DVD Review – Doctor Who: Shada

The legendary, abandoned Doctor Who story penned by Douglas Adams, “Shada”, finally sees the light of day (yet again), this time with the missing bits recreated with animation. But is all this time and effort actually worth it? My opinions are forthcoming, but you could win a copy and make up your own mind.

“Shada” was to have been the final six-part story for season 17 of Doctor Who in 1980. Written by Douglas Adams when he was script editor of the series, production was abandoned partway through due to a studio technician’s strike. Some clips from the story were subsequently used in the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” in 1983. The completed scenes were eventually put together with a musical score, some new effects and linking narration from Tom Baker for a VHS release in 1992 (later reissued on DVD). The script was also re-imagined in 2003 by Big Finish Productions as an audio drama, accompanied by some basic Flash animation for an online release. But now all the missing scenes have been completed with proper animation, and the original cast reassembled to record the dialogue. Plus the original scenes have been remastered.

Responding to a call for assistance from his old friend (and retired Time Lord) Professor Chronotis, the Doctor, with Romana in tow, visits Cambridge University where the professor lives. Adventures ensue, involving a very special book misappropriated from Gallifrey, an escaped criminal named Skagra, a long forgotten Time Lord named Salyavin and the legendary prison planet of the Time Lords, Shada. Of course, not everything is as it seems.

It’s an entertaining if unremarkable story. What really makes it interesting is the setting of Cambridge University, which is an atmospheric backdrop, and Adams’s oddball humour. While said humour is a bit laboured at times (the sugar and lumps joke), when it does work, it’s quite brilliant…

SKAGRA: Take over the universe? How childish. Who could possibly want to take over the universe?
DOCTOR: Exactly. That’s what I keep telling people. It’s a troublesome place, difficult to administer. And as a piece of real estate, it’s worthless, because by definition there’d be no one to sell it to.

The animated parts work well enough. The animation style and quality isn’t brilliant, but is okay and gets the job done. What is most striking in these scenes is the sound of the voices. The cast have very noticeably aged, to the extent of almost being unrecognisable at times (particularly Lala Ward). It takes a little while to get used to.

Interestingly, the decision was made to shoot the final scene as live action with an aged Tom Baker, rather than animating it. It’s just a short scene, with the Doctor and K9 tinkering with the TARDIS console while Romana calls her dialogue from another room. It pulls you out of the moment even more than the vocal difference in the animations. But it is such a lovely scene, with Baker in top form and obviously loving the chance of portraying the Doctor again. So yeah… in and of itself, I love it; but it doesn’t really work in context.

Having said all this, it is rather wonderful to be able to watch this piece of Who history in its entirety at last. So, in answer to the question I posed at the start of this review… Yes! It is worth it!

The two-disc DVD release is excellent with lots of great extras, particularly the background info on the strike and why the story was never completed. The commentary track on the other hand is annoying. It’s just a bunch of interviews that do not relate to the images on screen. They even start off the commentary by telling you this. It would have been much better to simply present the interviews as an extra, rather than putting them into a commentary like this.

Doctor Who: Shada is released on DVD in Australia by Roadshow Entertainment. Many thanks to these lovely people for providing the giveaway copy

Catch ya later, George

Check out my bookish blog, Literary Clutter, hosted by Boomerang Books. Latest Post: Through the doorway to OTHER WORLDS