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REVIEW: The Newly Animated The Macra Terror – A Treat for Doctor Who fans

This week, Blogtor was invited to an advanced preview of The Macra Terror.  This restored Second Doctor story will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later this month with a public screening held at the BFI Southbank on Saturday, 16th March.

Doctor Who - The Macra Terror
Doctor Who – The Macra Terror

The Macra Terror is one of the numerous Doctor Who stories starring Patrick Troughton that was destroyed the purges of the BBC archives many years ago.  Broadcast 52 years ago in the spring of 1967, The Macra Terror starred Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze and Frazer Hines.  There are no surviving episodes in the archives, and this story would have been lost to history without the audio recording of super Doctor Who fan, Graham Strong, who just recently died a few months ago.  The BBC restoration team has been able to recreated the missing visuals with the assistance director’s John Davies’ script notes.

In The Macra Terror, Doctor and his companions, Jamie, Ben and Polly land on a planet lead by mysterious Controller only seen on video screens. The brainwashed population are encouraged to work hard, enjoy their play time and above all not complain.  But all is not as it seems as there is an unknown creature roaming in the darkness.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror

This is not the first story that the animation team lead by director Charles Norton has restored.  They previously reconstructed the second Doctor story, The Power of the Daleks as well added several animated scenes to complete Tom Baker’s unfinished, Shada.   In both cases, there were criticisms about the quality of the animation. The Power of the Daleks was created with a minimal budget and an impossible 3-month deadline, and those limited were visible in the finished product.   In contrast, the 1980’s uncompleted Douglas Adams, Shada transitioned between the film and the animation delivering a sometimes jarring and jolting contrast.

With The Macra Terror, the team had a lot more money, time and tools and they have been able to create a much more polished and improved production, significantly improved both technically and emotionally.  Paul Hembury, Executive Producer, BBC Studios, who was one of the critical drivers for the project, clarified the point in a Q&A held after the screening.  There’s been an evolution, it’s partly money, and it’s actually time.  With Power (The Power of the Daleks), by the time we got the go-ahead from the business to invest that money in the programme, it was very late.  We were actually working to a specific anniversary. We thought this out.  Power actually went up on BBC store exactly 50 years to the second, since its first and only broadcast. So the time was very limited.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror

The creation of this new animated version hasn’t been just the case of fitting an audio recording to some new video.  With very little remaining of the original filmed episode and with a significant amount of missing detail in the directors’ camera script, there were many gaps in the team’s knowledge.  As the restoration director, Charles Norton elaborated at the Q&A, the original director, John Davies would frequently go off-piece and create scenes that weren’t in the script.   Hence, there were several occurrences in the sound recording that the creative team did not know what was happening beyond shuffle, shuffle, bump, thud.”  They had to go back to first principles and treat the project as a new production.

Sound engineer Mark Ayres not only cleaned up and enhanced the original recordings but he also slightly adapted them.  The silent pauses and special effects were adjusted and extended to work seamlessly with the new artwork.  Some scenes were removed – such as Polly’s trip to the hairdresser in episode 1 – and some of the non-dialogue moments were extended so action motion would occur realistically.  In the end, the final animated version is longer than the original broadcasted version.  However, before there are any complaints, the Blu-ray does contain alternatives and variations including one that re-introduce Polly’s spa trip.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror

The original product was filmed in black and white, but for this release, the animation was created in colour without any information of the original.  The screening audience was amused to witness, and exchange between the star Frazer Hines and Charles Norton as the former Highlander companion corrected the director on the colour of the costumes.

Considerable praise must be given to the artist, Martin Geraghty, who painstakingly drew all the facial expression and hand movement for all the characters.  Charles Norton elaborated upon the work that Geraghty put into this recreation. Martin “draws every single facial expression, every mouth shape, every eye blink, every frown, every smile, from every single angle for each character.  It can be a good four or five months before you actually get to animate anything at all.”

Geraghty relished recreating the actors from the 60s. “It’s great that, while doing these I noticed that actors in the 60s had such fantastic faces. Most of them are so full of character, most of them had live through a world war. And dare I say it, the National Health Service hadn’t been invented yet. So, they’d taken a few knocks in childhood giving them these really great characterful faces, that I don’t think you get on TV nowadays. Everyone’s sort of airbrushed and they look sparkly and new.” And his creations standout on screen.

Once the flat artwork was finish, it then became Sun and Moon Studio’s job to piece them together into motion with yet another improved process from The Power of the Daleks.  Power was created with Adobe Flash one frame at a time where The Macra Terror used Toon Boon.  While the setup was time-consuming once all the facial expression and movements were defined, the end product was smooth and modern.  There is still an occasional scene – such as the dancers in the first episode – that was done with the older method, but for most of the episodes Toon Boon was used.

The final result is a new episode of Doctor Who for all of the fans – even if you remember the original broadcast or have listened to the audio CD.  Getting back to the story.  This isn’t the strongest Troughton episode – many of the elements and plot devices will feel a bit old hat – but that doesn’t diminish from this reviewer’s enjoyment of the story.  The refreshed graphics and the still fresh voice work from the four leads will open the Second Doctor era to a brand-new set of fans.

Definitely worth the price of admission.

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror will be released on digital download, DVD (RRP £20.42), Blu-ray (RRP £25.52) and special edition Steelbook (RRP £40.84) on 25th March 2019.

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