Doctor Who: THE MACRA TERROR The Lost TV Episodes Audiobook Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: THE MACRA TERROR The Lost TV Episodes Audiobook Review

Matthew Kresal discovers there is a such thing as Macra (on audio).
The fact that some 97 episodes from the earliest years of Doctor Who's 20th-century run are missing is a sad one for us fans of the series. Those episodes include entire serials, such as the Second Doctor story The Macra Terror, broadcast in the spring of 1967. Thankfully for generations of fans that followed, intrepid viewers of the era recorded the audio from missing stories such as The Macra Terror onto tape. Those recordings in an era before reconstructions and animations have helped the stories to live on in fandom. Now, more than five decades later, that serves as the basis of the recently released fourth collection of The Lost TV Episodes from BBC Audio, featuring The Macra Terror.

Coming early on during the Second Doctor's era, listening to the story now is a chance to hear Patrick Troughton's Doctor still solidifying. There's still the slightly comedic air of his earlier performances in the role in serials such as The Highlanders and The Underwater Menace, but the "cosmic hobo" is finding a more earnest, perhaps even manipulative, edge that frequently makes his foes underestimate him. As fans have learned from Troughton's performances in recovered stories such as Tomb of the Cybermen and Enemy of the World, there's a visual aspect to his Doctor lost on audio, but there's still plenty to hear and enjoy here.

That's true of other aspects of the story, as well. The serial offered up a chance for Michael Craze to shine in the role of companion Ben, one of the series two action lads in this period, here goes through brainwashing and betraying his friends throughout the four episodes. Craze's performance, in particular, comes across well on audio, though both of his fellow companions, Polly (Anneke Wills) and Jamie (Frazer Hines), are well served in the format. It is Wills who, now decades later, provides the linking narration that helps get across more visual aspects of the story that aren't evident on-screen, including descriptions of both the settings and of the titular crab-like monsters. The result makes both the Macra and the story that bears their name all the more atmospheric and engaging, perhaps even more so than on BBC One in 1967, suggesting that the adage of the pictures being better on radio holds true.

What comes through the strongest on audio may well be the script by Ian Stuart Black. Black, a frequent writer for British TV from the 1950s through to the 1970s, wrote his third and final Doctor Who serial here and created what might be his best of the lot. The Macra Terror is an intriguing combination of Doctor Who's usual monster fare, which would become increasingly common as the Second Doctor's era wore on, with dystopian tropes. As a result, it stands out as one of the earliest examples of the trope of the Doctor coming in and essentially working to overthrow an oppressive regime. It's a story that, in some ways, perhaps doesn't need the Macra at all, just someone pulling the proverbial strings, with the alien menace impeding the story in places. Even so, what Black writes here is an engaging piece of work.

Weirdly, given its springtime broadcast, Black's script for The Macra Terror features some intriguing pre-echoes of Patrick McGoohan's famous series The Prisoner, which began airing in the autumn of 1967. Both take place in settings that have the air of holiday resorts and hide an oppressive force controlling the lives of its occupants. Both deal with notions of brainwashing, the manipulation of thoughts as one sleeps, voices that boom announcements over speakers at all hours, a largely unknown figure from whom the nominal head of the community (Number Two in The Prisoner, Peter Jeffrey's Pilot here) takes orders, and feature finales that take place largely underground. A coincidence? Perhaps, though Black did write for McGoohan's earlier series Danger Man, which makes one wonder.

Whatever the connection between Macra Terror and The Prisoner might be, listening to it is an intriguing experience. It's a chance to hear one of the most influential Doctors taking shape as a character in an engaging tale whose dystopian aspects resonate after more than half a century. Not to mention kicking off this collection in style with a trip back in time of its very own.

Listen to Doctor Who: The Lost TV Episodes today with a 30-day free trial of Audible.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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