Monday, 4 December 2017


Chapter The 72nd, the unfinished story that's been finished more times than any other.

The Doctor, Romana and Laryngitis K9 visit a a retired Time Lord and old friend of the Doctor's, Professor Chronotis, at his rooms in St. Cedd's College, Cambridge. Chronotis wants them to take a book he borrowed from Gallifrey back for him, as it has special powers and could be dangerous. But Chris Parsons, a young scientist, has already borrowed the book, and is examining it with his colleague Clare Keightley. Also, Skagra, a villainous clever-clogs with outrageous dress sense, armed with a mind-stealing sphere and backed up by an army of Krarg creatures, and an invisible ship with a fruity talking computer, wants to steal the book too. When he gets his hands on it, Skagra kidnaps Romana and steals the TARDIS, and uses the book as the key to take him to the Time Lord prison planet Shada. That sounds quick, but it takes ages and they seem to stop at several different spaceships in between. So many spaceships. Anyway, Skagra needs to steal the mind of an old Time Lord villain imprisoned there, Salyavin, to help him turn everyone in the universe into one connected mind, controlled by him.The Doctor stops him and saves the day, everyone has tea and biscuits, then gets arrested by a policeman.

Watched on the NFT1 big screen at the British Film Institute on the South Bank in glamorous London, accompanied by long-term fan friend and regular mentionee on the blog, David, and shorter-term but just as much friend, and just as much fan, Trevor. We had gone to the similar screening last year of Power of the Daleks (see here for more details) and when Shada was advertised, we decided it would be fun to do it again. David and Trevor booked the tickets, and it seemed from their reports that this was easier to get in to than the Power event last year. There were a lot of empty seats in the venue, despite it being advertised as sold out. Last year, Steven Moffat was in the audience and on a panel to represent the fans watching at the time, this time it was Matthew Waterhouse. As such, it was clear that there was slightly less buzz for this animated project than the last one, but that's understandable given the fully animated Power was the very first of its kind, and Shada's only ever been half missing not wholly gone like The Power of the Daleks.

First-time round: 
The first experience I ever had with this material was reading Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective
Agency when in came out in 1987 (Adams reused swathes of the Shada script in that novel). Then, very early in the 1990s, I saw a pirate video which  presented some of the material of Shada with text to explain the gaps. And - if I remember correctly - it also used a scene of the model TARDIS from the story Full Circle occasionally too, but I've no idea why as it didn't really need to. It was interesting watching a scene on location with the Doctor talking to K9 but getting no replies (as they had not been recorded at that point) , and trying to work out the other half of the conversation. I don't know if this really counts as watching the story as it was impossible to follow. In July 1992, I rushed out and bought the newly released VHS. This presented the remaining footage, with some new effects and David Brierley's voiceover as K9 added, interspersed with cut-aways to a pinstripe-suited Tom Baker - it was during the Medics suit years - explaining the increasing longer gaps as the story went on. It also included a script book, but I'm not sure I ever read it. Again, does that really count as watching it? It was the only version of Shada available for over a decade, and I rewatched it many times, so it is the de facto standard version seared into my psyche; even after all that, though, I was still not 100% clear exactly what was happening in the last third - which spaceship were we on now?

In 2003, there was an audio version with pictures that I watched on dial-up from the BBC Doctor Who website; it recast the Doctor using Paul McGann, explaining it with some admittedly clever ret-con, but it is a quite different take on the story. Finally, in 2012, I read Gareth Roberts' great novelisation. But only with this 2017 version do I feel like I've seen Shada properly for the first time: original cast, moving pictures all the way through, I don't see how more could be done to make it definitive (except maybe by adding episode endings).

Shada was infamous at the point early in the 1980s when I first became a Doctor Who Monthly reading full-on fan of the show: the unfinished story that may never see the light of day. A couple of years earlier, this final story of Tom Baker's sixth season had been abandoned due to a strike impacting its studio sessions. It was the final show for the Producer Graham Williams and the script editor Douglas Adams (who also wrote it) so they were robbed of their swansong. In the years since, Adams had become more and more famous and so another new story to add to the couple he'd already penned was seen as something worth seeing. The new producer John Nathan-Turner was still considering somehow reworking it as late as Colin Baker's tenure, but - although a lot was in the can already (all the location filming and the material from studio covering the Think Tank, Chronotis's Rooms and the spacecraft cell) - there was no coverage of the climax and nothing of the eponymous Shada.

