The Five Doctors
The Five Doctors Collectors' Edition
The Well-Mannered War
The BBV Video version
The BBC Online broadcast
The 2017 animated version

Episodes 6 One lump or two?
Story No# 109
Production Code 5M
Season 18
Dates Released on DVD in
animated form in 2017

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 animated in 2017 with members of the original cast.


The City of Death... of Death by Jason A. Miller 7/5/22

This is a review of the year-2017 BBC partially-animated reconstruction of Shada.

Honestly, it's a bit of a dull affair. This is one of those stories better known for its behind-the-scenes disasters than for its plot. When the punting-down-the-Cam scene ended, I was genuinely surprised when the Doctor and Romana were NOT collected by the Time Scoop and trapped in the Time Vortex, followed by the rest of The Five Doctors. I'm so used to seeing that scene out of context that it's easy to forget that it actually ends with Skagra standing on a bridge, staring the Doctor down as the punt paddles by below.

Peeking behind the curtains, we learn that Douglas Adams didn't want to write this story in the first place. He wanted to end the season with a six-part epic centered around the Doctor's retirement, which producer Graham Williams didn't want to do. So Adams procrastinated by not writing anything, in the hopes that Williams would eventually have to green-light his retirement idea. Which Williams didn't want to do either. So, Shada had to be written in a hurry; Wikipedia says that Williams wanted a story that meditated on the death penalty, but that doesn't really come across in the various finished versions of Shada. And then the BBC strike at Television Centre scuttled this story from being finished, and then Adams became a millionaire right around that time thanks to that other project of his, and darted out of the Doctor Who production offices, forgetting to turn off the light behind him, or something. Leaving Shada an unfinished story that its scripted writer never wanted to see the light of day, anyhow.

Which means that, thanks to its behind-the-scenes strife, Shada is necessarily two things:

One, it's a mess, a last-minute patchwork of conflicting ideas.

Two, it really, really, and I mean REALLY, wants to be City of Death when it grows up. Oh my goodness, isn't the Cambridge location stuff just gorgeous? Most of the Part One and Part Two material take place around Cambridge -- not just that punting scene from The Five Doctors. But there's also the bicycle chase, which may be one of Classic Who's most technically adept outdoor film sequences. I love, love and, did I say, I love the male glee club singing Chattanooga Choo Choo as the Doctor flies past on his bicycle -- and dinging his bell at them, in appreciation of the song.

And the City of Death ethos is punctuated by whoever composed the score for the 2017 reconstruction. Listen to the Chris Parsons/Cambridge theme -- that's a blatant homage of Dudley Simpson's blatant homage of An American in Paris from the City of Death soundtrack. Chris Parsons himself is a theme and variation on Duggan -- he's avowedly a Mary-Sue version of Douglas Adams himself, but also fits the role of a one-story-only fish-out-of-water companion, who has to learn the rules of sci-fi on the fly and winds up helping to save the day by accident. Denis Carey -- and don't you just want to hug him and ruffle his hair in his befuddled Professor Chronotis guise? -- adds significant humor value, the way that City of Death was so funny.

But that's where the good comparisons to City of Death end. Scenes drag on and on, especially in Parts One and Two, which makes Shada the opposite of City of Death. The reconstructed bits in Chris' lab, as he attempts to dissect Chronotis' book, bloat the Part One material running time to, like, 27 minutes, which literally wouldn't have been allowed on broadcast TV in January 1980. City of Death tells more story in its first ten minutes than Shada does in the whole of Parts One and Two.

As the story progresses beyond the Cambridge sequences, it becomes a bit of a dull runaround, with most of the key scenes being animated reconstructions. Plus, this is all familiar material now; we've read about it in the TSV novelization and the Gareth Roberts novelizations; we've heard it on Big Finish; we've seen the previous 1992 VHS reconstruction and the 2011 Ian Levine reconstruction. Now, the special effects via animation in this version are the best of the bunch; K9's destruction of Skagra's sphere at what would have been the Part Five cliffhanger looks quite good, as do the Krarg effects in what would have been Part Six. But the human animations don't look great, not compared to the live action shots and the effects shot.

Another big difference between City of Death and Shada is in its villain. Now, Jason, you say, it's not fair for you to hold young Christopher Neame up against the gold standard that is the great Julian Glover. But I say in return, with Shada so blatantly wanting to be City of Death Redux, it's fair to point out that Scaroth is one of the great-written villains. Witty, urbane, charming, great line after great line. Julian Glover's facial expression at the Part Three cliffhanger, just after he's murdered Kerensky, is suave and pleased. Skagra, on the other hand, barks orders in monotones, and has very little that is funny or memorable to say. He's thoroughly evil and bossy and, in the material shot in 1979, Neame plays him at something of a monotone. Scaroth had motivations; we knew where he was from, where he was trying to get, and he had elements of tragedy and sadness to him. Skagra keeps his origins opaque, never lets us in.

Now, in the material recorded in 2017, Neame interestingly seems to realize what the director in '79 hadn't allowed him to do. His confrontation with the Doctor on board his spacecraft in the Part Three material injects a slightly note of levity, or at least exaggerated sardonic boredom; ditto his final assault on the Doctor in Part Six. The corresponding dialogue in the TSV novelization by Paul Scoones is flat and uninteresting, but Neame in 2017 makes the lines work perhaps better than he could have done in 1979, had that studio recording block not been scuttled.

Looking past the recorded material, the 2017 edition also makes some content choices that don't enhance the original. In the 1992 VHS reconstruction and in the Scoones novelization, Chronotis is able to block his memories, such that when Skagra reads them in the silver sphere, the faces of everyone Chronotis has met are blurred out. Alas, the director of the 2017 release has opted not to do that. This rubs away a little of the texture of the underlying story. Similarly, the original version was supposed to have Skagra releasing a rogue's gallery of previous Who villains from Shada to form part of his army. The 2017 edition replaces those past villains with generic aliens, one of whom looks oddly like David Bowie, but none of whom have any names or proper introduction. Boring!

And watching the thing in movie format is a drag. Classic Who was meant to be seen in 25-minute self-contained installments (yes, even you, Season 22), and watching Shada in a single shot without cliffhangers is not the choice I would have gone with. And, once you finally reach it, the final episode material (what should have been Part Six) really is an insult to the intelligence, isn't it? Romana nearly jeopardizes the Doctor's dangerous time-vortex crossing because she has to reach for a pencil across the room. The Doctor defeats Skagra by wearing an upside-down colander on his head. The denouement is a broadly unfunny comedy sequence with a police officer investigating Chronotis' rooms back at Cambridge and goes on for far too long.

But there's one thing that Shada 2017 has that Shada 1992 and Shada 2011 and Big Finish Shada don't have. And that's the ability to tape the final TARDIS scene live in studio, with a surprise guest in costume reconstructing the scene instead of just doing it up in animation. This builds off the promise made at the end of The Day of the Doctor and is just heart-meltingly awesome. Those final 30 seconds more than make up for the dullness and repetitiveness of the previous two and a half hours.