Ben’s Month of Reviews: The Macra Terror

Thanks to the power of animation and modern technology, many of the Doctor Who stories lost in the 60’s have been restored. Particularly badly hit is Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, a fan favourite and beloved by many but unfortunately still relatively underserved in the complete story front. Only seven stories (a third of his total) are complete and whilst stories like The Ice Warriors, The Moonbase and The Invasion are thankfully mostly around they are filled in with recreations or animation. It’s the latter format which 2Entertain has chosen to give the completely lost Troughton stories new life. His debut The Power of the Daleks was animated in 2016 and up next is The Macra Terror, a somewhat obscure but influential story from his first season. If the name “Macra” sounds familiar, it’s because they’re the big crab things from Series 3’s Gridlock. This is their debut however and it’s a fantastic dystopian narrative brought to life with fantastic animation that honours the style of the 60’s whilst updating it to a new audience.

The Macra Terror is perhaps the first Doctor Who story to be classified as dystopia. On an unnamed human colony, the titular Macra trick and manipulate the people of the colony to mine gas for them in order to feed. They do this through propaganda and controlling regiments under the guise of a Big Brother-esque figure who appears on a screen. The Macra themselves hide themselves under the colony and wipe themselves from the public’s knowledge through the phrase “There is no such thing as Macra!” It’s up to the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly to put a stop to it. As a sidenote, this is the first story to have the Doctor’s face in the opening credits, which I believe is a necessity. Come on Chibnall, give us Jodie Whittaker’s face in the credits.

The story’s themes have proven to be highly influential. From The Sun Makers to Kerblam, The Long Game to The Happiness Patrol and Vengeance on Varos to RTD’s spiritual successor Gridlock, The Macra Terror’s influence can be felt across the show’s nearly 60 year history. Not too shabby for a story that is both officially still lost as well as being about crabs running a leisure centre. But is the story itself worthy of the animation treatment?

Whilst it’s clear this is satire, it’s unclear what it’s satire of. This isn’t a problem when viewing it in a modern perspective but there are still aspects of this story that still resonate such as the idea of fake news and denial being encouraged (for this month I definitely wanted to do a Doctor Who review. I wanted to review the Slitheen two parter for obvious reasons that anyone in the UK would be aware of but that would require me discussing contemporary politics and this is the Internet*… so The Macra Terror it was). However the story is primarily concerned on the worldbuilding and how the characters gradually solve the mystery, meaning it’s less satirical than some of the stories influenced by it later on. Once again though this isn’t a problem though as Troughton Who is mostly focused on providing thrills and scares to a general audience as well as give its leading man plenty of material to work with.

The Second Doctor is one of my all-time favourite incarnations of the character, and it’s a shame so much of his material is missing because a lot of his charisma and complexity is Troughton’s expressions and unique way of acting that cannot be replicated. The animation for the Doctor is far better this time around and I can imagine Troughton himself behaving the way the animation depicts him as. I love how the Second Doctor just puts himself in situations and lets others embarrass themselves around him whilst he quietly works things out in the background. The Macra Terror is still early days for Troughton but the character by this point is fairly well established and solid and the unique nature of this story compared to others in this era means he has plenty of fun opportunities to mess around and get challenged. My favourite line the Doctor gets this story is “bad rules are made to be broken”.

As for the three companions, the story does have a major case of “Help we have too many leads syndrome” that the early Davison era suffered from and that Season 11 dealt with mainly by shafting Yaz. With four episodes and a large amount of supporting characters Jamie, Ben and Polly end up occasionally in the background. Ben gets an interesting arc where he is brainwashed by the Macra and turn on his friends (which works far better than Season 19’s similar Adric treatments because Ben is actually likeable) but the other two feel a bit perfunctory. A random moment has Jamie walk through a gymnasium and start a Highlands dance whilst Polly gets very little to do. The main focus is on Ben fighting the Macra whilst the Doctor tricks the authorities into revealing the secrets to them. Whilst the supporting cast aren’t entirely fleshed out, I still found some of them interesting, especially the Pilot, who the Doctor manages to befriend and get him out of the Macra’s conditioning. The pacing for the most part is very good, although the final episode is quite rushed. It takes a split second for Ben to break out of his conditioning then he blows up the Macra and… that’s it. Three episodes of a slow building mystery and worldbuilding only for a bunch of characters standing around in rooms before suddenly BOOM. Perhaps another episode was necessary.

The story has a lot of merit to it however this animation is unique in that unlike The Power of the Daleks or animated episodes of individual stories the animators have re-imagined the story using the audio instead of copying the storyboards. This does mean that there are less awkward pauses or slow pacing but it’s hard to tell how much of the original “look” of the story is. There are parts like a Macra climbing the ceiling which I know cannot be in the original but then we’ll never know. Whilst I am aware that some purists would dislike the colour transition, I loved it personally. Obviously I am more than happy to watch in black and white but the animation itself is so great that it deserves to be seen in colour. Power of the Daleks is a great story but the animation was very mixed but this is a vast improvement. I particularly love the design of the Macra. The model in 1967 was… interesting and not exactly scary (although I imagine it was hidden in shadow most of the time) so the animated version instead models the Macra off the Gridlock design with the more animal like and large body whilst keeping aspects of the original Macra Terror model. If the Macra were to return again (although I highly doubt it) I would use this design.

Although The Macra Terror is far from Troughton’s best (The War Games, The Mind Robber and Enemy of the World in that order) it’s still a unique little story that serves as a testament to the craziness of 60’s Who. If you want an introduction to Troughton then this is not a bad place to start as Power of the Daleks is long and has a weaker animated reconstruction whilst The Moonbase, whilst fun, is quite formulaic. It’s also interesting to watch this in hindsight- whilst The Macra Terror presents the Macra first as animals then as controllers, Gridlock uses pre-established fan knowledge to set up the Macra as controllers of the situation then makes them simply animals. Genius move by Russel T Davies. The animation is great, the story is fast paced but always slow enough to build atmosphere and whilst the ending is a bit rushed it’s still a fine story to add to your collection. The Faceless Ones is the next animation and I for one cannot wait.

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