'THE LEGACY COLLECTION' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD3388) RELEASED IN JANUARY 2013.
AND OFFICAL BBC HARDBACK (ISBN 978-1849903271) RELEASED IN MARCH 2012.
THE DOCTOR, ROMANA AND K-9 RECEIVE A MESSAGE FROM AN OLD FRIEND - A RETIRED TIME LORD LIVING AS A COLLEGE PROFESSOR IN CAMBRIDGE. HE'S MISPLACED AN ANCIENT GALLIFREYAN ARTEFACT THAT COULD UNLOCK THE DARK SECRETS OF SHADA - THE LOST PRISON PLANET OF THE TIME LORDS - AND UNLESS THEY FIND IT BEFORE THE CRAZED SCIENTIST SKAGRA, EVERY SENTIENT BEING IN THE UNIVERSE IS DOOMED...
PRODUCTION OF THIS STORY WAS NEVER COMPLETED, AND AS SUCH IT WAS NEVER BROADCAST ON TELEVISION.
HOWEVER, THE SIX
EPISODES WERE FINISHED IN 1992 USING LINKING NARRATION FROM TOM BAKER TO BRIDGE THE GAPS.
Much of Doctor Who is lost; little of Doctor Who is unfinished. Yet the shadow cast by Douglas Adams’ Shada, the strike-stricken finale to the series’ seventeenth season, casts almost as much of a pall over the Whoniverse as the total sum of its episodes missing and presumed wiped.
Tantalising snippets of Shada appeared in the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary special, The Five Doctors, in lieu of a biddable Tom Baker. Doctor Who’s thirtieth anniversary was heralded a year earlier by a VHS release of the story’s surviving segments, with Baker on hand, this time, to fill in the gaps rather than create them. The video sold so well that BBC Worldwide asked their disbelieving range editor to try and rustle up another incomplete story from somewhere. Fast-forward another eleven years, and Big Finish Productions and BBCi boldly joined forces to resurrect Shada as a full-cast audio drama and webcast to celebrate the show’s thirtieth anniversary, with Paul McGann stepping into another pair of second-hand shoes that would fit his eighth Doctor perfectly. In 2012, Shada would again serve as an aperitif for a looming milestone anniversary, when popular Who novelist Gareth Roberts hit the target with the millennium’s first Doctor Who novelisation. Another nine months brings us up to the series’ half-centennial year, and Shada’s long-awaited DVD release as part of the grandly-titled Legacy Collection.
Above: 2 | entertain take us out of time to explore The Making and Breaking of Shada
There are a number of elements that set this DVD box set apart from the incarnations of Shada that it follows, and I daresay will be followed by, and the most potent of them is context. A twenty-five-minute documentary, Taken Out of Time: The Making and Breaking of Shada, expounds upon the generally well-known “industrial action scuppered Shada” tale considerably, charting the production from its infancy to its death knells and beyond, taking in each and every blow dealt to the production team in between. As Season 17 progressed, Douglas Adams found that more and more of his time was being taken up by his work on The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and, inevitably, this was affecting his capability to serve as Doctor Who’s script editor. He therefore made the decision to leave the show with a swansong script, Shada, and he would be joined through the door by incumbent producer Graham Williams, who had also decided to call it quits after three turbulent years at the helm. This made the serial’s ultimate abortion even more painful to all of those involved as it wasn’t just the end of a season that had been lost, but the end of an era. By all accounts, the serial’s director, Pennant Roberts, fought tooth and nail to keep the production alive, only for his efforts to be crushed by an indifferent Beeb that ranked its Saturday teatime tradition towards the bottom of its lengthy ‘in need of a remount’ list. It’s fitting, though, that the documentary shares the spirit of Shada, and indeed of its esteemed writer, insofar as that its misfortune is lightened by a lot of levity, including its leading man using the uncensored phrase, “What a tosser!”; the leader of a posse of opportunistic, bartending Cambridge choir boys explaining how he inveigled supporting roles; and actor Dan Hill telling an uplifting tale of on-set flirting leading to marriage and children (the better-known one that led to marriage and divorce doesn’t get a mention).
The story itself is presented much as it was on the John Nathan-Turner-produced VHS, as six completed episodes with a grey-haired Baker recounting his Doctor’s missing deeds amidst the monsters of Longleat. The first episode is very nearly whole, missing only a few lab scenes and the cliffhanging Skagra sequence, but as the narrative progresses, studio-shot material becomes rarer (I believe that only around a third of the planned studio sessions were completed) and, as such, a heavier degree of narration is called upon to bridge the gaps – Part 5 doesn’t even run for fifteen minutes, inclusive of narration. This sense of attrition makes watching the serial not only jarring but demoralising, as its almost-finished start really whets one’s appetite for the adventure to come, but it never really does – by the end it’s just a jacked-up Jackanory. If the money that Shada has drawn over the years has proven anything, it’s that there’s an interminable fan appetite for this serial, so why not do things properly, i.e. animate its missing segments and bring in the surviving original cast and soundalikes to record the missing dialogue? I certainly wouldn’t have begrudged paying a heftier price tag for a heftier product.
