THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

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BBC Video
Shada

Episodes 6 Is this 'Shada' or 'The Five Doctors'?
Story No# 109
Production Code 5M
Season 18
Dates Released on
video in 1992

With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward,
and David Brierly as the voice of "K9".
Written and script-edited by Douglas Adams.
Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by Graham Williams.
Video release produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: The Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey, stolen from the Panopticon and stored at Cambridge by the retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, falls into the hands of Skagra, a dangerous egocentric determined to locate the mysterious Shada.

Note: Left uncompleted in 1979 and finished with Tom Baker's linking narration in 1992.


Reviews

The Missing Story by Matt Michael 3/11/98

Shada, cancelled by a strike in 1979, made it into the shops thirteen years later -- was it worth it?

I should say a cautious yes. Shada, as a video, just about works. Tom Baker's presence is a great boost, and although his introduction is extremely silly (and rather amusing), the linking segments are well done and not too intrusive. Unfortunately, due to the paucity of available material for the final episodes, the end of the tape does consist of little more than Tom Baker talking to camera, and it might have been more successful had the story not been broken up into episodic form for the video release, particularly as the video was packaged with the scripts (which clearly show where the cliffhangers lie if you're that bothered). Still, Shada the video stands as a monument to the tenacity of JNT and his continuing dedication to the show.

As a story, Shada is slightly less impressive. I've read several articles which claim Shada would have been the jewel in the crown of the Seventeenth Season. Having watched what exists, I'm not so sure. The acting is good, with Tom and Lalla again giving assured performances ably asssisted by an impressive guest cast (particularly Christopher Neame as Skagra). The design is not much better than the rest of Season Seventeen (in fact, I've always thought that the main problem with the Graham Williams era is not the light-hearted scripts, but some truly appalling and very cheap looking designs, which tends to undermine otherwise impressive stories). In particular, Skagra's ship looks very tacky, although the Krargs are hardly the most superb monsters the series ever came up with. Perhaps the least favourable aspect of the serial is the plot. Although generally very well written (apart from a few excrutiating "comedy" moments), the plot is quite slim, and suffers from some quite ridiculous elements such as Professor Chronotis's sudden (inexplicable) resurrection. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of running about (on location and inside) which smacks of padding.

Overall, Shada is rather less impressive than some people would have us believe. It would probably have stood up as an enjoyable story, but it is neither as witty nor as well written as City of Death, and its loss has gained it more renown than it probably deserves. Still, it would have been a more fitting finish to Graham Williams' tenure than The Horns of Nimon.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 28/11/98

When it was cancelled in 1979, Shada was considered a lost story, but thanks to the wonder that is BBC Video, what remains can be viewed in some format. The presence of Tom Baker adds an amusing weight to the video, although much of the tape is made up of linking narration It would perhaps have been better if Lalla Ward could also have recorded some linking footage if only to break up the monotony a little. What remains does show some promise, although not a lot.

Shada benefits from its location work,and the plot is basically an interesting one justifying its six episode length. Unfortunately, running around, being captured, rescued and then recaptured occurs a lot here. It also suffers from excruciatingly bad and overdone jokes, a terrible dress sense for Skagra and some cheap looking effects. That said it does boast some fine acting, the Kraargs are impressive looking and some of the dialogue is highly memorable.

Shada isn`t the unmade gem of season seventeen, but instead is a dull jewel trying to shine brightly. It is thanks to Tom Baker and his narration that the story remains interesting given the lack of material in the later episodes, as what looks promising quickly fades away, leaving one to only wonder what the end result could have been if it hadn`t been cancelled.


If only Doug had stayed around longer by Mike Jenkins 25/10/01

As I enjoy books better then film or television (whether they be doctor books or books of some other kind) and since I feel that it is the Hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy books/theater/radio that are the best sci-fi phenomenon and not Doctor Who, it is no surprise to me that this story is my second favorite of all time in this show's history, second only to The Pirate Planet. The acting is wonderful, and the regulars, as always are wonderful but what made this story (and the other stories which Adams had a hand in) is that it is truly not only the greatest ubundence of humor in the programme's history but also the best of it. Of course, as an Adams fan I just eat this up but I realize this is subjective.

