Sunday, 15 September 2013


Tom Baker in Narration mode.
The thinktank boys.
‘Shada’, for those who don’t know, is a unique story in the history of Doctor Who. The only story not to be completed in Doctor Who’s original 26-year run. What we have today, saved from the scrap-heap by incoming (at this point) Produced John Nathan-Turner, are a mixture of scenes that were shot by Pennant Roberts before the production was closed down. At a guess, I’d say that it’s around 50% of the programme. We have all the location footage, plus studio stuff as per location. The first two episode are mostly complete, whilst episodes five and six have very little material. The DVD is a re-release of the VHS which came out in the early to mid nineties, and features Tom Baker linking the existing footage via narration.
So what to make of this Douglas Adams’ story which had been built into the ‘greatest story never shown’ at one point, and since has been regarded as perhaps not quite living up to that, let’s be honest, pretty lofty label. The ideas are generally very clever, and very Douglas Adams. Some take the line of the difference between fairy story and science fiction far too far over to the fairy story side. The idea that reading a book backwards whilst in the TARDIS could take you to the Time Lord prison planet Shada for instance.
But there’s some great stuff too, and again the cast, Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in particular, are having a ball. There’s a wonderful aura (for want of a better word) to ‘Shada’ and it certainly is a great shame it wasn’t completed. The use of Cambridge as a location fits in with the ethos of the show at the time, and the twist that Professor Chronotis is in fact the great criminal Saryevan works very well.
The guest cast includes Bond-Villain Christopher Neame  as Skagra, who is after the Time Lord criminal because of his ability to project his mind into others. Wonderful spot on casting, up there with Julian Glover in ‘City of Death’. Glover would go on to be a Bond villain as well, and also have a similar role in one of the Inidanna Jones movies. Perhaps the best piece of casting though was Denis Carey as the bumbling Professor Chronotis. He comes across as a kind old man, very absent-minded in an endearing kind of way. Such a contrast to a master criminal, which is the point. David Hill as Chris Parsons would go on to star in ‘Waiting for God’ with Graham Crowden. Along with Victoria Burgoyne as Clare it was good casting in roles the audience sort of relates to and characters that we can care about.
Denis Carey as Chronotis.
The production. Well. Firstly, the stuff shot in 1979 looks great. The sets and locations hold up perfectly. We never see the Shada sets, or the main sets for Skagra’s ship which the Doctor re-wires to turn into a TARDIS, and we don’t see a lot of the Kraals, evil monsters created from vats who are at least part robot and are electrically charged, but they at least look better than the Nimon and the Mandrels. Certainly a very interesting design.
Then we look at the elements brought into the production for the 90s video release, all of which remain on the DVD. Perhaps sadly. Tom Baker’s
Victoria Burgoyne as Clare.
wonderful personality warmly fills the screen for the narration, which I enjoyed. The shots of the space ships and so forth though are very very ordinary, worse than they would have done back in the day. Then the killer – the music. Why John Nathan-Turner didn’t seek out the man who would have scored the story originally (he’s still alive in 2013 incidentally) I don’t know. This is story well suited to Dudley Simpson’s style. Instead, the dreadful mess that we get is composed by Keff McCulloch. I am told he becomes a regular composer near the end of the first 26 years, and even redesigns the theme music. God no! It is genuinely awful clunky music which doesn’t suit the style or era of the piece. It is utterly dreadful. If only there was an option to view the story with no incidental music!
Christopher Neame
This was to be both Graham Williams and Douglas Adams last contribution to the series. Williams had had enough and Douglas Adams had by now become famous for ‘Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy’. Such a pity that it was unfinished, because I do believe it would be highly-regard these days if it was. Not at the upper-echelon of stories, no. But a very clever, warm script backed up by some fine actors and a wonderful atmosphere.


1 comment:

  1. The Williams era could not do a season finale to save itself. The last 2 of Hinchcliffe's were Seeds of Doom and Talons of Weng Chiang. Compare this with Invasion of Time and Armageddon Factor. Williams just did not have a strong enough vision of the show, and Shada's cancellation just seems sadly indicative of that.