And another thing, with a title as grandiose as this box set’s, one would expect it to encompass the full on-screen legacy of Shada by including the 2003 webcast version in a helpful form. Whilst the Flash-animated version included is a welcome gesture, that’s all it is - a gesture. What’s really called for is the webcast in DVD player-playable MPEG-2 format like the rest of the content, as we’re going to get with Shada’s sister story Scream of the Shalka later this year, or failing that, an (ideally DRM-free) MP4 that you could watch on all manner of devices.
However, any complaints that I have of this box set are easily crushed by the sheer quality of Shada, even as it stands. Adams had originally pitched the story as a replacement for an earlier, reportedly much more humorous submission, but it is still defined by the author’s dry wit as much as it is the decidedly more serious science fiction that it carries. Whilst there are far fewer gags than you’ll find in Hitch-Hiker’s, or even the collaborative and pseudonymous City of Death, there are still many moments of outright frivolity here, each of which is made all the funnier thanks to the actors’ deadpan delivery. Denis Carey’s Professor Chronotis is a particular source of such humour – his one-liners such as, “Undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I tried to have it banned,” are delivered with such doddering earnestness that it’s difficult not to laugh – though with Lalla Ward’s Romana as his unbending foil, Tom Baker’s Doctor is very nearly his equal. “I don’t want to be critical, but I will be,” he says. Even the villains of the piece are imbued with the author’s barbed sense of humour. “Dead men don’t need oxygen,” says Skagra’s ship as it turns off the clever-clogs Doctor’s air supply, who’s just convinced it that he’s dead and so should really be left to get on with his business.
Above: Tom Baker fills in the gaps in the story amidst the monsters of Longleat
I’m as much of a fan of Shada’s plot though as I am its playfulness. The deranged Skagra, as camp as they come, has a plan that’s as chilling a Borg queen’s, and he’s aided in it by coal-clad monstrosities that quite competently tick the necessary ‘monster’ box. Best of all though, Adams’ narrative very carefully explores the perceived line that exists between one person’s hero and another’s criminal, not only drawing explicit parallels between convicted criminal mastermind Salayavin and the Doctor, but showing us Salayavin’s future; the legacy of his criminality if you will.
The most outstanding thing about Shada though isn’t its writing, its acting or even its themes – it’s its splendour. The location filming is amongst the most picturesque even seen in the classic series, and unlike the season’s earlier Paris shoot, it’s resolutely British, and thus definitively Who. Roberts did a truly exceptional job of capturing the beauty of the country’s academic heart, and few of the shots are spoiled by ambitious special effects as Adams had the series’ limitations very much in mind when he filled his script with bicycle chases and invisible spaceships. “Anyone can design a visible spaceship,” Baker quotes him as having said. “But to design an invisible spaceship takes imagination; it takes genius.”
Above: Shaun Ley gives an overview of the influence of industrial action on the series in Strike! Strike! Strike!
Besides the Taken Out of Time documentary, the two Shada discs are packed with bonus material, the vast majority of which is strongly tied to their feature presentation. The range’s enduring Now and Then series revisits the serial’s shooting locations, and even highlights the logical inconsistencies in the Doctor’s bicycle route, while Strike! Strike! Strike! takes a broader look at how industrial action affected Doctor Who over the years, for better and for worse. The ‘October Revolution’ that made a filmic, HD Spearhead from Space possible and the ITV strike that saw City of Death achieve aberrantly high ratings go some way towards making amends for the loss of Shada, while the contributors’ discussions about bodies going unburied and rubbish mounting in the streets pull that loss into perspective. The programme also explores the gradual decline in TV strikes and the reasons for it, including the roles played by Roland Rat and Maggie Thatcher (there’s an obvious rodent-themed joke here that I’m forcing myself to subdue), as well as the general pressures brought to bear on the series’ production by the constant threat of trade union action (the famous ‘ten o’clock lights out’ threat is discussed in more depth than ever before).
A more legacy-themed feature is Being a Girl, which provides a quick lowdown of all of the Doctor’s female companions on television before measuring them against their male counterparts. The programme is spoiled a little towards its end by musings on the press-driven ‘female Doctor’ guff that resurfaces whenever a regeneration’s due. Just because the show has a growing female following doesn’t mean that the producers should emasculate its hero – Star Trek: Voyager has legions of male fans, but I’m not aware of anyone suggesting that Kate Mulgrew should play the ship’s captain wearing a strap-on, and who’d watch Buffy if Sarah Michelle Gellar was recast as a bloke, hmm?
