The Shada fan novelisation
|Written by||Gary Russell|
|Continuity||Between Horns of Nimon and The Leisure Hive.|
|Starring Paul McGann, Lalla Ward and John Leeson|
|Also featuring Sean Biggerstaff, Susannah Harker and Andrew Sachs.|
|Synopsis: Something is wrong with the Doctor's memory. He has memories of an adventure he once experienced, but it's incomplete. So with Romana and K9 he sets off to discover the mystery of what happened to Shada...|
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/9/03
I am very fond of Shada. Synopses in DWM whet the appetite for years. Then Tom Baker turned up with his links. That showed me it really was a great story (I just loved the Chronotis character in Cambridge cloisters, and those scenes were filmed). Then I read the TSV Novelization - again brilliant.
Thus when Big Finish announced that the next webcast was to be a new Shada, with the 8th instead of the 4th, I had mixed feelings. I like BF audios because of their originality, new Who and all that. This webcast/audio was a new version, but the original script would be adhered to. I was wary of the 8th taking the 4th Dr's lines - they seemed so Tom Bakerish in their inception. But then again I see the webcasts as bonuses to the BF audio series, so I was open to the possibility of excellence.
Inevitably this webcast will be compared to the existing material we already have, which is considerable in spite of its production problems. The major plus point has to be at last Shada has got completed - thus enabling us to see it as a whole. It's ironic therefore that of all the versions, this is the one I least enjoyed. To be honest though, I think that is because of familiarity. I have just drunk at this well a little too much. I only read the Shada novelization last November - maybe in a few years I will enjoy this Shada as the definitive - we will see.
Also the scenes that were here that were only linked in the Video, didn't seem as interesting as the rest. It was the Cambridge scenes that I love about the original, and audio doesn't do riding a bike around Cambridge or punting on the Cam too well! DW in the real world always seemed more interesting to me than DW on a spaceship, or in the future. The scenes not filmed are not the best Shada offered.
This audio presentation is impressive, there's no doubt about that. Big Finish production values are very high. Paul McGann is excellent as the Doctor, even if the dialogue seems a little out of place for him (it's for the 4th Dr after all). Lalla Ward and John Leeson bring back Romana and K9 superbly too. It must have been nice for Lalla Ward to complete finally, something started so long ago.
For a stellar additional cast though, it is the supporting players who let the side down. Andrew Sachs as Skagra is the main culprit. He seems to be treating the character as a moustache twirling pantomime villain - and for someone who features heavily throughout - that's a shame. The rest just don't seem as convincing as the TV version, with the exceptions of Susannah Harker and James Fox, who are very good as Claire and Chronotis. Well known actors might push the profile up a bit, but are not necessarily a good thing.
The story of Shada is a very good one, full of Douglas Adams trademark humour. The jokes are still here, the bizarre asides also. I'm just not convinced they translate that well to audio, as it appeared to do for TV. This is, after all, a TV script. Gary Russell has changed a little to fit the audio format (and the change of Doctor), and he does this very well - but I'm still not convinced it works as well as an audio story. I know Douglas Adams made his name with a radio script, but this was later and he specifically wrote this for TV and the madcap Season 17.
I can see the reasoning behind Big Finish's decision to adapt this story to audio, as the top missing episode not completed for TV it was very tempting. Trouble is the originality, which has always been a Big Finish trademark. It's still a very good story, make no mistake about that - just not as enjoyable or entertaining as the majority of BF productions. The artwork on the web supplements things nicely though - even though proper animation would undoubtedly improve things further.