I would recomend the film of the surviving material (and Tom's dissertations on what didn't make it) to any true Doctor Who/Adams fan but I would say it is probably geared more toward those who primarily enjoy the humourus aspects of the show. A serious well written Doctor Who story is not as good as a poorly written humorous Doctor Who story. However, if you're looking for intact stories the best way to get a flavour of Doug's work on the show would be to watch Pirate Planet or City of Death or really any story from season 17 becaused he pumped his humorous influences into all of those stories and even a little into others shortly before and after (aka The Androids of Tara, Meglos). Nevertheless, despite this Shada is, in my opinion, the second greatest Doctor Who story of all time.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 20/6/02

Missing Stories have become something of a sub genre of DW. There's the Missing Season 23. There's the mass of MA's that Virgin and BBC have produced. There's the increasing barrage of Big Finish stories too, not to mention strange side steps like Pescatons and Paradise of Death. But this one stands on its own, due to the unusual circumstances of its cancellation half way through filming. I won't bore you with the logistics of why Shada never appeared on the BBC - there's plenty of information elsewhere for that. I am just glad that BBC saw fit to release what we had on video in 1992, and with links from Tom Baker the package is very entertaining indeed.

From the moment Tom Baker appears in the exhibition I was drawn into the project. Tom Baker is always supremely watchable whether as himself or the Doctor (is there a difference?). Here he chooses to be the Doctor again. As he moves around the exhibits, proudly stating triumph after triumph, he stops at the Krarg. "SHADA!" he exclaims, and something mystical took hold of me. I was transported back to 1979, the conclusion of Season 17 - and thrust into a Douglas Adams cacophony of weird and wonderful ideas. Shada is a fantastic Doctor Who story, and what we have is wonderful.

My likes and dislikes of Doctor Who are pretty much traditional. I always enjoy it when DW goes on location. When a new place is opened up to my view, and the place becomes a character in its own right. I like old places, studies with books reaching the ceiling, Sherlock Holmesian rooms full of clutter and knowledge. I don't like cold white corridors too much. I was always more at home when DW visited the past and present, rather than the future.

Shada is perfect for my likes and dislikes. They had recorded all my favourite bits! Cambridge is the type of place that I am now itching to visit. Old buildings full of character and charm, alleyways that tell countless stories of the folk who live there. ALL the location work was complete, and it shows Cambridge off brilliantly. Chronitis' study is the type of Holmesian room I love. Books on every conceivable topic. A professor who has lived there for 300 years, hidden away in his own world - the type of place Tolkien and Lewis spent so much time in. This was marvelous.

On the opposite side we didn't see that much of the attempted futuristic spaceship. Some old blokes appeared, stumbled around a bit and the 4th Doctor filled in the story points. Shada itself, the Prison, was never seen - except as a pretty naff "bit on the side of the planet" model. I will never know what other parts of the Spaceship, and Shada itself was to look like. Maybe it would have been a future locale I could embrace - I was just glad with the familiar.

Douglas Adams took no pride in the Shada script. I actually think it's rather good. The clever asides and subtle humour are in evidence throughout, and the 4th Doctor seems to be having a great time. It's a shame that TARGET never had the chance to novelize this story, but terrific that TSV have now done so. I have yet to read it - so this review could very well get a supplement! The characters that Adams creates are excellent. Skagra, the intellectual survivor, is elaborate and alien - there's menace in Christopher Neame's performance. Chris and Clare are wonderfully everyday good looking people, the type you wouldn't mind spending a few hours with. The Porter Wilkin, played by Billy Bunter himself Gerald Campion, is splendid. All that time in the same job, yet loving it - as much a part of the set-up as the buildings he wanders through.

Special mention must be made of Professor Chronotis. He's the best of the lot. The whole idea of a Time Lord living out his retirement in the Cambridge Cloisters is wonderful - even Adams admits to that one. Denis Carey gives us a wonderfully dipsy Time Lord, quite different and much more attractive, than the personality-lacking drones we are used to from Gallifrey. The scenes in his study are clever and entertaining - and Chronotis has joined the ranks of the very Best Supporting Characters in all Doctor Who.

People wondered for years whether Shada would ever see the light of day, in Video or Book. They even doubted whether such a video would be viable. I can categorically state that it is viable - and it is quite wonderful too. I can't say for sure is whether what they filmed is better than what they never had chance to film - but the missing footage would have to be brilliant to even compete with it. What we have is wonderful, and Tom Baker linking the bits we don't have is excellent.

