Shada, the legendary 1970s Doctor Who story penned by Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author, and Doctor Who script editor, Douglas Adams, was destined never to be completed, due to industrial action at the time. Unfortunately, it’s also arguably one of the best Doctor Who serials (n)ever made.
This epic adventure saw the Fourth Doctor take his companion Romana to Cambridge to visit retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, who teaches at St. Cedd’s College. Chronotis asks the Doctor to return a dangerous book back to the Time Lords’ home planet of Gallifrey – unfortunately, a student at the university, Chris Parsons, has inadvertently borrowed the book… Meanwhile, an alien called Skagra is also looking for the book, in order to discover the whereabouts of Shada, the forgotten prison planet of the Time Lords. There, he hopes to find the great Gallifreyan criminal Salyavin and use his power of mind-control to take over the universe. It’s up to the Doctor, Romana and Chris to stop Skagra and keep the Universe safe!
Over the years, what remains of Shada has been released numerous times in various forms: in 1983, a few clips were used as Tom Baker’s contribution to the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors”; in 1992, the completed scenes were stitched together with narration by Tom Baker for a special VHS release; in 2003, audio drama production company Big Finish worked with the BBC to re-create the whole story (starring Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor) as an animated webcast, subsequently available on audio CD; and in 2012, there was a novelisation and subsequent e-book. But there is nothing like the original, and finally, after 38 years, Shada has been completed as originally intended, based on Douglas Adam’s draft scripts. Combining digitally remastered HD quality original footage with brand new model shots and animation to make up for the missing scenes, fans can finally watch the adventure in all its glory in a brand new feature length production.
For this new version, many of the original cast members – including Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons) and Christopher Neame (Skagra) – have returned to provide the dialogue for the new animations. Sadly, some of the cast are no longer with us, including Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis), and David Brierly (K-9). Fortunately, in the latter case, Charles Norton, the lead on this production, discovered an audio reel of David saying many lines as K-9, which has considerably helped complete the story authentically.
Although I’m personally not keen on the style of animation for this release (a mixture of 2D characters with 3D locations), it is technically very well done, and does not distract remotely from the overall pleasure of watching the adventure. The producers have even responded to a common criticism of their previous Doctor Who animation, “Power of the Daleks”, where there were no shots of characters walking. Shada includes many long shots of the Doctor, Skagra and the rest walking, and there’s even a 3D “crane shot” one of Chris cycling to his lab!
An unexpected added bonus is the final live action scene, which sees Tom Baker reprising his role as the Fourth Doctor on screen for the first time properly since 1981. Filmed in 2017 at BBC Television Centre on the same sound stage as the one used back in 1979, shot on same sort of cameras used at the time, with the assistance of the Lighting Designer who worked on the show back in the day, the scene feels absolutely genuine – despite Tom’s advanced years – and it works beautifully with the rest of the episode.
Similarly, the new model shots have been accurately filmed in the style of the 1970s, using 16mm film cameras to make the shots feel and look as genuine as possible. The transitions from original footage to the new model shots are seamless. Likewise, the score – which was originally to be composed by the 1979 series music composer Dudley Simpson, but he was unable to work on this project due to ill health – was composed very much in his style by fellow Doctor Who composer, Mark Ayers, using the original equipment and techniques of the 1970s, and it sounds as if it truly were from the original era of the series.
This new rendition of Shada has truly lived up to its hype. I have to admit, at first I wasn’t keen on the idea of it being released once again, but this new and definitive version is definitely worth the 38 year wait.
Doctor Who: Shada is now available as a digital download (with a DVD and Blu-Ray release on December 4th) from Amazon.co.uk and other leading retailers, courtesy of BBC Worldwide. There will also be a special screening of the adventure at the BFI in Southbank on Saturday 2nd December – for more information visit www.bfi.org.uk.