Monday, September 02, 2019

Doctor Who - The Macra Terror

Between 1967 and 1978 a number of BBC shows stored on videotape and film were wiped or destroyed to make storage room for newer programs. This was done because of the prevalent belief of the time that these shows had no real value. Cut to a few years later when the VHS revolution and the loss of these classic episodes becomes a gaping hole in television history – and a massive loss of profit potential.

For decades one of the most profitable of all BBC television shows has been Doctor Who. On the air originally from 1962 to 1989 it’s early years were hit pretty hard by the desire to make space in the BBC vaults for more recent things. Luckily, Doctor Who is unusual in that each of its 97 missing episodes survives in audio form recorded off-air by fans at home. Most of these episodes are also represented by production stills, and short video clips. This has allowed the modern BBC production team to find ways of bringing a version of these missing stories to the public. Over the years various means have been employed from narrated audio released to CD all the way to fully animated recreations of lost episodes. Fans are hungry for these missing pieces of this great science fiction show and the level of quality of each new way of visualizing these bits of TV history has steadily improved over the years.

So, as a huge fan, I'm always very excited when a lost Doctor Who story from the 60’s gets restored and released for public viewing for the first time. There are so many of these still missing, especially from the years of my favorite Doctor, Patrick Troughton that any chance to see a ‘Lost Tale’ is a time to celebrate. I will go far out of my way to see these restorations or recreations of classic Who stories including the theatrical special release a couple of years ago of the animated version Power Of The Daleks, the very first Troughton story. Another from the second Doctor is now available in a newly animated form and I was unwilling to wait for the stateside release of the Blu-Ray in November, so I bought the British release! That All Regions player is well worth it.

So, what did I think of the newest Who restoration, The Macra Terror? First, the new animation process is much improved over the previous releases. As much as I liked seeing Power of the Daleks the style of limited animation used was distancing. One of the joys of Doctor Who is the performances ranging from wonderfully subtle all the way to over-the-top scenery chewing. The previous animated tales were not capable of communicating the nuances of the actor’s choices making it harder to engage with the stories. The animation style used in this new release is much better with much more work having gone into giving each character plenty of different expressions and a fuller range of movement. This makes for a more satisfying presentation and I’m happy for this upgrade in quality. I’m also happy that the Blu-Ray gives you the option of watching the entire thing in either color or black & white. As all of the Troughton years were before the show switched to color it is fun to have the chance to see it both ways.

But I must admit that The Macra Terror is not one of the best of the second Doctor’s stories. At four episodes it feels a little padded with the hypnotic betrayal of one of the Doctor’s companions going on for longer than necessary. The tale has enough interesting ideas to keep things moving but the final episode feels a little rushed and unsatisfying. Interestingly, having the story completely animated probably helps the practical special effects work much better than the original full-sized stage mock-ups that can be seen in a few seconds of surviving footage. I’m sure that having the alien creatures be large crabs made for an easier visualization at the time, but having characters menaced by poorly flailing claws isn’t a great look. The truck-sized monsters are quite scary and dangerous in their animated form making this tale more effective than it might otherwise have been.

So, it’s not a great Doctor Who story but still a good one. Having another gap filled in is wonderful and with this improvement in the animated style I’m really looking forward to future releases. Next up is The Faceless Ones which is missing four of its six episodes. I can’t wait to finally be able to enjoy that one as well!

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