In November of 2006, BBC home video two animated versions of missing (i.e. deleted) Doctor Who serials of the classic Second Doctor story, “The Invasion.” Cosgrove Studios had produced the newly animated segments, which have paved the way for the BBC to reconstruct segments of other missing classic stories, such as “The Tenth Planet” (the debut of the infamous Cybermen), “Power of the Daleks”, “Moonbase”, “Enemy of the World”, “The Ice Warriors” (the introduction of the titular Martian-born beasties) and many others, including a partly animated reconstruction of a never-completed Tom Baker-era Doctor Who story, “Shada”, that has become something of a legend in fan circles (production of the story was halted due to a strike back in 1979). Using voices of the surviving cast members reading from the original script, the story was completed in animated form and released two years ago; or last year, if (like moi) you live in the States.
In Living Color… or Black & White.
“The Macra Terror” (1967) is an early Second Doctor serial with a typical ‘base/colony/outpost-under-seige’ story. Such siege stories remain a staple of Doctor Who storytelling, even today. While perhaps not the best or most original Doctor Who tale, “The Macra Terror” is very entertaining.
The BBC video release (blu-ray/DVD) is presented in current TV widescreen standard of 16:9. The widescreen version works just fine, since no full-length video chapters of the original serial are known to exist (unlike other restored Doctor Who serials), making 4:3 frame matching unnecessary. There are both color and black & white versions of the story on the DVD/blu-ray releases (for purists). Whichever version one chooses is entirely a matter of personal preference. Since the entire serial is animated, there is no awkward jumping back to original B&W live-action video. For this review, I screened “The Macra Terror” in color (the B&W version is on the 2nd disc). The color version maintains the gray scale of the first chapter’s teaser (the cliffhanger from “The Moonbase”). Then, beginning with the credits, the story segues into full color. The colors selected for the animation are of a subtle palette, and very easy on the eyes.
Chapter One of the 4 part serial picks up at the end of “The Moonbase” (the prior story) wherein the Doctor activates the Tardis’ “time scanner” and sees a giant crab claw. The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Jamie (Frazer Hines), Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) prepare for landing, and an uncertain future.
We then see the TARDIS materialize on a hillside on an un-named Earth colony in the distant future. The TARDIS’ landing is seen by a seemingly half-crazed colonist named Medok (a standout performance by Terence Lodge), who is unable to join the blissful (artificial) contentment of the other gas-mining colonists, due to his visions of horrifying, giant crab-like creatures.
The Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly notice that the colonists seem to be in a state of mandated joy (this episode was clearly a product of the Cold War, where Soviet and Communist Party malcontents of other Eastern Bloc nations were harshly punished). They even partake in bizarre songs and even dances which serve to reinforce the rituals of the colony’s “worker pride” (once again, the anti-Soviet messaging here is hardly subtle).
Medok is paraded as a bad example by the colony’s pompous administrator Ola (Gertan Klauber), a hopeless bureaucrat whose only aim seems to be carrying out the whims of the “Big Brother”-like “Controller” (Graham Leaman), who appears as in the frozen image of a handsome young man (of which Polly randily takes note), who gives random and often contrary instructions that fly in the face of logic, but are mindlessly and blissfully carried out by the colonists.
While the Doctor and his companions rest (colonists are not allowed to leave the compound at night), the Controller attempts to brainwash the sleeping Companions into joining the ‘bliss’ of the colony, and succeeds with Ben; turning the stalwart Doctor companion into an autocratic zealot.
As Ben sides with the ruling authorities of the colony, the Doctor, Jamie and Polly join Medok in attempting to win the confidence of the colony’s ‘Pilot’ (Peter Jeffrey), by demonstrably proving that the gas mining operation’s bounty is being directed into a forbidden shaft.
The shaft, of course, is the secret home of the giant, crab-like Macras, who are the mind behind the Controller’s orders and are generating the artificial contentment that enslaves the colonists to the Macra whims.
Jamie eventually gets through to Ben, and snaps him out of the Macra bliss. With all of the Doctor’s companions, as well as the aid of the Pilot (who finally sees the giant crustaceans for himself), the tide is turned. The combustible gas is ignited, killing the Macra and breaking their will over the colonists forever. The Doctor, his companions, and the newly freed colonists celebrate.
Once again, the BBC has done a magnificent job in breathing new life into an old, long-missing story. “The Macra Terror” may not be among the very best of the Doctor Who canon, but its animated restoration in this release is a labor of love for older appreciative Whovians. Its simple, easy-to-grasp story also makes for a nice gateway into classic Who for younger/newer fans. The story’s Soviet-era message of colonists blissfully following the self-serving will of a sinister overlord also resonates strongly in the “post-truth” Trump/Brexit era as well.
Patrick Troughton’s Doctor has, sadly, accrued the most ‘missing’ stories; episodes that were thoughtlessly erased to make room for newer programming. The old BBC’s practices in those days were shockingly shortsighted. But now the BBC is making amends to Whovians by commissioning these newly animated ‘missing’ chapters to complete old surviving serials, or in the case of “The Macra Terror”, animating entire multi-chapter serials. The animation is painstakingly guided using the original audio tracks, surviving stills and available video clips as references.
Here’s hoping that the BBC can find surviving audio tracks for the remaining missing serials as well. Or perhaps they could just recreate them entirely from scratch, using sound-alike actors reading from the original scripts (much like the original cast rerecorded their lines from Douglas Adams’ script for the restored “Shada”). That, combined with the current standard of animation could finally recreate these lost stories for new generations of fans. Granted, there may be some uber-purist Whovians who perhaps prefer using still-frame reconstructions with narrative voiceovers. Personally I prefer seeing the action flow in realtime, and I find still-frame restorations (as seen in “The Web Of Fear” and many fan-made efforts) both jarring and difficult to follow.
The results of the BBC’s animated recreations breathe new life into these lost tales, and short of hopping into a TARDIS and whisking yourself back to the 1960s, it’s the best way to experience these classic stories.