Prior to the explosion of the Internet my only knowledge of 'Shada' came from the episode guide in Peter Haining's book Doctor Who - A Celebration. With only the barest remnant of a plot synopsis, it revealed little of the story, and in those days I had no access to either the script or any other source of information regarding it. Consequently, when Doctor Who Magazineannounced that 'Shada' was to be released on video with linking narration to bridge the missing scenes and a copy of the script, I was hugely excited at the chance to see what was, effectively, a brand new Doctor Who story staring Tom Baker. With 'Shada' thus available, I was finally able to see if it lived up to its legendary status. The question remains therefore, is 'Shada' actually any good?
The answer to this question, at least as far as I am concerned, is yes. I'm not about to pretend that 'Shada' is some great lost classic, because it isn't, but nor is it the turkey that some fans consider it to be. It is however a highly entertaining story that is well worth watching. Intended to be the finale of Season Seventeen, 'Shada' captures many of that season's finest qualities, and feels very much at home in the Williams/Adams era, as might be expected. There is humour aplenty, and great use is made of the regulars. There is an outlandish plot that juxtaposes the familiar with the extraordinary, as highlighted by the characters of Chris and Claire, and there are some fine performances from the guest cast, who are given some sparkling lines to play with. But what I love most of all about 'Shada' is the wealth of concepts that Douglas Adams unleashes from the depths of his fertile imagination. I love the idea of a Cambridge Professor being a retired Time Lord whose TARDIS is disguised as his collage rooms; I love the wonderful silliness of the Doctor convincing Skagra's ship that he is dead; and I love the idea of the Sphere. The Sphere in a particular is a great plot device, a hovering football-sized menace that is virtually indestructible and which steals minds, leaving their owners as mindless zombies. As threats go, I find this far more chilling than the threat of death; instead, the Sphere takes everything that makes a person unique, stealing their entire personality and memories and adding them to Skagra's melting pot of minds as part of his selfish desire to join every intellect in the universe to his own. Visually, the Sphere is bizarrely effective; it is nothing but a matt featureless grey globe, but its abilities and invulnerability make it a potent threat; during the resolution to the Episode Two cliffhanger, the Doctor is only able to escape the Sphere thanks to Romana and K9's timely rescue, and later when K9 attempts to destroy it in an unrecorded scene in Episode Five, it merely multiplies itself from the resulting fragments. With the chase through Cambridge in Episode Two completed thanks to the use of Paintbox to add the Sphere to the picture, this becomes one of the most enduring images of the story.
The Sphere's creator and master, Skagra, is also of note. As in 'The Pirate Planet' and 'City of Death', Adams creates a villain who is more than just a ranting megalomaniac, although Skagra is perhaps the most megalomaniac of Adams' Doctor Whovillains. Despite his protestations in Episode Five, Skagra does basically want to rule the universe, but his motivation and means of achieving his goal make him rather more interesting than he might otherwise be. Ruthless, arrogant and callous he may be, but an unrecorded conversation with Romana from Episode Four implies that his ultimate aim is to bring productive and meaningless order to what he sees as the random chaos of life in the universe; he later talks of achieving the ultimate aim of evolution, by creating one single godlike universal mind. This is hardly a valid justification for his crimes; as the Doctor points out, Skagra doesn't bother to ask anyone else if they want to join their minds to his, but at least he has more vision than someDoctor Who villains. One of my main sources of regret of 'Shada's incomplete status is that Christopher Neame never got the chance to record all his scenes. Whilst I've heard his performance described as "camp" (a word that seems to be used with little consistency between different fans), my personal opinion is that his recorded scenes demonstrate a cold, rather sinister performance that perfectly fits Skagra's restrained personality throughout the script. He seldom indulges in verbal sparring with the Doctor or Romana, instead seeking to achieve his aims as efficiently as possible, and Neame's intense focus befits this personality very well. Indeed the only time Skagra really loses his composure is during his final scene (which happily, was recorded), as his Ship gleefully imprisons him, having switched her allegiance to the Doctor. Even when Skagra is gloating, his dialogue suggests a very matter of fact, business-like attitude, which perhaps explains why he is so frustrated by what he sees as the wasted opportunity that is life throughout the universe, possibly believing that great things could be achieved if everyone thinks like he does. Besides, Neame manages to look passably sinister in a broad-brimmed hat and silver cloak, which is impressive by anyone's standards, although I think I'd rather wander around Cambridge dressed like that than wearing the corduroy nightmare that he dons later.
Having discussed Skagra and his Sphere, it is also worth mentioning his other two creations. The Ship is a great character, tricked by computer logic into obeying the "dead" Doctor, despite being highly suspicious about this state of affairs. The fact that she eventually betrays Skagra because she likes what the Doctor has done to her circuits is rather amusing, and typical Adams; it's also refreshing to see a villain hoist by his own petard but left alive, humiliated and defeated, at the end of aDoctor Who story, instead of meeting a more traditionally grisly fate. I also suspect that the Ship is not actually the slave to logic that she claims to be; her treachery in Episode Six suggests that she is a fully fledged personality in her own right, and it would be in keeping with Adams' irreverent sense of humour if she simply went along with the Doctor's daft argument in Episode Three because she was intrigued by him. I'm hypothesizing of course, but if this is the case, it might also suggest that her cutting off of the oxygen supply at the end of Episode Three is born out of a desire to deflate the Doctor's smug satisfaction that he's seemingly outwitted her, rather than because she feels the need to conserve resources.
