Doctor Who – Shada

Doctor Who - Shada (Blu-ray edition)
Doctor Who – Shada (Blu-ray edition)

“Shada” is an adventure originally conceived as the last of the seventeenth season of the classic “Doctor Who” series but never broadcast. It’s a six-part adventure written by Douglas Adams and directed by Pennant Roberts in the original parts and by Charles Norton in the ones filmed in 2017.

The story

Skagra is mentally connected to a group of people. He wakes up, breaks contact, and then abandons them on the space station, from which he departs. His goal is to find Salyavin, a Time Lord condemned to be locked up in the Shada Prison, whose location is top secret.

The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana II (Lalla Ward) go to Cambridge to see Chronotis, a Time Lord who took up residence at the university as a professor. Chronotis intends to return a book brought from Gallifrey that holds arcane powers connected to the ancient times of his civilization. He realizes that the book was borrowed by Chris Parsons, a student who realizes its oddities by examining it together with his friend Clare Keightle.


This DVD/Blu-Ray mini-boxset is rich in extras.

Comments on the adventure by the actors Christopher Neame and Daniel Hill, animation artists Martin Geraghty and Anne Marie Walsh, moderated by Toby Hadoke are present in the alternative audio track.

Taken Out of Time. Some of the protagonists of “Shada” remember the production of this adventure.

Now and Then. A return to Cambridge to take a look at the locations where various “Shada” scenes were filmed.

Strike! Strike! Strike! A history of strikes in the world of British television and their consequences.

Studio Sessions. Some images from the recording of “Shada” scenes in 1979.

Dialogue Sessions. Some images from the recording of “Shada” scenes in 2017.

Studio Shooting (2017). More images from the recording of “Shada” scenes in 2017 with various behind-the-scenes shots.

Model Filming. Some special effects created in 2017.

Deleted Scenes. Some scenes that were supposed to be part of the animation and then deleted during production.

Title Sequence Film. The theme remastered for “Shada” during the 2017 production.

Live Action Reference Footage. Some scenes that were animated using the performance of real actors as a reference.

1979 Gallery. Photos from the 1979 production.

2017 Gallery. Images and photos from the 2017 production.

ROM Contents. Some production-related documents available for access via computer.

Producer Graham Williams thought about leaving “Doctor Who” and wanted the last adventure produced by him to leave its mark, especially since it had to follow “The Horns of Nimon“, with which he wasn’t very satisfied. Douglas Adams was the script editor and wouldn’t normally have to write a screenplay but he got permission to do so.

Douglas Adams’ original idea was for a two-part serial in which the Doctor retires from his adventures only to be continually called upon to intervene. Graham Williams rejected the idea, which he feared would seem a self-mockery of the show, so Adams restructured it by creating Chronotis, a Time Lord who sort of retired on Earth.

The script was prepared and filming was well advanced when it had to be stopped due to a strike. When it ended, the BBC prioritized Christmas programs, and the production of “Shada” was abandoned. John Nathan-Turner became the new producer of “Doctor Who” and studied various possibilities of re-editing the filmed material but couldn’t complete this project.

It seemed that “Shada” was destined to remain an incomplete serial and, also due to the name of Douglas Adams as its author, over the years, it took on a certain mythical aura. In 1992, John Nathan-Turner managed to produce a version for the home video market with the missing parts narrated by Tom Baker.

In 2003, a collaboration between the BBC and Big Finish led to the production of a new version of “Shada” with the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) replacing the Fourth. Originally, it was produced as an audio adventure and then animated into a webcast that is still available on the BBC website (requires Flash support or the RealPlayer plugin to watch it).

In 2017, the first version of “Shada” was integrated with new animated material, the voices of the original actors, and some scenes that were shot with means from the time of the original production in order to be added seamlessly to the ones shot at the time. After nearly forty years, “Shada” was completed to initially be released on DVD and Blu-Ray as a TV movie, for a short time also in a special edition. In 2021, it was published in an episodic version that follows the original plans within the box set that contains the finally complete seventeenth season.

Douglas Adams expressed a less than enthusiastic opinion of his screenplay but “Shada” is intriguing, especially for the fans who appreciate the Time Lord mythology. The Gallifreyan protagonists make various references to Rassilon, one of the fathers of the Time Lord civilization, who was represented as a semi-divine figure in the classic series. The origins of that civilization constitute a sort of mythology within mythology, in this case, mostly using an ancient book to include references to powers that not even modern Time Lords fully understand.

The plot unfolds in a complex way with Professor Chronotis and the book he brought from Gallifrey becoming the object of a less-than-positive interest by Skagra. This character is obsessed with finding Salyavin, a disgraced Time Lord locked in Shada Prison.

Serials this long were often filled with bits of padding where there were simply characters moving from one place to another. There are protagonists traveling in “Shada” as well but Douglas Adams wrote them in such a way as to limit the padding by making those parts interesting with danger, twists, and other somewhat significant events.

It’s a pleasure to see this adventure completed with an animation that seems to me to be of better quality than that of some classic adventures with missing episodes. Of course, you have to get used to the fact that while watching, you switch between live-action scenes and animated ones and vice versa. In my opinion, it’s worth making this effort to enjoy a story I found engaging in which Douglas Adams included witty dialogues that bring out the best in the actors, in particular Tom Baker.

The 2017 version of “Shada” edited as a TV movie is available as a Blu-Ray on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada. Given its length, I have to say that perhaps I would have preferred to watch it an episode at a time. If you think the same, you can opt for the season 17 box set, available in Blu-ray (in an edition made for European players, NOT one that can be natively played on most American players!) on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada. Regardless of the format, I recommend catching up on this serial that was completed, at last, to all “Doctor Who” fans.

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