Blu-Ray Review: Doctor Who -The Macra Terror

Blu-Ray Review: Doctor Who -The Macra Terror


The Doctor, Polly, Ben and Jamie arrive on a planet colonised by humans. Almost soon as they leave the TARDIS, they meet Medok (Terence Lodge), a colonist on the run who is immediately arrested by Ola (Gertan Klauber), the colony’s Chief of Police. Ola takes the Doctor and his companions back to the colony, which seems almost like a paradise, with encouraging messages conveyed by the mysterious Controller on a monitor screen. But all is not what it seems, and the secret controllers of the colony are the Macra, aliens resembling giant crabs...


At the time of writing, ninety-seven Doctor Who episodes, originally broadcast by the BBC between 1964 and 1969, are missing. While it’s always possible that that figure would be reduced further, certain episodes are far more likely to turn up than others but I’m not going to speculate which. Short of the invention of time travel or broadcast-quality memory retrieval, that figure will never reach zero. The DVD release Lost in Time gathered together all the "orphan episodes", those from stories with fifty percent or fewer surviving, and if there's one set of discs a Who fan would love to have made obsolete, it's this one.

That said, for all the missing episodes we have soundtracks recorded off-air by fans at the time of broadcast, the scripts, stills and other publicity material, telesnaps (of which more below) and for all but three serials at least some footage if only fragments. Ten full serials, from the single-episode Mission to the Unknown to the seven-parter Marco Polo, have no surviving episodes. The Macra Terror is the second to be released on Blu-ray with animation, both colour and black and white, matched to the cleaned-up soundtrack recordings. (The Power of the Daleks was the first.)

The Macra Terror was the seventh story of the show’s fourth series, back in the days when each series ran for ten months of the year. It was an important one for Doctor Who as producer Innes Lloyd took a huge gamble in changing his leading man. William Hartnell, aged fifty-eight and in failing health, was replaced after two stories by the twelve-years-younger Patrick Troughton as the First Doctor regenerated into Second. If that gamble hadn’t come off, I may well not be writing this now. Doctor Who might have been a British science fiction show of the 1960s fondly remembered by vintage-TV cultists and not the phenomenon it is today. So Series Four was an important season, but Troughton’s era is the one still most devastated by missing episodes and this series most of all: it is the only one with none of its nine stories surviving complete and it also has four of those ten which are currently completely missing.


The writer of The Macra Terror was Ian Stuart Black (1915-1997), his third and final contribution to the show. He had previously written two consecutive stories for William Hartnell’s Doctor, The Savages (lost) and The War Machines (all episodes surviving). The latter had introduced the companions Polly and Ben, who were still aboard the TARDIS for the present story. They had been introduced in an attempt of providing more “contemporary” (that is, mid-Sixties London) faces to the show, older than the teenagers Susan and Vicki (neither of whom came from contemporary Earth anyway), but not middle-aged like Ian and Barbara. It’s hard to judge their work as their only completely-extant story is their first, but their days were numbered. They were written out in the next story, The Faceless Ones (two episodes survive out of six) and, with hindsight, the then third companion, Jamie, proved longer-lasting, remaining with the Doctor right up to the end of Troughton’s time with the show.

Many Doctor Who stories have had one or two companions, once none at all, but with three there was always the problem of finding enough plot for each one as well as for The Doctor and still tell a story of four episodes or more. Often one of them would be effectively side-lined, and not just so that the actor concerned could be written out for an episode so that he or she could have a holiday. Another issue, which the show didn’t really address until the 1970s, was that too often, for all their qualifications, female companions often defaulted to being required to scream and be rescued, and that’s certainly the case with Polly in this story. Ben at least gets to be controlled by the Macra for some of the storyline.

We’re in dystopic mode, though it’s a dystopia that’s an apparent utopia, with only a few at first realising what the Macra are doing behind the scenes. There are certainly nods to Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the colony’s Controller a voice and a picture on a monitor screen. However, ultimately it’s another monster story. There was only the one Macra prop (operated by regular Dalek Robert Jewell) so director John Davies had to rearrange the shooting schedule for the scenes where more than one of the beasts had to appear.