We were robbed with Shada - this could have been one of Tom Baker's best. The nice thing about this robbery though, is that some real treasured items have been returned. Although a great deal of this story will always be Missing, I'm delighted with what gems we do have. 9/10


The lost tale by Tim Roll-Pickering 5/11/02

Based on the BBC Video release.

It is exceptionally difficult to review Shada as anything other than the final form in which it is made available, most usually the BBC Video release. Consequently it is hard to assess the performances of a number of the cast since many of the scenes in which they were due to appear never made it onto tape.

The video release opens with an aged Doctor wandering around the Museum Of the Moving Image's Doctor Who exhibit which was running a decade ago. It is never made at all clear just where this fits into the Doctor's personal continuity, unless this was a trail for the aborted The Dark Dimension special. Tom Baker slips effortlessly back into the role, resurrecting the sense of adventure that he gave to the character back in 1979, The exhibition is full of a number of old foes, including a Krarg, which manages to successfully kick off the story.

The material from 1979 is for the most part competent, though some of the spaceship sets and video effects display all the problems that afflicted contemporary stories such as Nightmare of Eden. Of the cast the top honours have to go to Denis Carey as Professor Chronotis. Carey's performance makes the character exceptionally loveable and highly believable as en eccentric Cambridge academic. The rest of the cast is less spectacular, though whether they would have improved that impression had the story been completed will never be known. Christopher Neame portrays Skagra, the villain of the piece, but makes a very poor impact and is further let down by the ridiculous costume he wears for much of the story.

The plot of Shada is rather simplistic but it is now difficult to follow it at times. The story has clearly been dragged out beyond its natural length, with many superfluous scenes added, especially in the early episodes, and so at times it is very easy to lose track of the threads. In the later episodes the plot picks up but here there are far fewer recorded scenes available.

The reconstruction uses a lot of the footage that was filmed and recorded and it is tempting to suspect that some of this would actually have been cut from the finished programme but has been retained here to save the tape from degenerating into a mere talking head. The video release also includes a little book containing the original scripts for the story to help but this is rarely necessary. The missing scenes are narrated by Tom Baker and there's some intelligent reuses of similar footage, still images and even shots of the Krarg costume in the MOMI expedition that all help to keep the tape interesting. Less effective is Keff McCulloch's score which feels extremely out of place. The video benefits from the use of modern post production techniques to realises scenes such as the grey sphere moving by itself. However the modelwork is poor and consists mainly of still shots and CSO images.

The Shada video release is perhaps the only way to ever witness the story but whilst it is a good effort it fails to make the story come alive, though this is as much a failing of the original story itself and the limited material available to work with. It's certainly worth a look, but it isn't the best of stories and it is almost tempting to see the story's original cancellation as a relief for the series. Story 4/10 Video release 7/10


"Dead men do not require oxygen..." by Joe Ford 19/9/05

What a crying shame this wasn't transmitted, I think that season seventeen's poor reputation would be significantly different if it had. And what a terrible shame we have to listen to Keff McCulloch's bloody awful music during the video release because his tuneless pap distracts from some very promising material.

The story behind Shada is famous now and its triple release (the video, script book and audio) shows determination in getting its story told. Whilst is doesn't quite match City of Death (that's the other Douglas Adams scripted story of the season) it certainly has the second-best story (and production) of the year. And shockingly, there are definitely enough plots here to stretch over six episodes which is feat that not many writers who have attempted this sort of thing have got right.

The first four episodes practically exist in their entirety with only little snippets here and there missing. It becomes immediately obvious that it is the TARDIS console and the Shada scenes that were never filmed, but everything in the Professor's study, the Think Tank and the location work was. Tom Baker's linking narration is very good and he sets the pace for the missing scenes but in all honesty it is no replacement for the actual material (how could it be?). Amongst the missing scenes I would love to see are the Doctor's chats with Skagra's ship (which I could imagine Tom Baker would rock, convincing the damn thing that he is dead!) and with it the "Dead men do not require oxygen" cliff-hanger, but also the final confrontation with Skagra is sadly missing which rather leaves the climax of the story as a blank void. However given the available photographs (and the one scene they are in that exists) we are spared the many appearances of the Krargs in the last two episodes so maybe we should be thankful for small mercies.