Skagra's other creation is the Krargs. If I recall correctly, when 'Shada' was first released on video, the review in Doctor Who Magazine suggested that we be grateful for the fact that only one scene was actually recorded with a Krarg, since it looks terrible. I find this rather amusing, given that Season Seventeen boasts Erato, the Mandrels and the Nimon, and I for one am glad that footage of a Krarg exists. In fact, the cliffhanger to Episode Four, as a burning Krarg advances on the Doctor and Chris is one of my favourites of the season. Whilst the Krarg is not one of the series' finest monsters, it does have a certain unstoppable menace to it that works rather well, despite its flares, and its lack of visible features adds to its ominous air. With K9 often used as a convenient tool by writers to deal with threats to the Doctor, the Krargs serve another purpose, since K9 cannot shoot them without making them stronger and cannot hold them off at all without shooting them. Combined with the Sphere, the Ship, and Doctor Caldera's assessment of Skagra's genius, the Krargs also help to convey just how formidable an opponent Skagra really is.
Despite the wealth of imaginative concepts that litter 'Shada', not all of them work well. Douglas Adams is renowned for using technobabble to gloss over trivial plot details, but he pushes his luck by actually glossing over explanations for plot developments. The Doctor's survival of the Sphere's attack by convincing it that he is very stupid so that it only takes a copy of his mind doesn't really make sense, nor does Professor Chronotis' impromptu resurrection. On the other hand, the latter means that we get more of Chronotis, which is no bad thing. For one thing, he's a great character; Denis Carey's portrayal of the absent minded old man in Episodes One and Two is thoroughly endearing and allows for some witty dialogue, as he tries to remember what his memory is like ("a sieve!") and makes jokes about undergraduates. Some of this humour misfires, most notably the "One lump or two sugar?" joke, which doesn't really work, but on the whole these early scenes are a delight. It's particularly nice to see the Doctor's obvious pleasure in seeing his old friend, which Tom Baker demonstrates very well. The Doctor's obvious inability to stay angry at the old man's carelessness in losing The Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey is rather touching, and his restrained anger when he discovers that Skagra has killed one of his oldest friends is palpable, Baker once more showing off his ability to clearly evoke the Doctor's mercurial personality. In addition however, Carey shows the Professor's hidden complexities; with the sadly unrecorded revelation that he is the notorious criminal Salyavin, Chronotis' occasionally glimpsed darker side is highly significant, and Carey plays it very well. The Professor's absent mindedness vanishes once he realises who Skagra is really after, and he becomes both grave and deadly serious when he is explaining things to Claire. On the other hand, he never becomes scary, which suggests that the Doctor is quite right to believe that the tales of Salyavin's crimes were massively exaggerated, an idea that the final scripted scene amusingly toys with as the Doctor ponders that he might one day be remembered in much the same way.
From what recorded material exists of 'Shada', it would seem that the acting is quite good throughout. Daniel Hill is great as Arthur Dent prototype Chris Parsons, dragged reluctantly into a baffling set of circumstances that demolish everything he thinks he knows about physics, and he provides an entertaining foil for the Doctor. This is most obvious during the recorded footage from Episode Four, but it is also evident throughout the rest of the script. Victoria Burgoyne also puts in a good effort as Claire Keightly, in a sadly aborted television debut, and I also have to mention Gerald Campion's performance as Wilkin, which adds to the charmingly eccentric air of the Cambridge University scenes. The regulars are also up to their usual standards, and in fact Adams' script shows the Doctor and Romana as close as they ever got, as they relax in a punt on the Cam on a pleasant October day and have tea and biscuits with the Professor. There is also a great scene in Episode Six, when in the midst of worrying about how he can possible stop Skagra, the Doctor is inspired by Romana and pins a medal to her chest, again showing how well they work together as a team.
As for the production of 'Shada', it stands up reasonably well. The location filming in Cambridge is gorgeous, and whilst the bicycle chase in Episode Two is pure padding, it is more than worth it. The actual sets are variable; the antiquarian clutter of Chronotis's study meshes perfectly with the location work; the interior of Skagra's Ship and the space station are less impressive, but they are perfectly at home in Season Seventeen. This is also true of the model work, completed for the video release, which looks rather cheap but thus suits the era rather well. What does not suit the era however, is Keff McCulloch's incidental music. McCulloch's music doesn't annoy me as much a sit does some fans, who positively detest his work, and on occasion it works quite well here, such as when the Krarg advances to a thunderous crescendo at the climax to Episode Four, but more often than not it is either intrusive or inappropriate. An example of the former is when Skagra first meets Wilkin and arrogantly barks "You!", a conversation that is almost drowned out by McCulloch's score, and an example of the latter is the bizarrely sinister sting added to the "One lump or two" joke in Episode One. On the subject of irritating production details, Chronotis's incredible vanishing spectacles when the Sphere attacks him in Episode Two are oddly distracting. Finally, one last complaint about a scene that was never even filmed! According to popular legend, the prisoners on Shada in Episode Five would have including a Dalek, a Cyberman, and a Zygon. This would, I can assure you, have annoyed me beyond reason. Why would the Time Lords, who time loop planets and dematerialize aggressive alien interlopers, bother to actually imprison a lone Dalek, Cyberman, or Zygon on a planet reserved for, we are told, their "most feared criminals?"