We have now had the 7th, 6th and 8th Doctors on the web. The 6th Dr webcast has been the most effective - but that was because it was essentially like the monthly BF releases. I await the 9th Dr webcast as keenly as the rest of fandom. I suppose that was the problem with Shada - it isn't really new Who - and that's what I want to see on the web and audio. 7/10
"B...B..BB?" "C?" by Joe Ford 31/12/03
This is painful for me to say but I believe this has been Big Finish's weakest year yet. The sudden abundance of bland Gary Russell directed merchandise, the man in the throne of power, the over reliance of continuity (which has grown intolerable of late), the shocking decline of McCoy's performance... despite some fantastic stuff coming out sporadically (Jubilee, The Pirates) there has been an equal or perhaps greater number of failures (Deadline, He Jests at Scars, Master, Nekromentia, The Dark Flame, Zagreus). And as if to prove my argument this attempt of recapturing old nostalgia is pulled off with complete success. Shada is a total triumph, one of Big Finish's best directors, best musicians... but most telling of all is the script is written by Douglas Adams who quite frankly shows up all these modern writers for the talent-less hacks they are. Who needs to push Doctor Who into dangerous new territory when this kind of engaging, well-conceived thriller was part and parcel of the highly successful Tom Baker years and gets the job done better? The Doctor Who anniversary does not need to be celebrated by bringing together thousands of old Who actors and getting them play new parts (sophisticated? Pah! I ask you...) when this gripping tale of a retired Cambridge Professor does the job far better. The best way to remind us of how great Doctor Who was/is is to write an original, imaginative piece that shows everybody the shows strengths. This eclipses Zagreus in every way.
But I digress; I did not want to turn this into an anti-Big Finish rant since this very Big Finish production that plays to their strengths in every way. Shada has been horribly abused in the past, ignored in 1979, then released incomplete with only a script and Tom Baker's rushed narration to fill in the non-filmed gaps. Now we have the full story, fully cast and treated to a fabulous musical score and a little tweaking to fit Paul McGann's appealing Doctor.
Considering the bulk of the material was written in 1979 it is shocking to discover how well it holds up in 2003. This tale of Shada, the Time Lord prison and the evil Skagra's attempts to release one of its psychotic prisoners to aid his scheme for universal domination holds some extremely imaginative, appealing ideas that could only come from the mind of one of SF/fantasy's greatest writers. It is a well-plotted story too, just like City of Death with a complex yet enjoyable to follow a story that has its clues cleverly littered in the early episodes so the later ones are so rewarding. The locations shift regularly so the action never gets dull and the characters continue to delight thanks to their quirky eccentric nature. It is a perfect example of the strong storytelling that took place in the Williams era. It is a shame this was never completed on television but in all honesty it would probably have been sabotaged by a weak production (despite the stylish location work captured on film). At least now we have some big stars giving the production a boost and a terrific atmosphere whipped up thanks to the commitment of all on board.
Paul McGann and Lalla Ward... wow! What an electrifying combination. They have a terrific chemistry that boosts the story and rivals anything between Tom and Lalla, Gary Russell's off the wall suggestion that he would pair up these two in a series of audios would be extremely welcome after this tantilising taster of what they could achieve.
McGann seems perfectly at home saying lines that were designed for Tom and this slightly offbeat 8th Doctor proves an instant success, it makes me hope that some the other writers of the 8th Doctor adventures will inject a little more goofish humour into him as McGann reacts brilliantly to this style of comedy. His deadpan delivery of the story's best gags made me chuckle with delight and despite hearing Tom's voice in certain scenes (having seen the video) Paul takes the reigns and dominates the story without reaching Tom's scene stealing selfishness.
Romana has come a long way since the original script of Shada and that is registered in the script well. I love how quickly she agrees to the Doctor's suggestion that they rush to Earth and have an adventure just like old times. It is so very Romana II to be the disapproving schoolteacher in all respects, warning against this and that and then diving head first into danger anyway! To hear Lalla Ward and John Leeson together getting into scrapes and mischief is just like old times and captures that Doctor Who magic without resorting to cheap tactics (Jon Pertwee dubbed on! Pur-lease!). Besides her slightly crabbier performance, this is still the efficient, authoritarian Romana we remember from old. I love her to pieces.
I also love the way the story slips between the intellectual atmosphere of Cambridge University to the oppressive, futuristic environment of Shada. Another top example of familiar Earthy locations that grounds us in reality and stratosophic locations that appeals to our imagination. Doctor Who can be anything, a phrase I have bandied around in the past but it is especially appealing when it can be everything in the same story!
