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"The Macra Terror" and the Future of Missing Doctor Who Animations

With "The Macra Terror" now having being released on DVD and Blu-Ray, let's take a look at what it tells us about the future of this line of reconstructions...

The official trailer for The Macra Terror animation. (Video copyright to the BBC)

Since the discovery by the wider fan-base in 1981 that the BBC had been junking episodes of Doctor Who they believed would never be seen again, there have been many attempts to reconstruct these gaps. People have gone to great lengths to recover the episodes themselves, of course, but, with 97 episodes still missing, fans have wanted a way of experiencing these stories as well as all those that exist in the archives. We've had had telesnaps, novelisations, audio releases with linking narration, and even reconstructions bringing a number of these elements together. But, in the past 12 years, we've been seeing more and more of these lost stories be recreated through animation. From Cosgrove Hall's beautifully stark animation of "The Invasion" to Planet 55's almost anime-style animation of "The Reign of Terror," we've seen a variety of styles and a variety of companies attempting to bring these missing episodes to life. Since 2016, BBC Studios have been producing animations themselves, starting with "The Power of the Daleks," and then continuing with the unfinished Tom Baker story Shada. And now, we've reached The Macra Terror, which takes the idea of animating Doctor Who to a whole new level. And now, the big question that Doctor Who fans have is this: what is the future of these animations? Where do we go next?

The promotional image for The Macra Terror, depicting the Doctor, Polly, Jamie and Ben being menaced by the Macra. (Picture copyright to the BBC) 

"The Macra Terror" animation was slightly different from the other animations we had before, in that it's not really an attempt to recreate what the story would have looked like in precise detail. Instead, it's an attempt to try and bring the story into the 21st Century. To find ways around areas of the story that are difficult to animate, elements that didn't quite work in the original and to use technology that wasn't around in the 1960's. For example, the Macra in this version of the story look very different to the original prop, which was rather limited in terms of movement. These kind of changes actually help to benefit this version of the story, as the Macra are a lot more threatening in this version than they ever were in the broadcast story. In this case, I certainly believe that these changes have benefited the story, and probably opened it up to a wider audience. Of course, with any changes like this, you have to have the technical expertise to back it up, and I think that BBC Studios have, if they are willing to give the animators time to realise their ambitions for these stories. Charles Norton, producer on the most recent animations has stated in recent interviews that his team weren't entirely happy with the results of The Power of the Daleks, mostly because the BBC wanted the animation to be ready for the 50th anniversary of Power's transmission in November 2016, and weren't willing to release extra funds to make this possible. "The Macra Terror," on the other hand, had slightly more money, and, most crucially, more time, in order to be brought to the screen, and this most definitely shows, as the finished result is a much more polished, more complex animation that Power ever was.  

A moody shot from the animation of "The Macra Terror," as the Doctor and Polly explore the Macra's base. (Picture copyright to the BBC)

So, what's next for these animations? In this article, I'll be looking at two possible answers to two versions of this question: which stories will BBC Studios pick to be animated? And what style will these animations be in? Well, to answer the second question first, I think the overwhelmingly positive reaction to "The Macra Terror" means we will be seeing more animations where the source material is adapted in order to better suit the format. Things like the re-imagined Macra, the more complex sets, the widescreen format and colour animation are more likely to become the norm as we go on with these, particularly with stories where there are no existing episodes in the archives. These changes to the original stories seem to have gone down well with fans, and they seem a good way to bring the stories to life in a way that can enhance the story. There are some things I'm slightly more reluctant for them to do than others: I certainly don't want them to cut any more scenes (like with "The Macra Terror"), and I myself am not certain about the animations being in colour. Hopefully, for all future animations, like with "Macra Terror" and "Power of the Daleks," they maintain a black-and-white option, as I find the black-and-white animations have more of an ambience about them than the colour versions. Certainly, that is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy "The Macra Terror," and I suspect I'll probably feel that way about other animations as well. Cutting scenes seems, to me, to take away from the spirit of what the project is trying to achieve, which should be an attempt to recreate the story in its entirety. I feel like, if it's in the audio soundtrack, then it should be retained. The visuals are up for grabs, but the audio should, to me, be the animators point of contact for the production. 

A still from The Macra Terror animation, as Medok observes the arrival of the TARDIS (Picture copyright to the BBC)

The other big question is about which stories will be animated next. With rumours circling around that the team are moving straight into work on "The Faceless Ones" (the story following "The Macra Terror"), I can imagine the production team will be looking to complete work on all of Troughton's first season, probably with a view to releasing these animations as part of the Collection, the new line of limited-edition Blu-Ray box sets. That would mean that, at some point soon, we'll be seeing animations for "The Faceless Ones," "The Highlanders," and "The Underwater Menace." This is probably because of the fact that these stories all feature character models that have been created already by the animation team. I certainly imagine that the BBC will want to do "The Underwater Menace," in order to make up for the frankly shambolic release the story had on DVD in 2015 (when the two missing episodes were reconstructed using the telesnaps, but were cut together really poorly). And "The Highlanders" was talked about being animated when the team did "The Macra Terror," so it's an idea I can imagine them coming back to. After that, it's probable we'll see "The Smugglers" and "The Evil of the Daleks," in order to complete Season 4, so that they can release a full Pat Troughton season (with two Hartnell stories in there as well). After that... well, I could imagine a lot of the Troughton era will get animated, since the stories are generally quite contained and small, with a few sets and a handful of characters. As for the William Hartnell stories, well, I'm not sure. The animators have recently discussed why animating The Crusade or Marco Polo might be difficult, and a lot of the Hartnell stories suffer the same issues. Some, like Galaxy 4 or The Savages, stand a good chance, but a fair few others could lose out.

A still from The Macra Terror animation, depicting the Doctor, Polly, Jamie and Ben in the TARDIS. (Picture copyright to the BBC)

Whatever happens next, I certainly don't think this is going to be the last animated missing story just yet. There's clearly a high amount of interest in seeing these stories in some form resembling their original broadcast, and the discussion and excitement they generate is clearly an incentive. I certainly hope they can animate as many of the missing stories as possible, and I'm looking forward to seeing lost classics like "Fury from the Deep," "Marco Polo," and "The Evil of the Daleks" brought back into the archives. Whatever story does get chosen next, I shall be looking forward to owning it on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Doctor Who - The Macra Terror is available to purchase from Amazon, Zoom, HMV and other DVD and Blu-Ray retailers:

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