In anticipation of the release of Power of the Daleks in less than two weeks (!) on BBC Store, I am continuing my series of ways to enjoy the currently missing episodes, and this week focusing on the audio story of The Macra Terror. Next week I will be sharing on the Power of the Daleks telesnap reconstruction to give a point of comparison. Both these stories start from a similar starting point – no episodes have survived, and so we are reliant upon two sources to imagine the story: John Cura’s telesnaps taken of the footage when originally shown, and the off-air fan recordings of the soundtrack. As I was already familiar with telesnap reconstrucuctions through the VHS release of The Tenth Planet and the DVD release of The Web of Fear, I purposefully wanted to experience a story with only sound.
The Macra Terror was very kindly chosen by my Twitter audience as the starting point for this experiment in experiencing Doctor Who by audio. The story follows on from the last missing adventure I reviewed, The Moonbase, with the TARDIS arriving on a future Earth colony which gives the picture of an idyllic life. Predictably for Doctor Who, surface appearances are not all that they seem, and it transpires that the colony is in the grip of powerful hypnosis and fear by a hidden menace known as the Macra.
In many respects The Macra Terror is no different to many of the base-under-siege adventures of this era. While the arrival of the Doctor and his companions is accidental, the Doctor proves unable to resist ‘getting involved’ once it becomes clear that not all is well. My impression from the audio is that the writers finally seemed to manage the overfull TARDIS of Season Four in this episode, without having to resort to The Moonbase tactic of rendering Jamie unconscious for two episodes! All three companions are given useful roles, even though in poor Ben’s case it largely came down to becoming a brainwashed stooge for most of proceedings.
The biggest pity however is the absence of footage, and it certainly made it a struggle to engage with the adventure. I could well believe that the quality of the linking narration might contribute, but I found it hard to imagine the different scenes played out in front of me without terms of reference. Certainly, I think it would be hard to enjoy the intentionally comic scene in episode one in which the Doctor is ‘smartened up’ without actually seeing the footage! By the second time of listening, I found myself following (and enjoying) the story somewhat better, but compared to animation I found it a major struggle. My next review will comment on whether telesnaps are a reasonable substitute for footage, but I have no qualms in stating my belief that soundtracks alone are insufficient.
That said, The Macra Terror was a very worthwhile experiment. While it confirmed my suspicion that I wouldn’t rate it that highly, and the music is on the distinctly high side of trippy (something I also struggled with in The Underwater Menace) it was interesting to experience lost Doctor Who in this way. While definitely not my preferred method of experiencing the missing episodes, I would still advise that every fan should experience listening to lost audio adventures without visual references at least once.