This was due to the production process at the time, which would usually front load the film sequences in the first few episodes, and would shoot in studio arranged by set rather than in story order. So, the 1979 Shada, and the 1990s VHS, starts well but peters out, misses the revelations and the big confrontation between villain and Doctor, but resumes again for the comic resolution scene (or one or two of them at least). As such, only an animated version really could work. By the end of the video, Tom Baker was summarising a hell of a lot. This works in the new version's favour, only a few animated scenes sneak in early on, gradually getting the viewer used to things, but by the end it's mostly new animated stuff which helps to convey the somewhat larger aspects of the denouement. The transitions are not jarring at all, which was surprising. The very first transition is given something of a flourish, which works well to set out the stall to the viewer before things settle down to normality: the live action footage pans up to the sky, which barely seems to change as we cross-fade to animation, then there's a pan down to the first animated scene.

The animation is a little improved on Power of the Daleks, I think - just a little. Movement of the characters is still not quite natural, but seems better this time round. The backgrounds are great, comic strip stuff, exactly in keeping with the tone of the original. The new incidental music is truly Dudley Simpson-esque in a way that Keff McCulloch never managed in 1992, taking its lead from similar cues in City of Death: it is perfect. Likenesses are pretty good, which is handy considering there is much more direct comparison with the original actors scene by scene. Lalla Ward's animated nose isn't right, though. And some of the older voices filling in the characters' gap scenes are very slightly different to their 1979 versions, but it's barely noticeable. These are my only quibbles.

The final scene of the story is interestingly presented, but I'll say no more than that. The DVD of this version has only just been released at the time of writing, so it would be a spoiler to go any further, no matter how widely it was advertised beforehand (I wish I hadn't known in advance). It took me out of proceedings much more than any of the animation did, but it's easy to indulge it despite that. Any significant issues all come from the original production, not the stuff created in 2017. Now it is whole, Adams original conception can breathe and the comedy shines through, but towards the end the plot is slowing and there's too much hopping from location to location (most of them indistinguishable spaceships or space stations or space bases) so it tests the patience. Many a six-parter flags around the episode four of five mark, though, and Adams handles this better than most around this time: it certainly feels like the best season finale of Graham Williams' era; shame it never got to screens back then. There are some fascinating ideas too, which one would expect of Adams later, but was above and beyond for a Doctor Who script editor back in the 1970s. The "One lump or two?" gag is never funny, however, no matter how many times it's spun out.  When he rewrote Shada as Dirk Gently, Adams tightened the plot, added loads more ideas, but stuck like a limpet to this running 'gag'; he must have really loved it. 

Both stories include action on spaceships with computers and recorded messages; both have a section with a character floating in a protected space extended out from the TARDIS. And both have a character appear in bedtime attire. (Amy in a dressing gown on Starship UK is very Arthur Dent; Moffat's dialogue and plotting has a very Douglas Adams vibe in many of his stories, including The Beast Below, so this is probably a conscious homage.)

Deeper Thoughts:
Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies paper: BFI's Shada event, 2nd December 2017. Last time I went to a BFI event, for the Power animation screening, it was a last minute decision and there was a rail strike on; this time, getting up to London was much more calm and relaxed. I arrived and had a coffee and chat with my amigos before the programme began at 12.30pm. There were fewer cosplayers and no famous faces in the BFI bar with us, unlike last time: all part of the slightly lesser buzz I perceived about this release. I was still excited, mind. Once in the theatre, our hosts were as last year: the BFI's Justin Johnson and Missing Believed Wiped's Dick Fiddy. Again, as per last year, they interspersed the screening and panels with rounds of Doctor Who trivia questions, winning the correct replier a DVD. I had all the offered prizes already (apart from the box set of Class, which nobody seemed to want to win - poor Class) so stayed quiet; but my nerd bone was tickled when I guessed sotto voce to David the answer for one query ("What date would Shada have started broadcasting had it made it to screen?") and got closer than the person who actually won. It would have been Saturday 19th January 1980, fact fans.