In summary, I am enormously fond of 'Shada'. Much as I like 'The Horns of Nimon', 'Shada', despite some faults, would have made a much more fitting season finale, and a far better swansong for Graham Williams and Douglas Adams, and I'd much rather it had been the last broadcast six-part Doctor Who story rather than the abysmal 'The Armageddon Factor'. As it stands however, I consider myself fortunate that it was eventually released on video and I will continue to appreciate as far more than just a mere curiosity.
Filters: Television Fourth Doctor Series 17
Written by Douglas Adams, Gareth RobertsThis review contains plot spoilers.
UK Release - 15 March 2012
Available to purchase from Amazon UK
Shada is a rather special book. And this is true not just because it finally brings a lost, unfinished and untelevised story officially into print, but also because this new version is a startlingly transitional, connective tale. It seamlessly bridges different times, incarnations and conceptions of Doctor Who – all rather fitting for an epic story concerned with the creation of a “Universal Mind”.
First, there's the question of authorship. Pondering whether or not Roberts has been faithful to Douglas Adams' screenplay rapidly becomes a pointless exercise: this is not a slavish reproduction, but a careful, creative transformation of different scripts and performances. Rather than a zero-sum game of authorial control, this is a cunning blend of Adams and Roberts, and a veritable meeting of minds.
Certain moments stand out as strongly characteristic of Roberts' authorial persona and concerns – for example, Chapter 9 challenges the representational limitations of 1970s' TV Who, at the same time making new sense of a fairly throwaway moment in Adams' script. Something else which betrays a Roberts-esque preoccupation is the joke that villainous Skagra has a habit of reducing people and worlds to a contemptuous, dismissive score out of ten. Where, I wonder, did Doctor Who fan Gareth Roberts seize on that activity as a comedic motif for sociopathic evil? And Skagra obsessively collects and orders his books, not wishing to touch them with so much as an ungloved hand. Again, what could have inspired Doctor Who fan Gareth Roberts' specific take on Adams' cipher of a baddie? One might almost imagine that this Skagra is a humorous attack on certain strains of fandom: the story-scoring Who fan/collector not so very playfully rendered as monstrous. This fan-villain connection is made even more explicit when Skagra researches his adversary, the Doctor. Whereas the video of Shada includes a brief montage of clips from assorted Tom Baker stories, Roberts has Skagra watching complete “video-texts” of The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and Creature from the Pit. He curtly dismisses them as evidence of “a 1 out of 10 Time Lord larking about on 2 out of 10 planets” (p.71). Skagra is evidently unimpressed with the Graham Williams era, and his ultimate fate – which I won't fully reveal here – will also be strangely familiar to fans of the BBC television series Doctor Who (p.379).
At the same time that Roberts seemingly reworks Shada as a vehicle for his own loves and his own pet peeves – not to mention fixing the story so it makes much better sense – he also rigorously pastiches Douglas Noel Adams. The DNA of Adams' style is present in many ways: in Roberts' riffing on the obsequious, worshipful character of the Ship, in the rhythmic repetitions of sentence structure, and even in a sprinkling of shocking puns and self-referential tributes. Given that Professor Chronotis owns H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in Shada's 1979 scripts and recorded footage, incorporating real-world bookish references is very much in keeping with the spirit of Adams' story. That said, it doesn't take a vast imaginative leap to guess which SF book is identified and nearly name-checked this time around (p.392). The Panopticon Archives, we eventually learn, have long been home to a particularly appropriate tome... Oh, and the newly renovated end to episode five (or part five, in literary terms) also feels very much like a Douglas Adams-ish gag. It relies on typography, could only really work on the printed page (p.328—331), and is quite possibly the rudest, funniest episode ending Doctor Who has (n)ever had.
As well as skilfully bridging and harmonising the authorial voices of Adams and Roberts, Shada is brilliantly transitional in other ways. It re-writes 1970s' Doctor Who from the perspective of BBC Wales' Who, incorporating cheeky references to the gender-switching Corsair (p.83), to red-robed and henna-tattooed visionaries (p.232) and even to Roberts' own creations, the Carrionites (p.312). It also gives Clare Keightley and Chris Parsons an already much remarked upon romance, in keeping with contemporary Doctor Who's newfound emotional realism. To my mind, Roberts also toys with Shada's status as a story originally bookmarking the end of the Graham Williams era and the conclusion of season seventeen. When Doctor Who next returned to television screens it was as a rather different creature – a John Nathan-Turner/Christopher H. Bidmead confection. And Roberts marks this turning point by picking up on mentions of entropy in the available Shada scripts (e.g. on p.106) and vigorously extrapolating. Thus he works in further references to “accelerated entropy”, with Chris Parsons querying this as a scientific possibility (p.250), as well as developing Skagra's plan to “conquer the threat of entropy” by overcoming the second law of thermodynamics and ensuring there could be “no collapse into eternal darkness and decay” (p.346). Nobody mention it to Christopher Bidmead, but Skagra's evil scheme sounds uncannily like a mission statement for season eighteen, creating a clever subtextual blurring of season seventeen and its successor, and prefiguring the Nathan-Turner/Bidmead era... albeit with Christopher H's pseudo-science (and Logopolis) implicitly repositioned as, well, errrrm, utter madness.
