And we come to the conclusion of Big Finish’s first series of Lost Stories – adventures based on scripts or story ideas that were created for actual television adventures of the day, but for whatever reason never made it there. Like all of the first series of these, The Macros stars Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor and Nicola Bryant as his companion Peri. Strangely, it was co-written by horror movie star Ingrid Pitt (who also appeared in a couple of the show’s serials over the years).
As The Macros got underway, I at first thought I was getting into something special. The story kicks off with a very effective Twilight Zone-vibe as the Doctor and Peri find themselves on a decaying World War II naval Destroyer floating through an endless night. Greenish rust is spreading across the decaying ship as ghost-like crew members forever repeat their actions in a brief time loop. Eventually, they find they’re on the USS Eldridge, the ship from the legendary / mythical / hoax-tastic “Philadelphia Experiment”–supposedly, an incident in where things went really weird for a US destroyer when it was subjected to a process to make it invisible. Of course, in the world of Doctor Who, it’s all true, and helps add another level of intrigue to the eerie atmosphere the story has started with.
Unfortunately, the story continues past the first 15 minutes, and goes on to fall apart on almost every level. It turns out that the experiment sent the Eldridge out of the universe where it collided with a micro-universe (apparently, there are heaps of these out there), which is full of a bunch of boring and cliched characters and situations. It’s ruled by an insane dictator named Osloo who rules her people with an iron fist, outlaws free thought, and exiles anyone who disagrees with her. Just when the listener is thinking that she is like dozens of other dictator-conquerors that we’ve had in the series, the Doctor goes on to state just that. Surrounding her are various players who have a range of responses to her villainy, from obsequious fawning to indignant rebellion. When she finds out that their universes energy source is draining the life from the Eldridge, she is of course unmoved and only sees it as an opportunity to expand her territory. Naturally, the Doctor gets involved in stopping her and giving the micro-universe a new source of power (a small battery).
However, beyond the predictability of the plot, the big problem with The Macros comes with a number of illogical story beats that are so blatant it’s a miracle nobody did something about them. For example, at one point the Doctor tries to prevent the Philadelphia Experiment from ever happening by going back in time and warning its architects not to do it. He misses his target by a few weeks and so leaves a note with one guy’s wife which if read to a scientist over a radio will supposedly make the guy change his mind about carrying out his life’s work. It’s a long-shot gamble that the Doctor and Peri treat as if was a sure-fire solution to their problem, merrily leaving rather than just waiting around a few hours to make sure things happen as they hope for. The reality is that a thousand things could go wrong, and they do–the message never gets through, the experiment goes on, and the Doctor then acts as if therefore there is no other hope to save the lives of everyone on board, because of time-travel mumbo jumbo reasons. One guy even asks him why he can’t just bring them back in the TARDIS, with the Doctor’s answer being practically non-existent, and certainly unsatisfactory.
Later, the Doctor and some of the rebels head back to the micro-universe, with the rebels saying they plan to lie-low for several months to build up support amongst the people against the dictator’s rule. However, when they get there, they simply open the TARDIS doors and walk straight out into the clutches of the Osloo’s soldiers, which even allows the TARDIS itself to be captured. No mention is made, of course, to the fact that the TARDIS has a scanner that you’d think they’d be checking under such circumstances. But of course, if not for such dumb behavior, then the story couldn’t happen the way the production team wanted it to.
Finally, there’s this thing where the two universes apparently move at different rates. This impacts the story exactly twice: once at the cliffhanger where Peri almost dies, where the idea is introduced, and once at the end, where it’s used as a (incredibly obvious) way for the Doctor to defeat Osloo. It never features at any other point, and is not consistent with anything else that happens. As the Doctor and his friends go back and forth between the two universes, time is clearly running at the same rate, making it a very obvious plot convenience.
Stuff like this is fatal to the story, especially the second episode (of two). The result is that The Macros, which started as one of the best Lost Stories, ends up being one of the very worst.