A few notes. This was the first serial to feature the new title sequence, featuring  the Doctor's face. The small role of Chicki is played by two different women – Sandra Bryant in episode one (though it’s questionable if she’s actually in it) and Karol Keyes taking over in episode four as Bryant asked to be released from her contract so she could take another acting job. That was back in the days when you saw the names in credits only the once, assuming you were watching out for them in the first place, unless you kept your issues of Radio Times. As well as acting, Keyes, changing her stage name to Luan Peters, sung lead vocals on a top ten hit single, 5000 Volts’s “Doctor Kiss Kiss” in 1976. And according to the commentary on this disc, another thing Bryant and Keyes/Peters had in common was that Frazer Hines dated them both.

The Macra Terror had its only British television showing in four parts between 11 March and 1 April 1967. It was sold abroad, shown in Australia, Uganda, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Zambia. The original broadcast tapes were wiped in March 1974 and none of the 16mm tele recordings struck for overseas sales are known to have survived. So, other than the off-air soundtrack, recorded by fan Graham Strong and others back in 1967 (Strong's recording is the one used here), all that exists are small fragments, which I’ll detail in the extras below.




THE DISCS



The BBC’s Blu-ray of The Macra Terror comprises two discs, with the colour version on Disc One and the black and white on Disc Two. Given that at base this is a television production made for a PAL service, the Blu-rays are 1080i50, respecting the 25 frames per second running speed of the original. The serial carries a PG certificate. The four episodes can be selected individually and there is a Play All option (98:02). As usual with a BBCDoctor Who disc, there is an optional audio-navigation menu.

Being a 1967 television production made in 1967, before the launch of colour television in the UK. The Macra Terror was made in black and white in the old 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As with The Power of the Daleks, none of the episodes here survive, so there isn’t the obligation to match that with these new animated episodes, so they are in colour and in the widescreen ratio of 1.78:1. There is an alternative black and white version. Screengrabs from both follow.


The episodes follow the original soundtrack, but there are a couple of changes. Before the opening credits of Episode one, we have a reprise of the cliffhanger of the final episode of the previous story, The Moonbase, with a large Macra claw appearing on the TARDIS monitor. This is in black and white in both versions, with the colour in that version coming in with the opening credits sequence. Episode one also edits the short sequence where the Doctor, Polly, Ben and Jamie are given makeovers by the colonists, basically so that Polly doesn’t have to be animated with two different hairstyles. (Anneke Wills had had a haircut, so she was given hair extensions for the sake of continuity before her on-screen restyling.) This sequence is intact on the telesnap reconstruction, of which more below. Also, the credits at the end of each episode don’t strictly follow those from 1967: Delia Derbyshire gets a credit for arranging the theme, which she never did on screen. There are also credits for the animation as well as for the original production.

The soundtrack is, as mentioned above, the one recorded off-air and cleaned up and restored. The Power of the Daleks track was remixed into stereo, but this time it’s kept to the original mono, rendered as DTS-HD MA 2.0. It’s clear and the dialogue, Dudley Simpson’s score and the sound effects are well balanced. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available.

The extras begin with the commentary track, which is on the colour version. This is moderated by Toby Hadoke. Episodes One and Four feature Frazer Hines and Maureen Lane (who plays the drum majorette). For Episode One, they are joined by Anthony Gardner, who plays Alvis. As ever, the presence of a moderator – which wasn’t always the case with earlier Who DVD releases, pays off by keeping the conversation on track and facilitating not-always-reliable fifty-plus-year-old memories. In Episode Two, Hadoke talks to Terence Lodge (who plays Medok), firstly in a new interview recorded at Lodge’s home, and then an older interview recorded in a cafe, so some background noise. As well as acting in this, Carnival of Monsters and Planet of the Spiders, Lodge has a further Who connection in that he used to the landlord of Elisabeth Sladen, long before she played Sarah Jane Smith.

Episode Three features director John Davies, in an interview recorded in 2013 (again, some background noise). This is a more of a career overview, as Davies worked as a television director for thirty-seven years, with The Macra Terror being early in his career. He’s particularly proud of Nana, a five-part adaptation of the Émile Zola novel, made for BBC2 in 1968. It was only the second BBC drama serial made in colour, and controversial in its day for its sexual content, including apparently the first scripted nudity in British television. Sadly, one episode is now lost.

