The “wiped” 1967 Patrick Troughton Dr Who serial, The Macra Terror is now out as a cartoon recreation on BBC DVD. As someone who watched Dr Who from its earliest days, I’m extremely pleased to have had a chance to finally watch this story.

I remember coming across a photo of The Macra in the 1970’s (I think it was a Countdown Dr Who Summer Special) and thinking “what the hell is that?” No memory of the story at all! And another mystery is solved – the buildings in the background looked oddly utilitarian. I now know (thanks to the DVD special features) that this wasn’t part of the TV show. The photo was taken at the industrial unit of Shawcraft Models, the firm to which the BBC contracted its early special effects such as the Daleks.

Doing a bit more detective work, I’ve also deduced that it was screened during the period in 1967 when ABC (the ITV contractor for the North and Midlands) screened Batman opposite Dr Who. So it was always a bit of a gamble – you could watch the first part of a Dr Who story on Saturday, miss the first part of Batman and catch up with the second part of Batman (“Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.”) on Sunday. And if the Dr Who didn’t look too promising, you could stick with Batman for the next three Saturdays and then dip back in to Dr Who when a new story began.

So, I imagine The Macra Terror must have come across as pretty unpromising back in 1967. It comes across as the kind of story that might have been dramatized on Out of the Unknown – a colony on an alien planet descended from a generation ship sent out of Earth (the leader is called ‘The Pilot’). ‘Brainwashing’ of various degrees is carried out in the colony – from cheerleaders and sloganizing to ‘deep sleep’ suggestions. And at the heart of the story is a big dollop of Quatermass II. No wonder Nigel Kneale hated Dr Who.

The Macra Terror has two connections with The Plane Makers. John Harvey, who played the Aviation Minister, features here as Officia (above), who maintains the gas pumping system at the heart of the story (anticipating Alien the colonists have been sent out to mine gas – a hot topic back in 1967 with the first North Sea Gas coming on-line). The Pilot is played by Peter Jeffrey, who was James Cameron-Grant MP in The Plane Makers.

Jeffrey is pretty good in a very ambiguous role. How much does he know? How much is he under control? The mind flips back to Cameron-Grant struggling with the demands of the Whip’s office, and deciding whether to throw his fortunes in with John Wilder.

Another big surprise is Gertan Klauber, as Ola the security chief. Usually cast in small ethnic roles, Klauber is excellent here. Again, how much is brainwashing? How much of a career zealot is he?

Probably the saddest part of the story is seeing Michael Craze as Ben betraying his companions. From a dramatic viewpoint it’s good to see a leading character fall under the mind control. But you can’t help feeling that poor Michael Craze is being lined up for a fall, with Frazer Hines’ Jamie going four-square as the heroic lead, and the audience being encouraged to boo and hiss craze. This is just before Ben and Polly would leave the series in ‘The Faceless Ones’ and the writing is on the wall.

One factor which may have led to the wiping of the original tapes was that the production team were unhappy with the limited nature of the Macra model. Director John Davies had to do a lot of creative camera-work to bring the monsters to life. The producers of the animated version took the view that they would be faithful to the original while also reimagining it. Thunderbirds merchandising artist Graham Bleathman contributed background paintings far more ambitious than anything the limited budgets of the BBC set designers could have achieved, while the Macra in the animated version actually walk as intended by scriptwriter Ian Stuart Black.

The DVD contains a pile of interesting Special Features, including a Super 8mm Film of the Shawcraft Models workshop. I love the opening sequence (above) of the Dalek trundling along the street towards the workshop, as much for that view of the houses with their rickety wooden fences and timber-frame windows.

Since Shawcraft come in for some stick for the Macra monster, it’s also good to get a balanced view of the other work they were doing at the time, such as the gradual assembly of the flying car model from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That was out in the cinemas December 1968 so this really was all coming together at the same time.

The animated film is a wonderful achievement. The extras include a few surviving shots from the original TV show, and comparing them side-by-side you know there’s no way a cartoon can compare with Anneke Wills screaming in the flesh. But accepting we don’t have the original, the cartoon really brings the soundtrack to life. Some gains, some losses, but on the whole I view this as a brand new Dr Who adventure I’ve never seen before.