“Shada” is a Doctor Who serial that was supposed to have aired on the BBC in the seventeenth season of the original run of the series in 1979. Tom Baker was the Doctor during that time and was accompanied by Lalla Ward as the second incarnation of Romana. David Brierley provided the voice of K9. Production was halted by a strike so there was not enough material on film to have been broadcast at that time. BBC Video released what material they could in 1992 with Baker providing narration to explain the missing scenes. Big Finish Productions teamed up with BBCi and retold the story with animation but with Paul McGann filling in as the Eighth Doctor, which was not a bad effort.
Just last year, BBC got together the surviving actors and recorded the dialogue that would been done in 1979 and animated the unfinished scenes. The final product is a rather strange mixture of the original live action footage flowing into animated scenes.
The iconic Douglas Adams wrote this screenplay which was originally directed by Pennant Roberts. Really, this particular serial carries some significant and complicated notoriety among the fandom.
Now that some of the overly simplified background explanation is out of the way, I will now share my humble opinions and thoughts about this latest effort to relay this incomplete tale.
The overall plot is a bit of a mess, however the performances from Baker, Ward, and the supporting cast are strong enough to find considerable forgiveness. It seems to embrace the absurdity just a bit more enthusiastically for some reason. Of course, this trait is a hallmark of Douglas Adams’ writing.
The Doctor and Romana arrive in Cambridge answering a summons from the absent-minded Professor Chronotis. Chronotis is soon revealed to be a retired Time Lord who has taken on the guise of a harmless, befuddled university professor, however he has taken some books from Gallifrey and one very important and powerful one has gotten away from him. This book contains the way to Shada, which houses a powerful, corrupt Time Lord named Salyavin. The now deceased Denis Carey in this role can almost steal the moment from Tom Baker sometimes, which isn’t an easy feat.
Christopher Neame plays an alien scientist by the name of Skagra who is also searching for the missing Gallifeyan artifact to learn the location of a forgotten prison planet called Shada. Neame goes a bit over the top in his performances but still manages to make that seem fitting in this story. Skagra works fine as the villain in this story, but it’s still a relief he did not become a recurring adversary of the Doctor’s.
The story is a little longer and more convoluted than necessary, but the charm and wit of Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor pretty much removes any resentment of that. Lalla Ward is also great in this one. Sorry, Brierley, but I prefer John Leeson’s version of K9.
The style of animation isn’t really that impressive, but it still works. The actors who performed the new dialogue sounded pretty good. The voices have aged fairly noticeably, but not bad enough to pull me out of the story.
The story was meant to be told in six twenty-five minute episodes originally, however the producers of this particular release chose a more cinematic format, much like the old days when Americans would watch the show on PBS affiliates.
There is a very cool epilogue scene which makes no sense but is still profoundly amusing. May Tom Baker have more years than he thinks to continue his performance in the Big Finish audio plays!
“Shada” is a pretty flawed effort initially, but there is plenty to enjoy regardless. As an obnoxiously avid Doctor Who fan, I applaud the efforts to complete this story almost as originally intended. Adams knows how to have fun in his writings, and this story demonstrates that just as effectively as “Hitchhiker’s Guide”.
“Shada” has a unique place in Doctor Who’s long history and in the hearts’ of the fans. It was long past time an effort like this was made.