Although the Doctor protests that he isn't free to travel up and down “the Gallifreyan timeline” (p.83), Roberts permits himself just that pleasure, hybridising “classic” and “new” Doctor Who to reinforce the contemporary party line – namely that it's all the same show. But perhaps it's never been quite as wholly unified as this. Shada represents Doctor Who's own “universal mind”: past and present, “classic” and “new”, Adams and Roberts, seasons seventeen and eighteen; all are merged together into one great outpouring of fannish passion and literary grace. This revisitation of a 1979 story will no doubt be a strong contender for the Who book of the year in 2012. Good writing, much like time travel, can achieve strange and beautiful and intricate things.
Gareth Roberts would probably like his readers to consider the possibility that scoring things out of 10 may be a bad idea, and – whisper it – a tad unhealthy. This is a shame, because I feel compelled to tell you that Shada is very definitely a 10 out of 10. Indeed, it's a pity that BBC Books haven't issued a Collector's Edition (its cover designed to resemble The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey), complete with Seal of Rassilon-branded reading gloves. Fandom, in touch with its inner Skagra, might just have enjoyed such merchandising. But no matter, because this retelling of Shada remains a rather special book. No, more than that, it's a very special book.
Filters: Book Fourth Doctor 184990328X
This review is based on a preview of the UK Region 2 DVD, which is released on 7th January 2013.
Of all the DVDs in the classic series collection, this set has perhaps been the most divisive within fandom online before its release than any other. Without dragging this review into the quagmire, much of the discussion surrounds the presentation of the abandoned and never-broadcast Tom Baker adventure Shada and expectations over whether the unrecorded scenes would be 'completed' by animation or other means, and the resulting disappointment from some quarters when it was announced that it would 'simply' be based upon the edit produced for the VHS range in 1992.
Context is everything, though: is this a release of the story Shada with other extras, or is this a collection of bits and pieces that includes Shada? Steve Roberts of the Restoration Team clarified:
The whole point of the 'Legacy' boxset is a mopping up exercise - it's mopping up Shada, MTTYITT and a few other extras that are left over at the end. That's all it was ever supposed to be!In this context utilising the previous commercially available version in this set alongside More Than Thirty Years makes sense; so, enough of what we didn't get, let's look at the wealth of material we do have in the set!
Disc One: Shada: There are two versions of the story to choose from on the disc, the 'reconstruction' presentation of the original Tom Baker material from 1979 that was produced by John Nathan-Turner for VHS in 1992, and a revised animated version with Paul McGann that was produced by Big Finish in 2003 for the BBC Doctor Who website. Being a classic series release, it isn't surprising that the primary version on the disc is the 1992 version, whilst space limitations mean that the animated version is consigned to watching on a computer - however, which is actually considered the 'better' presentation of the story will fall to personal taste!
Apart from the necessary adjustments to continuity to introduce why a different Doctor is involved, the main plot remains essentially the same in both. The Doctor answers a message from retired Time Lord Chronotis, now living at St Cedd's college in Cambridge, finding out that his old friend is actually in possession of a 'dangerous' book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey. However, Doctor Skagra of Think Tank is also after the book, knowing that its pages can reveal the way to the Time Lord prison planet of Shada where a criminal Salyavin has been incarcerated - Skagra wishes to obtain the latter's ability to project his mind into others in order to become the most powerful person in the universe. What ensues is a run around Cambridge and the galaxy as the Doctor, Romana and Chronotis with the aid of students Chris and Clare chase Skagra and his Krarg allies in order to thwart his plans.
And that's essentially it. To be honest there isn't much more to the story and the filmed scenes show that whilst the sparkle of Douglas Adams dialogue is present, there isn't an awful lot of plot to fill the 1hr49m running time of the release, let alone a full six episodes' worth had the story been completed. Adams himself had said that he hadn't thought it very good (and cannibalised elements of the script for other works) - the story had only been released on VHS through him accidentally signing the paperwork.
It's the notoriety of the production that makes the story interesting, and this is documented quite thoroughly through both the production notes that accompany the episodes, and documentaries that can be found on the other discs in the set. Briefly, strikes were quite commonplace within the BBC in the 1970s, and Doctor Who suffered three consecutive years of industrial action for the recording of season finales - 1979 was the year the production team's luck ran out and so Shada was never able to recover the time needed to complete it, much to the chagrin of cast and crew. Nathan-Turner attempted to resurrect the story a number of times (including a potential Colin Baker-narrated version in 1985), but in 1992 was able to convince BBC Enterprises that the story could be produced with new effects and linking narration from its star.
The ensuing release is a brave attempt to tell the story, but the lack of filmed material really becomes noticeable in the latter half the story, where much of the unrecorded studio material was destined. Chronotis's rooms, Skagra's ship brig, and Think Tank scenes were recorded, but TARDIS interiors, Skagra's and the Krarg's ship control rooms, and Shada itself were all lost. Though judicious use of new special effects help bridge some of the gaps, the latter episodes end up very heavily reliant on Tom Baker's narration of what's happening "off-screen", and can lead viewers to wonder what is actually going on! Watching the animated version first can actually help a lot here as, with all the scenes 'present and correct', it means that when watching the original version it is possible to 'visualise' what is going on during those narrated moments.