Anneke Wills is still with us, but doesn’t take part in the commentary. However, she is elsewhere on these discs. Telesnaps were still photographs taken of shows during the broadcast. John Cura (1902-1969) had been offering this as a service to the BBC since the 1950s, making the photographs available to actors and production crew who wanted them, especially in the days when the programmes were broadcast live and in almost all cases not recorded. Cura provided telesnaps of most Doctor Who episodes up to 1968, when he stopped, possibly because his health was declining due to the cancer he died of. The Macra Terror is a story where a full set of telesnaps exist, and they have been used to reconstruct all four episodes. Captions explain things which aren’t immediately clear, and the small amount of existing footage is used where those scenes appear. Wills supplies an optional narration. Episodes One and Two (22:51 and 23:16) are on Disc One, Three and Four (23:20 and 23:40) on Disc Two.

Disc Two also has another audio presentation of the story, that released on audio cassette in 1992. This comprises the off-air soundtrack with narration by then-recent Doctor Colin Baker (94:23).

Back to Disc One, and the extras continue with a bonus mini-episode (10:49). This features the Doctor and Jamie in the opening of The Wheel in Space, from 1968. This story was to introduce a new companion in the shape of Wendy Padbury’s Zoe, but only two episodes out of six survive and the first is not one of them. It’s nice to see this, and in the absence of any episode finds, we might see a reconstructed version of this story sometime, though as there are two episodes in existence, any animation would likely not be in colour and 16:9.

The remaining extras on Disc One concern the animation. We have an animation test (1:50), a scene between the Doctor and Ben, animatics (6:50), and a self-navigating stills gallery of character and set designs (3:40). Finally, there is a teaser trailer for this story (0:22).

Disc Two continues with the surviving footage from The Macra Terror (1:56). These come from two sources, both Australian as it happens. Some are clips removed by the Australian censor from Episode Two and the start of Episode Three before broadcast there, of which more in a moment. The others are short fragments captured by a fan by pointing an 8mm film camera at the television set.

Some of those censor clips are used to recreate a censored scene (3:35). Australia was the overseas country which showed 1960s Doctor Who the most often – every story bar two, in fact. Every episode was viewed by the censor and rated as suitable for the 6.30pm showing slot or not. If they rated an episode as “A” (adult) it could not be shown at that time, and had to be edited. (The two stories which were not shown in Australia, Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks’ Master Plan, were skipped because they were judged impossible to edit to be suitable.) One scene which was edited was in Episode Two of The Macra Terror, where a Macra attacks Polly, who is rescued by Ben. With the help of the surviving clips, telesnaps with captions and the soundtrack, this item shows us the scene first as seen in the UK and then the edited version as shown in Australia. (The Australians also lost a few seconds from the scene at the end of the episode and the reprise at the start of Episode Three, where the Controller is attached by a giant claw.)


“Behind the Scenes” (11:41) takes us to Shawcross Models in Uxbridge, a company which made many of the monsters and props for the show at the time. Shot in 1967, this film footage shows us the company at work, with the Macra being just one of their creations. Others include Cyberman parts from the then-recent The Tenth Planet and an aeroplane from the next story on, The Faceless Ones. This footage is in colour, and shows how colourful some of the props actually were, mainly to produce shades of grey that weren’t too similar to each other when viewed in black and white. The footage is silent, so on this disc is a commentary by former Who effects designer Mike Tucker.

Next up is the title sequence, as mentioned new for this story. It’s shown in full, first as a raw film recording, then restored and remastered in HD, widescreened and finally colourised (2:56).

The final item on this disc is a self-navigating stills gallery (3:09).

Additional content is available on Disc Two in PDF form. These comprise camera scripts for all four episodes, the Programme as Broadcast forms for each Saturday night’s viewing, the Programme Recording Form for the fourth episode, Radio Times listings for each episode and its preview of the first, and studio floor plans.

Also in the set is an eight-page booklet. This contains an overview of the story and its making by the animation director Charles Norton, and details of this set’s extras. On the back cover are the credits for the original production and this animated version, showing dates and audience figures for each episode and the original shooting schedule.

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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