As seems to be customary, someone won a rigged question: 'Matthew' in the audience who correctly answered a question about Adric, turned out to be Adric actor Matthew Waterhouse. As also seems customary, Justin repeatedly did jokes based on the false premise that the name 'Dick' is inherently funny. I made check-marks on my notepad every time this happened - there were six attempts in the first section alone. Luckily, this all ceased for the filmed intro (and there was also later an outro and filmed Q&A) by Tom Baker, in which he's still full-power Tom, even now he's passed 80 years of age; no new insights, really, just Tom being Tom - more than sufficient. Lalla Ward provided a pre-written statement that was read out, in which she chimed with Tom's comments and many others through the day: everything we saw today ultimately was down to one person, Douglas Adams, and the love he and his work inspired in others. It was a similar tale last year, when the tributes were all going to Pat Troughton. Doctor Who certainly had some talented people work on it, many of whom are sadly no longer with us.

(L to R) Fiddy, Ayres, Tucker, Norton
Next came the screening - Shada is presented as feature-length, with no episode endings, but was still almost as long as the whole of The Power of the Daleks, which made me wonder why we only got three episodes of Power at the BFI last year instead of all six. After the screening was the first panel focusing on the 2017 material, which featured - as Dick dubbed them - "the Shada Proclamation": Mark Ayres (incidental music and sound wizardry), Mike Tucker (model effects) and Charles Norton (director / producer). Norton gave nothing away about any future planned projects. But he did reveal that they had never considered presenting Shada as widescreen with cropping of the 1979 material, as that - he deadpanned - would be "the work of Satan". He also confirmed that they had started from scratch editing down the 7 hours of footage that remains of Shada's original production. As well as the animation, they also added some new cut-ins of a Krarg and K9 battling, which used the original costume and prop. The other addition was new model work, which Tucker produced as faithfully as possible. Though nothing was shot in 1979, all the models had been made, and photographed in detail for posterity. Studying these Tucker could work out the specific model kits that been used, and replicate. Similar dedication was displayed by Ayres, who arranged and recorded a live ensemble similar to those Dudley Simpson, house composer for Doctor Who in 1979, would have used, including some instrumentalists who had regularly worked with Dudley. The story is also dedicated to Simpson, who recently passed away, which was a lovely touch.

(L to R) Coombes, Dixon, Burgoyne, Waterhouse, Skinner, Johnson
The second and final panel concentrated more on the 1979 work and included three members of the original cast: James Coombes (voice of the Krargs), Shirley Dixon (voice of the Ship), and Victoria Burgoyne (Clare). This started off promisingly with James' revelation that he'd never got to do any voice work back in 1979 despite getting paid, so he'd finally made up for it by completing the job in 2017, plus Victoria expressing the cast's solidarity with the striking technicians who ultimately did for Shada. But, annoyingly, just as it was starting to get going, the organisers - presumably worried there wasn't enough star power on display - dragged the unconnected complementary ticket holders Matthew Waterhouse and Frank Skinner to the stage, to provide the perspective of the fan watching at home at the time. They were both funny (although Matthew Waterhouse's microphone technique produced deafness for anyone sitting in the first three rows - tone it down, Matthew) but it would have been much more interesting to have heard more from the people who were, you know, in it.

(L to R) Johnson, Russell, Fiddy
There was a nice, if a bit bizarre, tribute to Edward Russell to round things off, as he's leaving his role of Doctor Who cheerleader at the BBC (or whatever his specific role title is), then it was back out to the bar. People didn't stay and celebrate en masse as they had last year, but it's nearer Christmas, so this may just have been that the place was full before we emerged with not many places to sit. I was lucky enough to speak briefly to Gary Gillatt (Ex-Doctor Who Magazine editor and reviewer) and Dave Houghton (FX supremo for the first few years of new Who) as David knows them both from meeting at these sort of shindigs before - Gary was also a contemporary of mine and David's at Durham University back in the day, but he doesn't remember me, I don't think, as we didn't move in the same circles. After that, the three of us repaired to another hostelry, drank and talked happily until late. I travelled home with the included-in-the-price DVD in my bag, given out at the box office after the show - someone had clearly learnt from the mistakes of last year, when the animated Power DVDs took weeks to be mailed out to attendees.

In Summary:
It's new old Who, and new old Douglas Adams Who at that, as an early Christmas present: how can one fail to be happy? One final word, then: Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-dah!!!!!


  1. Nice post Stuart, a very enjoyable read; thanks.

    1. Thanks Trevor, and sorry for the delay replying (my PC died a terrible unmountable boot volume death)

  2. Top review! You mentioned me quite a lot, which improved it no end...!