One thing that grated in 1992 and still does in 2013 is the incidental music, which was written for the release by late 1980s resident composer Keff McCulloch. I'm afraid I've never been a fan of his music in Doctor Who, and the "tinkle tinkle" throughout Shada is quite distracting at times. It's a shame JNT didn't secure Dudley Simpson's services to provide a 'contemporary' score (and a shame the budget for the DVD couldn't stretch that far, either!). I also found K9's voice a little irritating too, but at least David Brierley is contemporary (though John Leeson's interpretation will always be definitive, and very welcome in the animated version).
A few observations on the VHS version:
The alternative Eighth Doctor version of Shada is accessed through a computer, and is presented as a flash movie powered by any web browser capable of running the Adobe format. An initial menu gives access to the six episodes, which can then be watched through the browser. The episodes play very smoothly, and as it is local to the machine the occasional annoying net-pauses are of course absent. There are a couple of issues that occur with playback though; firstly, you have to select each episode to watch (there's no "play all"), and when watching the episodes the chapters and running time remain permanently visible at the bottom of the screen - these are a product of the code included on the DVD to play the files, however, and the raw SWF episode files can easily be played through another capable player without such distractions!
There are no special features included on the discs for this version, but related extras can still be found via the BBC website.
Overall, as one might expect, Shada's picture quality has been cleaned up and looks much better on the DVD, especially when compared with scenes included in other features. However, it's the animated version that really benefits from being released in this way, as it is no longer constrained by the lower resolution/bandwidth limitations online. Plug your computer into your HD-TV and enjoy!
Disc Two: Extras: The disc kicks off with a documentary on the making of Shada: Taken Out of Time, filmed in the glorious surrounds around The Backs in Cambridge, saw cast and crew recount their personal experiences of the filming (though incongruously Tom Baker was occasionally seen walking his dog in the woods!). Much of the first half focusses on how much fun everybody had filming in the city, with Tom Baker commenting on how much better it was to be out of a quarry, Daniel Hill on it being the best week filming of his life, and production assistant Ralph Wilton wryly observing on the blossoming relationship between Hill and director's assistant Olivia Bazelgette. Then, as strikes loomed the latter half focusses on how everybody became concerned and ultimately heartbroken with how production was delayed and eventually cancelled by the BBC.
One particular anecdote that sticks out is how Angus Smith of the St John's College Choir recounts how they managed to wrangle their way onto the show through appealing to a rather drunk director Pennant Roberts in the pub, and then their increasing dismay over the next year as they never got to see themselves on air.
Now & Then provides viewers with the usual comparisons between how locations look now with how they appeared during filming - or in this case, how Cambridge has pretty much been stuck in a time bubble over the last three decades! As well as those scenes that were recorded, the documentary also looks at locations that didn't quite make the cut due to time running out when filming, and those abandoned due to the strike's impact on night shooting. (Also, for those interested in such things, the music playing throughout is from the second movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, named Scene at the Brook, which seems quite apt if you think of one scene in particular!)
Strike! Strike! Strike! is a candid review of how industrial action has affected the show over the decades both in production and broadcast. The documentary looks into the well-known cancellation of Shada, the way in which other BBC strikes caused practical problems for production, and on how the 1970s saw a number of problems with broadcast interruptions due to national industry disputes. Amongst the many anecdotes, one that in particular tickled me was how William Hartnell nearly brought the production of the show to a halt with his haughty attitude to a dresser. (Keep your eye out for a cameo by Doctor Who News too!)
Being a Girl is bit of an oddity; the feature's premise seems to be to look at how women are portrayed in the series (both in front of and behind the scenes), but meanders around topics like whether it really matters that the production team seldom featured women, is gender-blind casting a good thing, and are powerful female villains empowering or insulting? Louise Jameson guides us through the documentary, with insights provided by professional women (and confessed fans). The roles of all of the female companions are explored, with particular emphasis in the class series of Susan, Sarah, Tegan and Ace - and how the latter finally saw a move away from cipher to personality, a trait foremost to modern female companions. The question of if it is okay to fancy the Doctor also rears its head, and of course the old chestnut over whether a woman could ever play the Doctor.
The disc is rounded off with a production gallery, accompanied by clean cues of some of Keff McCulloch's music score for those who can tolerate it (using mute or running at x2 more than ably resolves that problem for those who can't!).
Disc Three: More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS: It is perhaps fitting that the 'definitive' celebration of Doctor Who in the 20th Century is on one of the final of the original releases in the Classic DVD range for the 21st - in many ways it the the forerunner of all we've come to enjoy about the range!
With all the interviews, documentaries, behind-the-scenes clips etc. that we've been treated to for over a decade now - including the wealth of features on this very boxed set - it's hard to imagine how starved we were for such information back then. The preceeding year's Resistance is Useless on television had given us a tongue-in-cheek retrospective of the series, but then in 1993 the BBC indulged us with a wealth of clips, chats with the stars (and celebrity fans like Toyah Wilcox, Ken Livingstone and Mike Gatting - plus not-so fans like Gerry Anderson), and all manner of archive material in the form of an hour long Thirty Years in the TARDIS - and then even more delights with the expanded More Than version presented here when it arrived on video a few months later.