But let's concentrate on the material that we do have and much of which is pretty smashing. There is that wonderful Doctor Who join-the-dots nature to this story, which no other series really tries to get away with. You have three main settings, Cambridge, the Think Tank laboratory and Time Lord prison Shada. The story spends two episodes on each of these, progressing from one to the other as the plot demands, drawing the viewer towards its conclusion on the prison. Douglas Adams includes lots of clues in his early episodes, mentions of Salyavin, the Sphere stealing peoples minds and the power of the book and they all come together in the climax in a very satisfying fashion.

There is plenty of imagination running through the scripts too, something season seventeen scores very highly on in my book. The Professor's TARDIS, disguised as a study in a Cambridge University, is a work of genius and the scenes where Claire discovers the console are a joy. It is this mix of the comfortable being suddenly interrupted by the absurd, which has kept Doctor Who going for decades. I also love the idea of a Time Lord prison planet; you can only imagine what sort of nasties the Time Lords would fear enough to lock up. Even the Krargs, crystalline monsters that can create themselves are a great idea. Adams' love of technology treats us to the Sphere that steals minds, the invisible spaceship and the silky-voiced, literal-minded computer. As Richard Radcliffe pointed out this story is full of gems.

The location work is gorgeous and would have rounded up the season in far more style than Horns of Nimon. I'm not certain if I could justify the lack of spending on the last two stories to inject so much cash into this one but it certainly would have paid off. Pennant Robert's best-ever direction comes from these scenes, the graceful glide down the canal, the Doctor rushing past the singers in the street, the inspection of the invisible ship in the field. These sequences induce a sense of normality for the season which has been far more interested with alien worlds than Earth and as a result this story feels much more "real", at least during its early episodes. Shot on film, they look expensive and the location is not some dull quarry or within ten miles of London (for a change). The Doctor and Romana look right at home in Cambridge culture.

The story does stick to many of the conventions of season seventeen. The story is built around a plot device (the book), the monsters have an intriguing hook (crystalline), the script is full of gags and there is a very satisfying last episode. But in other ways it is nothing at all like the five stories that preceded it. By including Chris and Claire there is a "human" element to the story, which helps to keep things quite real. The sheer domestic atmosphere of episode one is something the show hasn't had since the Pertwee years. Tom Baker seems to be taking his role much more seriously here, exploiting the gags yes, but aware of the moments when he has to stop goofing around (such as the shocking moment when he realises Chronotis is dead and vows to have a talk with Skagra). The villain (despite his absurd costume) is played absolutely straight! And Romana is half as important to the plot as she has been, the Doctor once again centre stage. Also the design of the story is a huge improvement with Chronotis' study looking utterly authentic and the Think Tank sets much better than anything we saw in the last two stories.

This was a far better story to end the Graham Williams era on than The Horns of Nimon, simply because it deals with ideas that make it feel important. The Doctor is in Cambridge trying to help an old friend. Skagra is trying to get access to a Time Lord prison. The "evil" Salyavin might very well be released. Skagra's plans involve turning everyone in the universe into one mind, one that he controls. And at six episodes it feels more epic. It is an intoxicating blend of big ideas; dealing with the human race and the Time Lords is something the viewer can get far more excited about than the Skonnons.

The performances are much more controlled than in previous stories and haven't been this good since City of Death. Perhaps it's the quality of the material? As I have already mentioned Christopher Neame doesn't try and camp up Skagra at all (his costume does it all for him!) and I feel it might have genuinely been worth seeing him and Tom Baker in battle. Daniel Hill provides an amusing Chris Parsons, this could have been played far more over the top but he keeps the culture shock in check and ends up being a rather charming temporary companion. Similarly Victoria Burgoyne treats her role as Claire with conviction, her material is scarce but there is nothing at all embarrassing about her existing scenes. But best of all has to be Denis Carey as the forgetful Professor Chronotis who manages to make the old fool extremely endearing and yet quite serious when he needs to be. It's a great cast and the final scene of them all relaxing together in the study is a good pointer as to how much chemistry they brewed up.

A pretty good story hampered by its missing scenes but one which is well worth seeking out if only to repair some of the season damage. I was annoyed when I reached the last few episodes (because of the lack of material) but was entranced by the first four.

Splendiferous!


