Doctor Who: Shada (1992) Movie Review
“Shada” has always had a dear place in the hearts of “Doctor Who” fans, especially the old timers who still think eight foot long scarves are still haute couture fashion. The episode in question was written by Douglas Adams himself, years before he gained fame by writing his infamous guide on how to see the galaxy and sold a zillion copies in the process .
“Shada” was also infamous for never being completed, a BBC production strike left the episode about 30% finished; while never broadcast it was released on an out of print VHS in 1992 with Tom Baker’s narration filling in the gaping plot holes.
But leave it to the good folks at Big Finish to complete Adam’s lost work, utilizing the
under appreciated Eighth Doctor and some low tech animation to complete the tale. It can be easily accessed on the BBC website, where it has resided since 2003 in some obscurity. A shame really, since it’s a chance to appreciate one of Adams’ unsung efforts–while letting Eighth Doctor take the spotlight usually reserved for later incarnations.
Taking place before the apocalyptic events of the Time War, the Doctor returns to Gallifrey to visit Madame President Romana. An event in 1979 has been troubling him, when they
visited Cambridge to see fellow Glllifreyian Professor Chronotis. Mysteriously, they were put in time statis, taken out shortly later, then returned to the TARDIS hours later, their mission unaccomplished. But the Doctor has dreamt of Chronotis, calling across the stars and time to return to Cambridge in 1979. The Doctor must retrieve a book — not just any book, a powerful book that is one of the artifacts of Rassilon and infused with immense power. Accidentally borrowed by one of Chronotis’s precocious students, the young learner is amazed at the structure and advanced knowledge of the tome. But the student has bigger dilemmas than a book that defies known physics, an alien adversary has arrived in England seeking the book. But the key to stopping him doesn’t lie on Earth, but the Time Lord prison planet Shada…a place mysteriously forgotten.
Adapting Adams’s story and restructuring it for the Eight Doctor, Gary Russell streamlines the tale allowing for a quicker pace that gets right to the quick of the matter. It’s shorter than the original 1979 story, but extraneous details have been excised to make “Shada” a faster paced adventure. Sharp eyed viewers can catch quick allusions to “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy”, the 1996 FOX film, and Adams’s “Dirk Gentry” novel. Paul McGann infuses his Eighth Doctor will plenty of joie de vivre, all foppish and Byronic but always ready for adventure. Merchant Ivory veteran James Fox is equally good as Chronotis, while Lalla Ward returns to the role of Romana, sometimes playing Wendy to the Doctor’s Peter Pan. The inclusion of K-9 Mark II, voiced by John Leeson, is a nostalgic inclusion to fans of the classic series.
Possibly the only complaint is the BBC’s animation of “Shada” by Lee Sullivan; the colors are vibrant enough but there’s little fluid movement among the characters. There’s also little detail in the faces of the supporting characters, as if the BBC was trying to save some coin by articulating only the main characters. Sullivan is sly enough to have Chronotis’s student sport an extra length scarf, a sly tribute to the Fourth Doctor. Allowing this adaptation of “Shada” to become part of the “Doctor Who” canon alleviates some of the visual sting, playing the story firmly back in continuity. It’s a nice treat to see the return of a little seen incarnation of The Doctor, as well as one of science fiction’s best authors having his work completed in the spirit it was intended. Downloading “Shada” won’t cost you anything but some of your time, a price you’ll be glad to pay.
Pennant Roberts (director) / Douglas Adams (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Baker … The Doctor / Narrator
Lalla Ward … Romana
Christopher Neame … Skagra
Denis Carey … Professor Chronotis
Daniel Hill … Chris Parsons
Victoria Burgoyne … Clare Keightley
David Brierly … K9 (voice)
Gerald Campion … Porter (Wilkins)