“It’s not very reliable, as you can see.” So spoke the Doctor about the time scanner, a rarely used piece of technology which allows those aboard the TARDIS to see into the future; what is glimpsed through the haze and static is apparently a huge claw. Having just departed the Moon in the year 2070, that image is indeed what they will find as they rematerialise on an unnamed planet in the far future.
Regrettably, the Doctor was accurate in his summation of the time scanner being unreliable, and following broadcast between 11th March and 1st April 1967 that which became known as The Macra Terror remained unseen, the original videotapes among those which were wiped for reuse within the BBC with only brief clips and stills extant until it was announced that a new animated version was to be released.
The seventh serial of the fourth season of Doctor Who, it was the fifth to feature Patrick Troughton, having taken over in the lead role in The Power of the Daleks following William Hartnell’s departure in The Tenth Planet, accompanied by ongoing companions Polly and Ben (Anneke Wills and Michael Craze) who had joined at the end of the third season and the more recently acquired Jamie (Frazer Hines).
The third contribution to Doctor Who by writer Ian Stuart Black following The Savages and The War Machines, the latter of which introduced Polly and Ben, the original production was directed by John Davies, while the new animated version is directed by Charles Norton, only the second “missing” adventure to have been entirely recreated in such a way.
The Macra Terror a relatively uncomplicated affair, it tells of a human colony of enforced compliance, the inhabitants who obey their conditioning enjoying the pleasures and diversions on offer so long as they observe the curfew, while those who stray from the accepted mindset are sent below to the toxic gas mines.
Having encountered escaped prisoner Medok (Terence Lodge) and inadvertently assisted in his recapture, the Doctor takes an interest in what are dismissed as hallucinations, Medok insisting that there are monsters within the mines, the Pilot (Peter Jeffrey) and Chief of Police Ola (Gertan Klauber) enforce the inflexible will of the Controller and deny such ravings.
A “Big Brother” overseer omnipresent through his projected image but never seen in person, the voice of the Controller (Denis Goacher) insists that “there are no Macra,” but with Ben succumbing to the nocturnal hypnotic conditioning of the colony and Polly and Jamie sent to the mines alongside Medok they soon confirm that there are indeed Macra.
Yet for several decades it was true that there were no Macra other than the audio recordings and single televised return engagement to threaten David Tennant and Freema Agyeman in 2007’s Gridlock, and while it is always appreciated to have more of the lost episodes of Doctor Who made widely available, that sentiment does not mean that The Macra Terror is particularly impressive.
Falling into many of the routines of the era, the Macra are little more than monsters of poorly defined purpose and much of the action is repetitive, first Medok escaping then recaptured then much of episode three devoted to Jamie escaping then being recaptured; the late addition of the character to preceding story The Moonbase having had him rendered unconscious for convenience, while he is lucid in The Macra Terror the writers are still unsure how to use him.
That accusation extends to the Doctor himself, frustratingly passive as he stands around and acts the clown, asking abstract questions but not receiving useful answers or following the clues, while the “holiday camp” aspects of the colony are simply grating, nor is what limited value the story might offer well conveyed in the new format.
The animation lacking nuance, the interpretations of the characters are broad and unflattering; Anneke Wills, Michael Craze and Frazer Hines were an unusually attractive grouping of companions for this era of the show yet their recreations are only nominally recognisable while the guest cast are almost caricatures, Medok in particular overwhelmed by a particularly inflexible Lego hairpiece.
The conscious decision made to craft a looser adaptation than previous single episode replacements which have had to tie with the surviving episodes they stand alongside, that is a mixed blessing but rather than using it to make a more dynamic animation it is apparent the opposite is true; comparison with the included “reconstructed” episodes show the sets are less detailed and the action is often simplified, even deviating from the soundtrack in some instances.
Particularly irksome is the decision to omit an entire scene where the Doctor, Polly and Ben enjoy beauty treatments and Jamie vocally does not, justified by saying “it would be expensive to create and it is not central to the plot,” when in fact it emphasises the luxury enjoyed by those who slavishly follow Control and it also explains why Polly’s hair changes so radically; instead she sports her new short hair from the opening scenes, and there are also changes to costumes both broad (Ben’s striped shirt becomes plain) and in details.
Presented in both colour and black and white, in some ways the monochrome is more effective, the Macra better when seen less, additional features are a commentary featuring rotating guests moderated by Toby Hadoke, test animations, a short test animation of the still missing opening episode of The Wheel in Space and fascinating Super 8 archive footage of Shawcraft Models, though the absence of any form of the customary “making of” documentary is a frustrating absence.
The Macra Terror is available now on DVD and Blu-ray