Shada

Spoilers

Now we come to what is technically the last story of Season 17. Except it was technically never made.

After The Horns of Nimon, producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams were hoping to end the season on a high. Both were outgoing, to be replaced next season with production unit manager John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H. Bidmead. Former producer Barry Letts would be returning as executive producer.

Adams himself wrote the script and set most of the story in Cambridge, for he knew the city well. The production started off well, with all the location shooting being completed, apart from a couple of shots. Production then moved to Television Centre for the interior scenes.

The first recording block was completed, but the second block had to be abandoned due to industrial action. The strike never really died down and therefore, Shada was never originally finished and broadcast. However, it has since been completed in various forms.

In 1992, Tom Baker accepted John Nathan-Turner’s request to record some linking sequences for a VHS release of the story. In 2003, the BBC released a webcast version of the story starring Paul McGann instead of Tom Baker. This was also made available as an audio drama from Big Finish.

Then in 2017, the BBC released another version of the serial which was a mixture of the original live-action footage and animation. There’s even been a novelisation by Gareth Roberts. However, I will currently be focusing my review of Shada on the new six-part animated version that is exclusive to the Season 17 Collection Blu-Ray box set.

This is probably the definitive version of Shada. I enjoyed watching it and it’s made Shada become one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. Like with the 2017 version, this version is a blend of original live-action footage and animation, the latter of which has been updated from the 2017 version and re-paced to cover six episodes.

We start off in Cambridge which is a city in England that I have visited quite a few times. The first character we see here is Chris Parsons, played by Daniel Hill. When he gets to St. Cedd’s College, he meets the porter, Wilkin, played by Gerald Campion.

The man that Chris wishes to meet on his visit is Professor Chronotis. He was portrayed by Denis Carey, who would go onto play the title character of the following season’s penultimate story, The Keeper of Traken. He also appeared in Season 22’s Timelash. Chronotis lends Chris a book from his library, but the book is unlike any other.

Then we get to our first scene featuring the Doctor and Romana. They are punting along the River Cam, as the Doctor reminisces about great Earth minds like Owen Chadwick. This scene was of course used to represent the Fourth Doctor in The Five Doctors, which was the first time any footage of Shada had been shown to the public.

After a while, the Doctor loses the pole. Apparently he had to do multiple takes of this and a group of nearby students ridiculed him, not knowing he was shooting a tv production. I presume they hadn’t heard of Doctor Who either. As they cross under a bridge, a figure in unearthly white clothing is standing on it carrying a bag.

The figure in question is known as Skagra. We see him in the very first scene of the story. We will get onto him more later. The Doctor and Romana then pay Chronotis a visit. Chronotis is actually a Time Lord who resides on Earth as he is too old to own a Tardis.

The Doctor then mentions the book which we saw the Professor lend to Chris earlier. Meanwhile, Chris himself has returned home. It is here that we first see animation. The transitions to animation from film/videotape in this story are absolutely seamless. The animation is mostly used for studio sequences that were never filmed, although there are a few location shots that didn’t get made as well.

When Chris gets the book out, he discovers it’s power. It even blows up a radiation machine when tested on it. He then calls in his sort-of girlfriend Clare. She can’t make any sense of the book either. Chris then goes back to the College to question the Professor about it.

One his way there, he passes the Doctor, who is himself going to Chris’ place to find the book after the Professor remembers who he lent it to. There’s a funny scene during that bit where the Professor goes through the alphabet in order to remember, and when he gets to B he says “B B, B B” before the Doctor and Romana together say “C?” πŸ˜€

The Doctor arrives at Chris’ place, not realising that he passed him earlier. Claire tells him that the book is here, so the Doctor takes it with him. But on the way back to the college, he encounters Skagra, who sends a probe after him. The Doctor evades it, passing by a choir group and trying to get into someone’s house being getting trapped under a gate trying to get past a dead end.

Meanwhile at the college, the Professor receives another visitor whilst Romana is in the Tardis. He hears multiple voices which leads him to believe that he has multiple visitors. He then sees however that Skagra is his visitor. He sets a probe on the Professor to extract his mind, before leaving.

Romana then returns and sees the Professor unconscious on the floor in his study. Chris arrives and Romana instructs him to go into the Tardis to fetch a piece of medical equipment. Chris is surprised by the Tardis, but manages to get the equipment and place it on the Professor.

