As an avid Doctor Who viewer since the first episode on 23rd November 1963 I almost certainly watched “The Macra Terror”, aged 11, on its original broadcast March to April 1967, but I have no recollection of it whatsover. Which means that I got to this watch the serial as though I was seeing it for the first time which was a real pleasure.
“The Macra Terror” was one of the many Doctor Who serials that was wiped by the BBC in the 1960s and early 1970s. Home video was just a distant dream, even on Tomorrow’s World: drama of any kind were very rarely repeated so there was no notion at the BBC that anybody in the future would want to see these programmes again.
The era in which Pat Troughton played the Doctor from 1966 to 1969 was particularly hard hit because of this policy with 14 serials either partly or wholly missing at one time. Fortunately some of those are now available to us once again, either because they turned up abroad (where they had been sold decades ago to foreign broadcasters) in the case of the “The Web of Fear” and “The Enemy of the World” or because they have been turned into animations using the original soundtrack which forunately have survived. This was done in the case of “The Power of the Daleks”, the first serial in which Pat played the Doctor for the first time, and which was wholly missing, The DVD was released at the end of 2016, 50 years after ist first broadcast. Now “The Macra Terror” from 1967 has also been animated – in colour.
In an interview published in Doctor Magazine (536) to coincide with the release the director Charles Norton said, “It’s not a reconstructuion of the original – it’s a new production of the story. The existing set designs and things like that are really more of a starting point than an end destination” while Adrian Salmon, who storyboarded the production, said, “We decided not to refer to the original shooting script, but rather cast a fresh eye over the performances in the audio.”
The story begins in the Tardis with the Doctor showing his three companions, Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben ( Michael Craze) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) a device known as Time Scanner which looks into the future. Suddenly a large claw fills the screen.
On landing the travellers find themselves on a human colony planet (how and when this colonisation happened is never discussed). At first glance this appears to be a space age Butlins with a drum majorette leading a parade as the travellers arrive, while there are constant exhortations from louspeakers: “The colony needs you” and “Fun for All.”. The Pilot (Peter Jeffrey), is in day to day charge, but orders are received from the Controller (Graham Leaman) whose image is seen on screen only, like Big Brother.
This is your Controller speaking. There is no need for alarm. You may all continue your work and play confident that the best is being done for you…. Now, return to your work and play with fresh heart and renewed energy.
The travellers receive a friendly welcome and are offered steam baths, beauty treatments etc. The Doctor even has his suede shoes polished. All fine.
But the Doctor is already suspcious after an encounter with Medok (Terence Lodge), a colonist who claims that there are creatures that come out at night. Soon we too will learn the truth about the colony – and who is really in charge.
One of the key themes of the story is how dissenting voices are treated by a society. In the case of the colony there is a Corrections Unit and also sleep-machines which brainwash Ben into conformity for a time with their re-iterated messages;
The sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders. The leaders of the Colony know what is best. In the morning when you wake up you will be given some work. You will be glad to obey. You will question nothing in the Colony.
The Doctor asks the Pilot: “Why do you want to make everyone the same?” Why indeed.
To my eye this is a better animation than “The Power of the Daleks” . If you are purist you can watch it in black and white, rather than the colour.
“The Macra Terror” was not the greatest story of the Pat Troughton era but it is still a welcome return.