Though much of the archive material may have since appeared in full on the DVDs, there's still a number of bits and pieces that haven't quite made it to digital clarity before and can be enjoyed for the "first time" here (for example the Terry Nation interview conducted on Whicker's World). Regardless of whether I've seen some clips more recently, though, it still generates a little thrill seeing those original tantalising moments from my youth once again - many of which were seen for the very first time in Thirty Years.
The documentary is split into loosely themed sections, with Part One being Doctor Who and the Daleks, Part Two covering Monsters and Companions, and Part Three on Laughter and Tears Behind the Scenes. These "episodes" were linked by Doctor Who adverts like Sky-Ray lollies and The Doctor and Romana interacting with PR1ME computers (something that I was doing myself at the time in my programming job!). The expansion also enabled a number of items that hadn't made it onto TV, including an interview with the originally very poorly represented Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy (I wonder whether Paul McGann would be similarly 'restored' to history if the 40th Anniversary celebration The Story of Doctor Who ever were to be released!).
Perhaps the most memorable innovation of the documentary are the recreations of classic scenes from the show, such as Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge, and of Cybermen marching down from in front of St Paul's Cathedral; as well as these we also have a number of encounters 'drawn from the imagination' of Josh Maguire, the boy representing us the viewers - for those still revelling in the sight of Clara entering the TARDIS through its doors for the first time in The Snowmen, hark back here to where Josh does the very same thing almost two decades earlier!
(One sobering thought arising from the documentary was that, back then, there were 110 missing episodes. Two decades on and just four more episodes have been recovered. Though, of course, you can also say that four more episodes have been recovered! There's still hope ...)
More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS was narrated by the late Nicholas Courtney, and the disc includes a wonderful tribute to the actor. Remembering Nicholas Courtney explores the actor's life, in many cases using his own words from interviews conducted by friend and co-author Michael McManus, who also presents the documentary. Talking candidly about his career, Nick's love of the show and his rich life shine through, and it is easy to understand how so many admired the man who played one of the Doctor's oldest and most trusted friends. Plus, watch out for the special appearance by a very familiar Doctor Who star, one of Nick's oldest friends. (On a personal note, you can also watch out for a "blink-and-you-miss it" appearance by yours-truly, too!)
Having mentioned The Story of Doctor Who earlier, the next two features are extended interviews with Peter Purves and Verity Lambert that were originally recorded for that documentary. Being that these items tend to be cut quite severely to fit their eventual destination, the context of the quotes can be lost, but having said that, the unedited material can sometimes feel quite rambling! Certainly, in Doctor Who Stories - Peter Purves the actor's reflections on his time on Doctor Who, the pittance he was paid, the 'cheapness' of the show, and the effect it had on his career in the immediate aftermath all come across as very negative, yet he speaks highly of how imaginative and innovative the series was, how strong the scripts were, and how its prestige attracted a number of big-name stars. Similarly, in The Lambert Tapes - Part One the producer flits between how excited she was to be offered to produce such an imaginative series having only been a production assistant before, versus the challenges of being the only woman amongst the other producers, and overcoming the then inherent attitudes towards women amongst her own team. Actually, I feel this latter interview does far more to explain the prevailing male-dominated industry than the attempts by Being a Girl on disc two, but then again the former was trying to encompass the whole of Doctor Who's history.
Speaking of girls, the final documentary for the set is entitled Those Deadly Divas, which conjures up images of women in smart attire vamping up the universe ... which in the case of self-confessed diva Kate O'Mara isn't far off the mark! The actress reflects upon how the various portrayals of women characters in Doctor Who bring the show some glamour and pizazz, alongside Camille Coduri, Tracy-Ann Oberman ... plus Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman! The item examines facets of female 'domination' such as enemies like Kate's Rani, Lady Peinforte and Captain Wrack, business-focussed individuals like Tracy's Yvonne Hartman, Krau Timmin and Madame Kara, and those who do it all for misplaced love like Queen Galleia, Lucy Saxon, and Countess Scarlioni. The Doctor's "good" companions also come under scrutiny when they are possessed by evil, such as Sarah by Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. It's quite a light-hearted piece, and to be honest I found the most interesting bits to be the linking titles created by out-takes from Maureen Lipman's Wire!
The disc is rounded off with a Photo Gallery from the Thirty Years shoot - and unlike Shada has a welcome selection of score bites from its respective composer, Mark Ayres - and for computer users there's a PDF file of the Radio Times listing for the transmitted documentary.
Conclusion: All-in-all, I think this set is likely to have quite a mixed reaction. If, like me, you find the documentaries that accompany releases to be a bonus then there is plenty here to keep you occupied - not least More Than Thirty Years itself. If, however, you're more of a fan of just the stories themselves rather than the value-added material that accompanies them, then perhaps the rather bland fragments of Shada won't be to your taste.
Next Time: The Doctor visits his favourite era of history, the French Revolution, but will he, Susan, Barbara and Ian be able to survive The Reign of Terror ...