The Legacy Collection complements the two-disc Shada with another individually-packaged release within it, allowing those so minded to separate the two tenuously-linked titles and place them appropriately on their shelves. More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS features the 1993 thirtieth anniversary documentary, Thirty Years in the TARDIS, as it was released on video in 1994, along with, oddly enough, a number of as-yet-unseen cuts from the fortieth anniversary documentary, The Story of Doctor Who, and one or two other general features that loosely tap into the set’s legacy theme.
Thirty Years in the TARDIS has dated terribly, which is one of the reasons that I’m so fond of it. For its time, it was a bold and ambitious production, fusing live action skits with talking heads in a three-act documentary (cliffhangers and all) that recounts the entire history of the classic series through the eyes of a child. Iconic visuals such as Autons breaking though shop windows and Daleks patrolling London are shown from the point of view of this young protagonist, who eventually finds his way to the TARDIS, where he becomes the first-ever person to cross through its doors and into the console room in one fluid camera shot. The price paid for this gimmickiness is a frustrating penchant for cliché and a patent lack of depth. It’s a programme aimed not at the die-hards who’ll be buying this box set, but the now-grown-up Joe Public and his gran, who just want to pretend that they can remember young Joe hiding behind the sofa back in the mists of monochrome time. It nonetheless possesses a quiet charm that I find more appealing than the loud, mainstream mania of today, where they won’t even tell you who the next Doctor is until you’ve sat through twenty-odd minutes of Zoë Ball interviewing celebrity fans as viewers’ speculative text messages fly by.
Above: More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS's DVD menu / The Lambert Tapes
The ten-minute Lambert Tapes offer a startling contrast, as the series’ first producer, the legendary Verity Lambert, speaks in depth about how it felt to be a twenty-seven-year-old female producer in what was then very much a male producer’s world. The late Verity’s memories are complemented nicely by those of director Richard Martin, who shares his thoughts about her in a short accompanying clip, also culled from the masses of material shot for The Story of Doctor Who. Peter Purves’ fifteen minutes of material have more of a negative vibe, despite his professed enthusiasm for the TARDIS and its storytelling potential. This is understandable, I suppose, given that he discusses how, after having earned only “forty-four thirty-five quids”, the series killed his acting career “stone dead”, and it was only when he threw away a prop that he’d kept – the Trilogic Game from The Celestial Toymaker – that his agent called to offer him a spot presenting Blue Peter.
Not all of the More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS’s bonus material comes from The Story of Doctor Who’s cutting room floor, though. Remembering Nicholas Courtney is a freshly-made programme that looks back at the life of the man who made the Brigadier a staple of the series, including his time before and after Who. As a huge fan of the character, I was a little humbled by the lack of knowledge that I have of the man of who played him. Presented by his biographer, this twenty-six-minute feature recounts Courtney’s growing up in Egypt; the terrible bullying that he endured; and the sense of abandonment that he felt growing up without his biological mother, most of which comes directly from the mouth of the man himself, interviewed shortly before his death in 2011. It’s an enlightening little feature, long overdue.
Above: The More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS DVD helps us to remember Nicholas Courtney
The final Legacy offering is a twenty-two-minute study of Those Deadly Divas who collectively carved out a niche in the series for femme fatales amongst monsters and Masters. From the cold and clinical Rani to my personal favourite, the hitch-hiking Lady Peinforte, the likes of Gareth Roberts and Camille Coduri share their views on the antagonistic women who left a trail of blood and lipgloss on the Whoniverse. Was Captain Wrack just ’avin a larf? Were you in awe of the “casual wondrousness” of Lady Adrasta? Appalled at the “disdainful efficiency” of Krau Timmon? Or aghast at the two-faced Kara, who was even prepared to laugh at Davros’s jokes if it aided her cause? Why did Yvonne Hartman have Russell T Davies’ mannerisms? And did the Master really have the hots for Queen Galleia of Atlantis? This wonderful, celebratory programme answers all.
The Legacy Collection box set thus delivers two pieces of ephemera that no Doctor Who DVD collection would be complete without. However, whilst the bonus material that accompanies Shada and More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS is for the most part excellent, I get the feeling that Shada was rush-released essentially ‘as was’ just to get it out for the anniversary year, when it would have been better for all had it been fleshed out and finished properly. Of course, whispers abound that it has indeed been finished properly, and so it may well be that a ‘special edition’ hits the shelves before too long...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2013
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
The novelisation of Doctor Who’s infamous lost story had been a long time coming. Shada has gained legendary status amongst Who fans over the years, and both fans and officials have created ‘almost’ versions of the story. There’s the cobbled together video release with Tom Baker providing linking narration; the fan novelisation by Paul Scoones for the NZDWFC; the almost mythical patch-up version with animated versions of unmade scenes; the 40th anniversary webcast starring Paul McGann. None of them feel like they are what the story was supposed to be; they’re half-finished stopgaps and cover versions. Most disappointingly, none of the versions of Shada I’ve previously experienced has convinced me that the story was actually much good. It seemed that Douglas Adams’s final contribution to Doctor Who was simply not his best work.
