Colony (a word which also reeks of unwanted invasion and occupation). Jamie, Doctor, and Polly are sent with Medok to the mines (isn’t there a better form of punishment than mines….think of something new already!) where they are releasing a dangerous gas from underground. In an amusing scene, Medok is struggling mightily to get some tube in the wall while Jamie and Polly, rather than helping, are off looking a door to another mine shaft. Some help they were.
Jamie runs off into the old mineshaft, followed closely by Medok. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers the secret formula of the gas. Proud of himself for figuring it out, he says “I think I’ll give myself a 10 out of 10.” When he learns it took the Colony’s computers years to prefect the formula he changes his grade to an 11/10. Ha! I’m starting to warm to Troughton’s humor and his portrayal of the Doctor. It’s taken a while, I think I just needed a story I enjoyed to get used to him.
It turns out that the Macra are really in control and they need the gas to breathe. They’ve been fooling the Colonists. In one great scene, Jamie challenges the image of the Controller saying “that’s not really you!” So, they show a picture of some old man talking and when he doesn’t perform a giant Macra claw comes in and attacks him while everyone looks on. This, however, was not enough to convince the people. Instead, the Doctor takes the Pilot to the Control room and shows him a Macra sitting there.
In the end, the gas the Macra need is withheld and the Colonists get their brains back. The Doctor and his friends dance away. The performances of all the leads were, I felt, quite strong. Jamie shows off his bravery and intelligence for the first time, really taking in the lead after Ben was hypnotized. Troughton gave a performance I could take seriously. Polly continued to be the damsel, not really doing too much, but always being there and chiming in. Ben’s performance was probably the weakest, but that was because he was meant to act like the guest cast, which he did just fine. In short, the best Ben and Polly story since the War Machines and the best Troughton story yet. It makes me optimistic for upcoming stories. And the Faceless Ones, up next, actually has two complete episodes. Which I plan to watch on my Lost In Time DVD Set that I received for Christmas. Awesome.