Romana also instructs K9 to come and help. K9 is once again voiced by David Brierley. His K9 voice isn’t all that great and sounds much closer to John Leeson’s real voice. It could have worked for this season since Destiny of the Daleks, but John Leeson voices K9 in audio dramas set during Season 17. Hell, John even voices K9 in the Shada audiobook, although not the other Season 17 audiobook’s as far as I’m aware.

The Doctor meanwhile is still stuck under the fence. But Romana then arrives in the Tardis so that the Doctor can get in and escape, trapping his scarf in the doors. When he and Romana return, the Professor has died. But luckily, he lived long enough to warn them of Skagra and Shada itself.

The Doctor, Romana, Chris and K9 soon track down Skagra’s ship which is located in a field. It is disguised by a cloaking device. CSO film at Ealing studios was used to record the sequences of characters ascending the ships ramp to then be overlayed onto the location shots. Once inside the ship, the everyone apart from the Doctor is abducted and placed in a cell, whilst the Doctor finds himself in the ship’s control room.

The ship’s computer tells him she doesn’t obey anyone’s orders but Skagra’s. She then proceeds to use one of Skagra’s spheres to extract the Doctor’s mind in order to decode the book. Skagra then takes Romana from the cell and escorts her to the Tardis, having taken the Doctor’s key.

The Doctor is initially presumed dead, but wakes up soon. He then manages to manipulate the ship’s computer into releasing Chris and K9, before he orders it to take them to the space station that Skagra used to occupy. Once their, they discover Skagra’s discarded colleagues and find out that he is searching for a Timelord named Salyavin, who is imprisoned in Shada.

The trio then come face-to-face with a species known as the Krarg’s which Skagra created. They are actually similar in appearance to the Mandrels, except that they don’t have mouths or eyes, and they even seem to glow at times. K9 manages to fend some of them off. Interestingly enough, K9 has dialogue in the animated parts of the story, despite David Brierley having away beforehand. Perhaps the team used archive audio.

Meanwhile in Cambridge, Claire arrives at Professor Chronotis’ study and then finds a hidden control panel which revives the Professor. It turns out the study is in fact Chronitis’ Tardis. They repair it before using it to reach Skagra’s space station. Wilkin meanwhile opens the door to where the study used to be to find that a static void has taken it’s place.

When Chronotis’ Tardis reaches the space station, they save the Doctor, Romana, K9 and Chris. It is later revealed that Skagra wants the book as it holds the key to Shada, and intends to absorb Salyavin’s mind and use it’s telepathy to unite all of the Universe’s minds into one.

The group eventually reach Shada. The Doctor, Romana, K9 and Chronotis head out to confront Skagra, with Chris and Claire staying in the Tardis. Skagra proceeds to open the cells of all the prisoners, as well as Salyavin’s. However, it is empty. Professor Chronotis then reveals himself to be Salyavin after he uses telepathy. When the Doctor deduces this, the Professor replies “Well guessed Doctor.” As Denis Carey is not longer with us, the line is actually from The Keeper of Traken. Cleverly used if you ask me.

Skagra once again uses his sphere to extract Chronotis’ mind and turn the prisoners into his thralls. Chris is also taken control of, having left the Tardis to help the Doctor, although I couldn’t see him in any of the scenes. The Doctor, along with Romana, K9 and Claire return to Chronotis’ Tardis and take off in it. The Doctor tries to find a way to return to his own Tardis, which Skagra has used as transport for his prisoners.

The Doctor works out that a bridge can be created between this Tardis and his own. This is a concept that I have literally never seen in Doctor Who until now. With the help of Romana, Claire and K9, a bridge is successfully created and the Doctor begins to crawl across it.

Just as the Doctor gets close to the Tardis, Claire feels her hands starting to burn from the heat of the lever. She is eventually unable to continue holding on, and unbeknown to her and Romana, the bridge collapses, taking the Doctor with it. Fortunately for him, he lands in some sort of workshop. It is in fact the workshop in his Tardis.

Using the bits and pieces he finds in the workshop, the Doctor is able to construct telepathy helmet in order for him to wrestle control away from Skagra. He confronts Skagra on the space station and succeeds in battling his mind. The Krargs are then destroyed and Chris and the Shada prisoners returned to normal.