Then came the news that Gareth Roberts was set to novelise the story, not only giving us the first official novelisation of a Doctor Who television story since the McGann movie of 1996, but also reviving the long missed line of past Doctor books. This was a bit more interesting. A novelisation would require neither the attempt to fit something around the existing footage, nor would it require recasting the starring roles. We finally have a consistent version of Shada featuring the fourth Doctor (I do wonder though… if it hadn’t featured other Time Lords, would the story have been adapted to make an episode of the new series, with Matt Smith in the lead, in the mode of David Tennant’s Human Nature?) Best of all was the news that it was Roberts taking the job on, probably the funniest of Who’s current batch of semi-regular writers, and the best match for Adams’ style that I can think of. Who else could have done it, I wonder? Maybe Jonathan Morris, perhaps Steven Moffat himself… but neither would have suited the project as well as Roberts.
Nonetheless, walking in the footsteps of Adams is a daunting task, and his legion of fans have never been shy when it comes to criticising adaptations of his work (remember the tearing apart the Hitch-Hikers movie got from the purists?) I can’t pretend to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Shada’s various iterations, but I read with interest how Roberts got the chance to work from earlier script material that had been altered for various reasons before going before the cameras, and how he had the opportunity to cherry-pick elements from different versions. He has also added numerous elements, most notably the romance between students Clare and Chris, an aspect wholly missing from previous versions of the story but simply perfect in this. Other additions are less overarching, but equally noteworthy. Skagra’s alarming get-up as he stalks the streets of Cambridge gets Roberts’s camp side going, leading to some of the funniest moments in the story. Later on, the Doctor and Romana talk at length of the various renegades and villains in Time Lord history, a fan-pleasing rundown that not only brings some logic to Salyavin’s first mention in the story but also nods to characters throughout the history of the show. Mention of the Corsair got a little cheer from me; if only he’d included Iris Wildthyme, it would have been perfect! Some elements are reworked for clarity and logic, most notably the final confrontation between Salyavin / Chronotis, the Doctor and Skagra, which now makes a good deal more sense. Skagra’s character and plan are explored and elaborated on, peculiar set pieces are given rationalisation… the story hold together in a way that it previously failed to do.
Above all, though, Shada is funny. Finally, this is a version I genuinely laughed at. Roberts has a turn of phrase that complements Adams’s dialogue, without slavishly copying his style; various witty asides would sit very comfortably in a Hitch-Hikers novel. It’s far more successful than the last such attempt at continuing the work of Adams, Eoin Colfer’s addition to the Hitch-Hikers series, which mostly fell flat. Roberts both adds his own jokes and works Adams’s perfectly. Any new fan reading the book, having not seen or heard any of the other versions of the story, would have a very hard time picking out which bits were by Roberts and which Adams. The best novelisations not only ground the story and rationalise events, but take the time to explore the characters in more depth. In my opinion, Chronotis and Wilkins are Adams’ greatest creations for this story, both fantastic comic characters. Chronotis, in particular, has enormous potential as a character, something Adams clearly agreed with, using him in his later novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Roberts, however, latches onto Clare and Chris as the characters most in need of development. Aside from the romance subplot, he spends a great deal of time on their characters, sensibly showing us many of the story’s stranger events through their eyes. It’s also evident that he sees them as great potential companions for the Doctor, a role they essentially play in this story only to remain on Earth. Their new found romantic life together is a perfect reason for them to stay behind, but it’s clear that Roberts would rather they got in the TARDIS and shot off with the Doctor.
We’ll never get a chance to experience Shada as it would have appeared on screen, nor as Douglas Adams intended it to be (in fact, given the choice, he would have written an entirely different story). I don’t think we’re necessarily missing out on much there. Part of the joy of novelisation is how they deviate from and embellish upon the original. The best of Target’s Doctor Who novelisations were written by someone other than the scriptwriter, who took the chance to create something grander than the televised serial. Douglas Adams himself was no stranger to reworking his scripts - just look how many versions of Hitch-Hikers there are, and how they all differ from each other. Gareth Roberts has added another version of Shada to the pile, and it’s undoubtedly the best of the bunch.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2012
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
This 2003 production of Shada suggests that when the fourth Doctor and Romana were lifted out of time in The Five Doctors, their would-be actions in 1979 Cambridge were undone – once freed, they simply left in the TARDIS, as shown at the end of the anniversary special, thus allowing the eighth Doctor, Romana and K-9 to later return to Cambridge in 1979 and effectively remount the earlier ‘undone’ adventure.
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