Lost And Found by Matthew Kresal 8/12/08

Shada has one of the most complicated behind-the-scenes stories of all time. Originally conceived as the six-part finale of the 1979-1980 season of Doctor Who by Douglas Adams (then script editor and creator of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy), it was extensively set at Cambridge University. All of the location filming at Cambridge University had been completed and some of the studio work done before a strike halted the production. Then the decision was made not to finish all of the filming. Then, in 1992, the BBC finally decided to take the recorded footage from 1979 and use Tom Baker to help tie those sequences that were never filmed with narration. This is the result.

To say the least, this is one of the more impressive Doctor Who adventures. Adams' script is taught, tense, epic and even fun at times. The story is a complicated one, to say the least. In terms of its structure, it is along the lines of City of Death, with clues to the later parts of the story being laid out early on. Yet, despite this (or rather because of it), the story keeps you riveted to the screen and waiting for the next scene right up until the very end with twists and turns the whole way through.

The performances are good and amongst the better ones of the season. Tom Baker gives one of his better later performances as the Doctor and his performance here in Shada is a considerable improvement over much of season seventeen. Lalla Ward also gives one of her better performances from her time on the series. Beyond them is a strong supporting cast in the form of Denis Carey as Professor Chronotis, the retired Time Lord who is not what he seems, and Christopher Neame as the evil Skagra, who is evil despite the laughable costume (white outfit, complete with silver cloak and hat); the addition of the mind-draining sphere helps immensely.

The story was never fully filmed and is tied together by clips of narration featuring Tom Baker. This is actually a pro rather than a con. Baker brilliantly reprises his role of the Doctor and narrates the story's missing parts expertly. Baker gives in his narration an inkling of what Shada could and should have been. It is a testament to his power as an actor that the story works as well as it does in an uncompleted form.

The one big minus of the story is in the special effects. The special effects are up to par with those of the series at the time. Yet there are some special effects featuring spacecrafts that don't work at all. It seems that the producers of the video decided that these special effects should only give an inkling of what was intended. A great shame, really.

With the combination of a fine script, fine performances, great humor, some terrific location filming and some brilliant narration by Tom Baker, Shada is more than just a lost story from a classic series. It is an inkling of what could have been a Doctor Who classic. While it is isn't as good as seeing a full-fledged story (though Big Finish did the full story as a webcast starring Paul McGann's eighth Doctor), this is still an amazing sci-fi epic.


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 13/9/09

Despite being the lost episode and being only partially complete, Shada has managed to make it to one of my favorites of season 17. It is a sad shame that it was never aired and we will never see it in all its glory as the episode is an absolute gem and an excellent swansong for Douglas Adams and Graham Williams.

The plot is one of my favorite types, the one that makes you think. All the elements work great together. A retired Time Lord, an alien who can steal minds, a book that holds the secret of shada. Despite being a six parter, it doesn't feel padded and makes for a nice epic to finish the season. The characterization is wonderful. Professor Chronotis is a loveable, absent-minded old man who does remind me of the second Doctor. His absent-mindedness gives way for some cracking dialogue and it is good to see a Time Lord who has some character instead of the stone-faced Time Lords we've seen before. The idea of him actually being a retired criminal sounds interesting but does not really go with his character. Chris and Claire are instantly likeable and are a good example of ordinary people thrown into something alien.

Skagra is a typical megalomaniac villain with an inflated ego. One thing I do like is his unflappability, the guy does seem like a robot. The sphere provides that element of fear; when K9 fails to destroy it, it gives that fear of an indestructible weapon. The Kraags don't really do much for me; this may be because we never really see them in action but I do not think they pass off as great villains. Skagra's plan to create a universal mind is a fascinating one and is does give that idea that everything is at stake which is suitable for a season finale.

There is something I will criticize about Shada, which is that it does risk being too zany. I know Douglas Adams's stories have a reputation for being a bit off the walls but here he does push it a little. The idea of Chronotis returning from the dead is not adequately explained and doesn't make much sense. Wouldn't it have been easier for Chronotis too be knocked out by the sphere draining his mind? The Doctor tricking the sphere into thinking he is stupid doesn't work great either.

All in all, Shada would have been a great end to season 17 had it been completed and it is a great regret that it was this episode we missed out on rather than one of the Doctor's lesser adventures.