Of the 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, The Macra Terror is a story often overlooked by fans. Compared with the more important, iconic stories that are currently missing from the BBC archives, it’s a pretty standard, paint-by-numbers Who adventure…at least on paper. Now painstakingly bought back to life through the medium of animation after over 50 years since its first and only airing, this exciting new DVD release from BBC Studios presents the perfect opportunity for critical reassessment.
What is instantly apparent upon first viewing is how slick and inventive the new animation is. The artists and designers elevate the production considerably with shots, creature designs and action sequences that would have been far beyond the minuscule budgets that were afforded to the original production team in 1967. Character designs are more-or-less in keeping with the original, but any worry that the expressions and gestures of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton would be lost in translation are instantly alleviated once we see the man himself bought to life in animated form.
The Macra themselves, previously portrayed by rather unconvincing rubber models in the original, have become frightening, imposing giants that tower over the human characters here, thus lending the episodes a real sense of threat and scale. This is most apparent in the black and white version contained on these discs, which cleverly uses shadows and harsh, dark lighting to frame these monstrous beasts in a manner which best exemplifies the fear factor inherent in great Doctor Who stories. The terror in Macra Terror is real at last.
But the brilliance of this recreation extends far beyond simply improving upon the original’s shortcomings. With visuals attached, the story finally comes alive, itself an enjoyable B-Movie mystery from the show’s classic ‘Monster Years’. The conceit of a ‘happy-clappy’ human colony being unknowingly brainwashed into serving a race of intelligent giant crabs is the type of off-the-wall story only Who can pull off, but with so many moments reliant on visuals to tell the story well, it’s never quite lived up to its full potential in audio form.
The new animation therefore perfectly complements the story in terms of storytelling, bringing pathos and emotion to more silent, contemplative moments that would hardly stand-out on an audio recording alone. The brainwashing and subsequent betrayal of companion Ben (Michael Craze) is given far greater power here than the existing soundtrack would suggest, thanks to intuitive character beats added in by the animators.
The two-disc set includes a number of alternative ways to enjoy the story. As well as both full colour and black and white versions of the newly animated episodes, the release also contains a reconstructed version of the story, which combines the existing soundtrack with off-air telesnaps, film fragments and surviving clips. There’s also an audio only version featuring linking narration from Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, plus the opportunity to watch the surviving footage and censor clips in isolation (all of which have been digitally restored).
Like with most classic Who releases, there’s a nice selection of extra features included too. As well as behind the scenes footage from 1967 of the model makers at work, there’s also a ton of animatics, animations tests and concept art galleries from the new production, plus title sequence footage, trailers and production paperwork in PDF form.
The real highlights though are an additional animated mini-episode (comprising ten minutes of another Troughton adventure, 1968’s The Wheel in Space) and an informative commentary track moderated by comedian and fan Toby Hadoke, which features a number of surviving cast-members and the story’s original director, John Davies. As with most commentaries featuring Hadoke on moderation duty, there’s never any shortage of information or light-hearted anecdotes, so it’s certainly worth a listen for fans (especially considering Davies has never contributed to any previous DVD releases).
Those who fancy a bit more Macra for their money should go for the gorgeous looking Steelbook version, which includes the creature’s next appearance, 2007’s Gridlock, starring David Tennant. A great episode in its own right, the exclusive bonus disc included with the set also ports over the accompanying episode commentary and Doctor Who Confidential documentary from the episode’s original DVD release. It’s all available elsewhere, but having both Macra stories in one handy set is a nice touch.
Like with previous efforts, BBC Studios’ animation team have done a sterling job in resurrecting a forgotten gem from the Doctor Who canon. The Macra Terror may be an atypical story often forgotten in the grand pantheon of 60’s Doctor Who, but thanks to the efforts and skill of those involved, it lives again, and in the process, revealed to be another true classic from the Troughton era.
There is indeed such a thing as Macra!