The Macra Terror, or Dr Who And The Giant Crabs From Space, is probably my favourite of all the missing stories, and the one I’d most like to see returned, after Power & Evil, obv. It’s so reminiscent of The Prisoner, with all that enforced jollity hiding something sinister going on underneath, that you wonder if McGoohan caught this and filed it away until it was time to head to Portmerion. I doubt it, but it’s a nice idea. And it’s a shame that it’s only on audio, as it looks pretty good for mid-sixties Who, even allowing for the budgetary limitations, from the few clips and telesnaps we do have. Please can Flip Maurice find this one next time? Ta much.
This edit was originally made from the cassette release narrated by Colin Baker that was put out back in the Nineties. They were as big a revelation in many ways as the VHS tapes of the existing stories were back in the day but there wasn’t nearly enough narration and what there was did a poor job of conveying what was going on at many points in the story, with far too many gaps. Those early audio releases had other Doctors doing the narrating instead of the companions of the time, with Colin doing this, Jon doing Tomb, Tom doing Power, Evil and Fury. What a shame they didn’t use those Tom Baker narrations for the subsequent CD releases, especially Power, which was done “in character” as the Doctor.
The Macra prop, which I have now officially named as Molly The Macra, looks a heck of a lot better in the Shawcraft footage on the DVD of The Chase than it does in the telesnaps or that clip of it grabbing Polly. Shame they never managed to build the crab legs for it or put some teeth in its mouth, and I’m not entirely sure about the lightbulb eyes but overall it’s a cracker of a build. If the New Series would revisit them properly, as monsters I reckon the Macra would be right up there with the spider-y space germs in the scare stakes. Sadly the Gridlock ones with the oversize claws were faintly ridiculous.
As far as the mk2 CD version goes, its a real relief to finally have some decent narration to let you know what’s going on. The original narration wasn’t up to much at all, and whoever wrote it wants sending to the danger gang!
There were too many obvious narrative gaps where there was nothing to tell you what’s going, when you would expect there to be something telling you what’s going on, meaning that there were quite a few moments where you were left wondering just what the hell it was you were listening to, which just pulled you out of the story as you try to work out what’s happening without the benefit of narration. Okay, so this was one of the first ever releases, but the narration was shockingly bad and the lack of it where you would ordinarily expect it got really bloody annoying after a while.
Luckily second time around there are no such problems and you get a sense not just of what’s happening but how its happening. Doctor Who minus the pictures isn’t radio.Although the improved narration helps, there’s nothing that can be done about the annoying music, which sees cuddly Dudley Simpson in his early twiddly synthesizer phase and shows the beginnings of what we would get with Pertwee in a few years time. It’s somewhat, “distinctive” shall we say, which ruled out the usual soundtrack replacement. Macra is a story that I think would have been better without any music at all, as what there is here is about one step up from Carey Bloody Blyton. And it would certainly have been better for me when it came to editing it!
Even making the usual allowances for the budgetary limitations of mid-sixties Who, the music is probably the only thing that lets the story down, as it lacks any sort of atmosphere due to everything being played way too far up the keyboard of that awful farty Stylophone-style synthesiser Dudley’s using.
In the original version I included some additional music to help with the atmosphere, as the lack of narration did nothing to build any sort of tension. The only music I could think of using, in the places where I felt it was needed but absent, was some of the Early Pertwee from the 11-disc set released for the Fiftieth, and so I pressed the cues from The Claws of Axos and The Mutants into service where possible, since they at least sounded a bit similar. But this time around, I’ve left them out.
Storywise, things only really start start to pick up when Ben gets nobbled, and it’s interesting to hear how his cockney accent drifts into RP afterwards, something that I’m sure was deliberate. It’s not entirely a surprise that Ben submits to the brainwashing, given that he is a sailor and it tends to be the case that military personnel obey orders, sort of goes with the job. And it must have been fun for Michael Craze to play something a bit different too.
Of course, once the Doctor works out that the Macra depend on the gas the colonists work to supply them with, the story is pretty much over, as all he has to do is to turn the gas tap off. Or rather, tell Ben how to turn the gas tap off. The idea that the Macra are parasites infecting the colony, like germs infecting a body, is a nice idea but one that would have worked a lot better if it had been thematically present through all the episodes instead of just bunged in at the end. And it’s a shame Peter Jeffrey’s pilot is largely absent for the bulk of part four, as he’s by far the most interesting character we meet in the story. I must be honest, though, and say I was quite relieved when that hysterical bugger Medoc bought it!