Filters: DVD Series 17 Documentary B00AHHVQIG
Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts, Charles Norton
Produced by: Graham Williams
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), David Brierly (K9), Christopher Neame (Skagra), Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons), Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis), Victoria Burgoyne (Clare Knightley), Gerald Campion (Wilkin), Shirley Dixon (Ship), Derek Pollitt (Caldera), James Coombes (voice of the Kraags), John Hallet (Police Constable), David Strong (Man in Car)
Cover Art: Lee Binding (DVD, Blu-Ray), Adrian Salmon (Steelbook)
Originally Released: November 2017
Quite possibly a record-breaking candidate for the longest filming period for a single script, Shada bridges two millennia – from 1979 to 2017 – and represents a heroic effort to finally plug one of the most egregious gaps in the Doctor Who canon.
In a way, Shada mirrors the antagonist of that other great Douglas Adams story, City of Death. Just as Scaraoth is shattered into dozens of versions of himself across the centuries, the industrial action that stymied the original production of the serial saw it fractured into a number of variants and doppelgangers. Most famously, Adams decided the root concepts and ideas behind his final Doctor Who script were too good to waste and they found their way into his Doctorless novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. In 1992, a rough edit of the surviving footage was patched together with exposition from Tom Baker and some unsympathetic synthesizer music. Later again, an animated incarnation saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor reunite with Romana and K9 and a new supporting cast to cure a nagging feeling of something undone in Cambridge 1979.
But this Shada is very much the real deal. The entire surviving cast have been reunited to record the missing dialogue, the missing sequences have been animated where appropriate, though brand new models and have constructed and filmed by the Model Unit to act as inserts in the live action scenes, and a brand new score by Mark Ayers is constructed like an act of musical archaeology to recreate the instruments, methods and style of 1970s legend Dudley Simpson. It can never by Shada as it would have been, but it by far lays the strongest claim to being the definitive article.
As with any such project, the team had to make creative decisions and not everyone will agree with all of them. For instance, with Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis) and David Brierly (K9) having died since their original contribution a couple of minor scenes requiring them are left unanimated, while others have their presence reduced to lines which could be reproduced from other recordings of the actors. While some no doubt may have preferred soundalikes to be used to make as complete a version as possible, it’s a sensitive decision and highlights that, in fact, the missing moments were largely padding anyway. Similarly, but much more controversially, is the decision to assemble Shada as a 138 minute film rather than as six episodes. (It even has - steady yourself - a pre-titles sequence). This will go against every instinct of many long term fans, still sore from VHS cassettes of hacked down stories and the fight to get episodic releases. But in this case it seems to work. Watched in one sitting it makes for a breezy, fun, adventure – yet the way the story is paced would have seen the episodic version with a curiously uneventful Part One and a number of extremely undramatic cliffhangers (only the midway point would have given us something as genuinely brilliant as “Dead men require no oxygen”). For me, the only genuinely poor decision is to seize on the existence of the original K9 prop, some original wall panels from the 1979 set, and the surviving (bottom) half of an original Kraag monster costume to recreate a few shots of K9 fighting a Kraag. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but the fact the surviving bit of set to squeeze them into is so small, and the Kraag only visible from the waist down, makes for a weirdly, and unintentionally silly, looking moment that takes you out of the flow of the story more than the switches to animation do.
Few would argue, though against the decision to bring in Martin Gergharty and Adrian Salmon to do design work for the animation. Not only are they brilliant in their own right, creating clear lined, loyal yet character-filled, interpretations of the cast in warm, friendly colours, it also helps smooth over the slightly stilted, flash style – the characters may not feel like they have a full range of human movement, but the presence of Gergharty’s art, so familiar to the readership of Doctor Who Magazine, makes it feel almost like panels from the beloved DWM comic strip brought to life.
But has all this effort simply been an ultimate exercise in obsessive, fannish, completeness? Are we seeing the resurrection of a poor story just because it’s there to be done, or the completion of a classic in its own right? In short – is Shada actually any good?
As it happens, Shada is brilliant jewel to add to Doctor Who’s crown if one, like all the most spectacular diamonds, not without its flaws. One the wittiest of Who scripts, and certainly with one of the most fascinating premises, at six parts it’s basically City of Death with extra portions. Famously, one of the script’s biggest critics is its own author – written, as it was, at a point when Douglas Adams was juggling several different projects and deadlines and pouring his greatest effort into his own personal work rather than Doctor Who. Considering that a billion years from now, stuck in the glovebox of an interplanetary roadster, the fruits of that rival project may be the last sign of the human race’s existence, it would be churlish to complain about that but still, Adams is being ungenerous about the serial.