Skagra is then returned to his ship, where he is placed in the same cell that he used to hold Romana, K9 and Chris. When he orders the ship’s computer to release him, it says that she only obeys the Doctor now. This drives Skagra insane and it was funny seeing him break down.

After the prisoners of Shada are returned, the Doctor, Romana, Chronotis, Chris and Claire all return to Cambridge. Wilkin then arrives accompanied by a police constable, explaining the idea that Chronotis’ room had been ‘stolen’. The Doctor and Romana take this as their cue to leave in the Tardis, before the constable tells everyone else that they will be taking a long walk.

The last scene of the story takes place inside the Tardis with the Doctor under the console repairing it, and Romana offscreen chatting about the events of the story. In the last few seconds, the Doctor gets up and it is revealed that he is being played in this scene by a much older Tom Baker. I’m not sure if this is actually the Fourth Doctor or the Curator, nor if this scene was recorded for the 1992 VHS, or the 2017 animation. Regardless, I found it a really lovely touch, especially with Tom smiling at the end.

Shada was such a joyous Doctor Who story to check out. It’s now up there with my favourites, along with the likes of Black Orchid, The Enemy of the World, City of Death and The Daemons. Script was beautiful, costumes were spectacular, performances were outstanding, and the animation did a great job in completing this lost story. I wonder how different Shada would have turned out had it not been abandoned.

I will eventually review the other versions of Shada out there, starting with the original 2017 animation.

But before all that, please stay tuned for my review of The Leisure Hive.

Rating: 10/10

Take care, WF92.

2 thoughts on “Shada

  1. Hi WF92.

    I enjoyed your review on ‘Shada’. I’m pleased this is one of your favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories, despite it not having been completed in 1979 and yet completed in various forms in 1992, 2003, 2012, 2017 and 2021. πŸ˜€ I hope you enjoy checking out the other versions of ‘Shada’. The 2003 Paul McGann version is my personal favourite as it was the first one I came across. Interesting you didn’t include other VHS covers and DVD covers of ‘Shada’ to your review, but then you were basing this on the 2021 version and not the 1992 or 2017 versions.

    A number of things to point out. First, Chris didn’t meet Wilkin upon his arrival. Someone else pointed Chris the way to Chronotis’ rooms in Cambridge. By the way, I would like to visit Cambridge someday. I’m glad you’ve been there. Anyway, back on topic, Wilkin made his first appearance when the Doctor greeted him at St. Cedd’s (which may I point out is not a real college in Cambridge and was fictionally created by Douglas Adams. He had St. Cedd’s as a Cambridge college in the ‘Dirk Gently’ books. didn’t you know). John Leeson has voiced K-9 in the Season 17/Gareth Roberts 2012 novelization audiobook as well as the 2003 audio drama/webcast with Paul McGann. Also, it’s Skagra who extracts a copy of the Doctor’s mind with the sphere when aboard the Ship and not the Ship itself. Tom Baker filmed his last scene as the older Fourth Doctor in the TARDIS for the 2017 version, not the 1992 version.

    Once again, greatly enjoyed your review on the story. Looking forward to your review on ‘The Leisure Hive’.

    P.S. I’ve seen a bit of your ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ review via e-mail. It’s looking good. πŸ˜€

    Tim πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tim.

    I’m pleased you enjoyed my review of ‘Shada’. I hope to be checking out the 2017 version later this year, as well as the 1992 VHS. I don’t know when I’ll get around to checking out the 2003 webcast version and the 2012 novelisation/audiobook. I will be adding the 1992/2013/2017 covers when I review the other versions of ‘Shada’.

    Oops. Thanks for pointing out the inaccuracies in my review, including Wilkin’s first appearance, John Leeson as K9, Skagra extracting the Doctor’s mind, and Tom Baker’s final scene. Hopefully I will revise all that in the near-future.

    I should hopefully start re-watching ‘The Leisure Hive’ next week. I’ll make sure to watch the Season 18 Blu-Ray trailer on disc 7 of the Season 17 Blu-Ray set. I didn’t mean to post my ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ review yet, but I’m pleased you like it so far. My ‘Warriors of the Deep’ review will be uploaded tomorrow.

    Take care, WF92.

    Liked by 1 person

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