In the sweet and charming Earth scenes we are introduced to some gorgeous characters that leak across into the otherworldly locations with hysterical astonishment.
Chris Parsons is played quite adeptly by popular actor Sean Biggerstaff who seems a bit nervous at first, a bit too serious for the story. Perhaps he was in awe of the star studded cast (probably not considering those he would have met in Harry Potter) or perhaps the trippy humour of Douglas Adams stumped him at first but he soon mellows and gets into the right spirit, screaming "Watch out Doctor!" and goofing about running from Krargs and sparring with K.9. His comic timing is good and there are a number of quick exchanges between Chris and the Doctor that bring a smile to the face.
Old Chronotis is brought to life wonderfully by the talented James Fox who makes quite formidable character of the doddering old Time Lord. Early episodes are a delight thanks to this character's rampant forgetfulness. The way he casually drops in that he stole one of the artefacts of Rassilon is laugh out loud brilliant and the subsequent round the houses realisation that Chris has taken it is similarly funny. The lovely idea that his study is his TARDIS is yet another sparkling idea in a constantly surprising script, his surprise revelation that he is the arch criminal Salayavin (oh come on you ALL knew that!!!) mind numbingly clever.
Less memorable is Susannah Harker of Ultraviolet fame (God I loved that show!) but not because she is a poor actress she just isn't given as much to do. It is during her mind transfer scenes that Claire really comes to life and provides the biggest clue to the story's villain.
The Rani, Benik, Adastra, Eric Roberts' Master all had one thing in common, they were all deliciously camp bad guys but none of them stand a chance against the hysterically mincey Skagra as played by Andrew Sachs. His singsong, effeminate voice is just perfect for the grandiose villain and he produces some top moments of wicked melodrama in an otherwise charming story. The cliff-hanger when he talks to the sphere... "Remove all the contents of his mind? Why not? Hahahahahahahahaha!" manages to be the most over top Doctor Who moment ever (well except perhaps the Master in The Curse of Fatal Death!). His final embarrassing defeat despite all his plans is a scrumptiously perfect moment of humiliation and Sachs screaming out "Nooooo!" was the only real exit this larger than life character could have.
I have to say that ship has a rather sexy voice for a woman, being up there with the flute like tones of the Tranquil Repose computer in competition for most erotic computer. With the computer from Slipback being the biggest turn off. Obviously.
The production is very strong indeed and Russell Stone is the only man for the job of punctuating the action so fulsomely. He never lets the score get too serious, a pleasant piano motive for the Chris/Claire scenes, camp scare music for the Krargs and a pleasant heart warming piece for the final scenes. In all ways this is entertainment and Stone's music captures the mood perfectly.
An unexpected delight then and all the more brilliant for riding on the back of the lauded but hugely disappointing Zagreus. In all honesty this does a far better job of putting on a party hat and screaming "Happy Birthday Doctor Who!"
I thought it was fabulous!
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 2/11/04
In many ways Shada works better on audio than it does on television, regardless of whether or not it was completed. There is a clever bit of continuity linking the story (basically The Eigth Doctor collects Romana and K-9 to return to Camebridge and continue their adventure when they were lifted out of time in The Five Doctors), but this aside there is little to surprise here, as you know the cliffhangers, characters and basic storyline already.
The cast are notably better however; the story better suits Paul McGann than Tom Baker and Lalla Ward excels here as the only original returning cast member in Romana (although why nobody has mentioned that K-9`s voice has mysteriously changed remains a mystery!). The guest cast are excellent, Sean Biggerstaff is a joy as Chris Parsons, (his accent contrasting nicely with Paul McGann`s), Andrew Sachs injects great malice into Skagra, Hannah Gordon is suitably silky as the computer voice and Susannah Harker`s Claire Keightly shows great enthusiasm.
Despite being a script for television originally, the sound design works in Shada`s favour too, the Sphere (a collection of voices) and the menace of the Krargs are effectively conveyed. Ultimately Shada will always conjure up comparisons with its VHS counterpart, but simply for the fact that is complete here and ultimately, better acted, my preference lies with the Big Finish version.