In almost every way, this is the fullest encapsulation of the latter half Tom Baker years. Tom himself exudes the same sort of relaxed charm, peppered with moments of total nonsense that marked City of Death while Lalla Ward has never seemed more possessed of an unearthly beauty. All of their scenes together are a joy and something as simple as them going boating, or visiting an old friend in his rooms for tea is all stuff I could watch hours of, even without any alien menaces showing up. And the alien menace that does show up is stupendous – possibly the most unbelievable thing about the whole story is the revelation on the commentary track that the people in the background of Cambridge genuinely ignored Christopher Neame in his outrageous hat and slowing silver cape as if he was an everyday sight. But the massively fun campness of Neame’s character Skagra is balanced by the imaginative and typically Adamsian plot the villain has hatched. Skagra is unusually preoccupied with the heat death of the universe in several billion years’ time and obsessed with stopping it. Like solving the central question of Life, the Universe, and Everything the main stumbling block to finding the answer is processing power – so he’s going to absorb every mind in the universe into one great gestalt entity, so that every being in creation is simply a conduit for finding a way to save it without the petty distractions of life. In a way, it’s Douglas Adams inventing cloud computing thirty years early and typical of the scientific verve and imagination he brought to everything he wrote. (Tellingly, a year later his replacement would also craft a story about forestalling the heat death of the universe but, while propounding the superiority of ‘hard science’, would solve it by inventing some space wizards who use magic words to make it go away).There are undoubtedly flaws, mostly as we race towards the end with the mounting sense of a script with the ink still wet and no time for afterthought or final drafts. Chris Parsons is probably the best of the solid young everymen Doctor Who has ever featured, and pitched perfectly by Daniel Hall, yet despite early episodes spending more time of introducing and building on his character, he gets lost in the shuffle of the climax. There’s even a dramatic scene of Chris making a vital deduction and racing out to save the day, only for Adams to be plainly unable to think of anything to give him to do once he gets there (a problem Gareth Roberts ingeniously solved in his 2012 novelization but which, presumably for purity’s sake, the producers here don’t take the opportunity to steal). Meanwhile, the Kraag outfits are really quite poor, even for the era that gave us the Nimon and the Mandrel, and a lot of the location film work in Cambridge feels rather loose and in need of a tighter edit.Yet, there’s an inescapable magic to Shada that goes well beyond its status as a mythical ‘lost’ story, and had it been completed in 1979 it would still have been regarded as one of the highpoints of Season Seventeen.
This release comes with a full set of extras the complement the story perfectly. A commentary orchestrated by the unsinkable Toby Hadoke on less funding than the bus fare into town sees him interview Neame and Hall about their experiences during filming, and Gergharty and animator Ann Marie Walsh about the pressures and effort involved in creating the project against incredibly tight deadlines. Taken Out of Time interviews many of the those involved in front of and behind the cameras on the original production to build a picture of exactly how it came to abandoned in the first place. Strike! Strike! Strike! uses contributions from those involved in industrial relations at the time to help explain exactly how the unions of 1970s television came to be so powerful, and give a potted history of their rise and fall through the lens of how industrial action had impacted Doctor Who over the decades both negatively (when it was at the BBC) and positively (when it was arch rival ITV left showing blank screens opposite the Doctor’s adventures). Both of these are proper, half hour documentaries that tell a story of their own almost as compelling as Shada itself.
There’s also fascinating Studio Sesssions - 1979, showing the working methods of the cast and crew in-studio as the cameras roll between takes. Most fun of all is are the Dialogue Sessions – in which we get to see Tom Baker and Daniel Hall record their contributions for the animation, with all Tom’s uproarious ad libs and suggestions for improvements to the script intact. The extras are rounded out with the video of the Model Unit filming of Skagra’s space station and ship, as well as the TARDIS model, new footage taken of Daniel Hall and Tom Baker’s stand-in as reference for animation, photo galleries, as well as the obligatory Now and Then tour of what the Cambridge locatoins look like three decades on. ROM content even includes a full set of scripts, storyboards, and the 1979 Doctor Who Annual (if, rather bizarrely, packed as 56 separate image files).The Steelbook release goes even further to try and lay claim to the definitive Shada package – with a third disc containing the 1992 reconstruction and the 2003 Paul McGann web animation adaptation (remastered for viewing on TV screens rather than computer monitors). About the only thing not included is the novelization.
Presentation and Packaging
The DVD version has a slightly astonishing error where the coding that tells a television to display it as 16:9 or 4:3 is messed up – meaning that if watched on a 4:3 television the image will appear in the centre of the screen, with black bars on all sides – top, bottom, left and right. On a modern 16:9 television it displays the picture correctly (with bars on left and right as this is archive television intended as 4:3) but even then some resolution is lost as the image is basically being blown up to fit. That said, you’d be hard pressed to actually notice the lower resolution on viewing the DVD and it probably still looks better than it would have done on the average 1970s domestic television. All the same it’s disappointing to see such hard work by so many involved obviously handed off to someone much less fastidious at the eleventh hour for authoring the DVDs. It should be stressed, however, that the Blu-Ray and Steelbook don’t share this flaw so, if it’s going to bother you, those are the routes to take.
The cover art, some may remember, was the cause of a bit of a social media flap last year when Clayton Hickman’s distinctive and unusual scarf patterned cover was ditched at the comparative last minute. In the final result, Lee Binding’s replacement is… fine, if a little bland and stilted seeming, probably as a result of the tight deadlines under which it was done. Strangely, a vestige of Hickman’s original design lingers on in the insert booklet. “Bland” is not something anyone could accuse the Steelbook art of. Undoubtedly DWM’s most marmite love-him-or-hate-him artists, Adrian Salmon provides a cover piece in his distinctive, angular, impressionistic style. Personally, I love him.
A thread long dangling frustratingly at the corner of Doctor Who history, Shada is reborn by a massive and dedicated effort by a hugely talented team to reveal it as an all time classic mix of Douglas Adams’ trademark whimsy and intelligence. Handsomely accompanied by a great set of extras and marred only by some inexplicable technical sloppiness, this is a must for any collection. But one, perhaps, to get on Blu-Ray if possible.
Filters: BBC Worldwide Blu-ray/DVD Steelbook Fourth Doctor