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Doctor Who was in it's seventeenth season, and although the series had seen it's highest viewing figures during that time ( City of Death's Parisienne location work tickled the fancy of casual viewers), it was a season that was almost bi-polar in it's consistency, with the all-time highs of the aforementioned Douglas Adams epic, to the comparative lows of The Horns of Nimon. The season was supposed to end with a six-part epic (which would have been the final six-parter in the show's history) entitled Shada, and the considerable writing talents of Script Editor Adams were called upon to tell a tale of a prison constructed by the Time Lords, a Gallifreyan in retirement and a would-be conqueror of the universe, but sadly, The Doctor would find himself up against adversaries more powerful than even the Daleks - the Trade Unions!

Is an incomplete Shada on DVD worth a punt? You decide...

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) arrive in present-day Cambridge to visit Professor Chronotis (Dennis Carey), who has seemingly misplaced The Artefacts of Gallifrey - a book dating back to the time of Rassilon - and in the wrong hands, it could wreak havoc. The mysterious Skagra (Christopher Neame) arrives around the same time, with a device that can drain the thoughts from a mind and he is after the Professor's book...

Casual Doctor Who fans will be most acquainted with Shada via the excerpt featured in The Five Doctors, when Tom Baker gave a definite "no" after being undecided for quite a while; this clip featured Baker and brief-and-future wife, Lalla Ward punting in Cambridge and formed the basis of the whole time-scoop premise used in Terrence Dicks' anniversary story.

Just before the first big dip on a rollercoaster, the cast and crew were on a high after location filming was over, and though there had been minor union trouble when it came to shooting the bicycle chase though the streets of Cambridge, the cast and crew were looking forward to completing Shada in the studio, but after some shooting at Television Centre, the unions flexed their muscles and Doctor Who found itself locked out of the studio. Despite attempts to resume shooting, Doctor Who found itself continually being shuffled further back, with crappy ephemeral shows, such as The Generation Game taking precedent, Shada was ultimately shelved and became the stuff of legend, with only the occasional picture or mention in Doctor Who Monthly to reaffirm it's existence.

The first official attempt to release a "complete" version of Shada happened back in 1992, when BBC Video persuaded Tom Baker to record linking material to paper over the occasionally massive gaps in the narrative, the filming of which took place in the Museum of the Moving Image, with many Doctor Who adversaries in the background; the result was a noble attempt to bring an unfinished Tom Baker story and worked reasonably well during the earlier episodes, when more material was present, but really started to fall to pieces during the latter episodes. Sadly, it is this version that has been released on DVD.

As it stands, the material that was shot for Shada stands up pretty well for the first couple of episodes, but with each passing instalment, the amount of missing footage increases and it begins to fall apart, especially during the final episode, where so little footage was completed, that it practically implodes, strangling itself in a vortex of dangling story threads and not even the considerable dramatic talents of Tom Baker can rescue it.

It is a crying shame that Ian Levine's wonderful version of Shada (which manages to reunited most of the surviving cast members and uses animation to bridge the gaps that were left by the industrial action) wasn't used for this set, as it is certainly the closest that Shada has ever come to being finished and watching it makes you feel as you are seeing the completed version. There are reasons as to WHY 2Entertain ultimately passed on Mr Levine's animated Shada and those concerned are very tight-lipped, but we can say that Ian is a most altruistic person as far as Doctor Who is concerned and his dedication to the show is absolute. We'll just go on record as saying that we have seen it and we loved it - now we'll move on to what BBC Worldwide have presented here.

He's a very fine man, coming out of this land... oh, forget it - it's a Dracula AD1972 reference.

What is most notable about Shada in terms of the two leads, is that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are firing on all cylinders in dramatic terms and there is none of the unevenness that plagued their personal and professional relationship in the following season. Though Baker's performance throughout season seventeen was all over the place (the best example was City of Death, which saw him careening all over the place like a roller-skating toddler on a freshly-polished floor), he delivers a rock-solid turn that only comes from believing in the material, and both Baker and Ward certainly respected Douglas Adams as both a writer and a script editor; Lalla Ward has never made a secret of the fact that she loved Douglas Adams and his work; on almost every audio commentary she has participated, the late Mr Adams' name is dropped so often that Ms Ward should have been courteous and hoovered the floor of the recording booth afterwards. The respect that Baker and Ward have for Douglas Adams shines through in their performances, which makes it even more of a shame that Shada was foiled by industrial action.

Christopher Neame was a young, charismatic actor who first came to prominence by appearing as Johnny Alucard in Hammer's attempt to pull themselves out of the gothic quagmire, Dracula AD1972. Neame threw himself into that role and though much of the youthful arrogance had mellowed, his performance as Skagra in Shada retained a sense of arrogance, but there was a supreme sense of self-confidence that underpinned it all and on top of that, Skagra initially wears an absurdly wide-brimmed hat worthy of Johnny Alucard himself.

Daniel Hill would go on to be a regular on popular eighties BBC sitcom, No Place Like Home, and much like Christopher Neame, he was a young actor in the seventies and was eager to prove himself, but his portrayal of Chris Parsons was more understated than that of his co-star, but still turns in a memorable performance as the youthful post-graduate student who is dragged into the unfolding intergalactic adventure.

Dennis Carey is great as the retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, bringing a mixture of scholarly warmth and elderly forgetfulness to the role. It's a pretty safe bet that Douglas Adams based the character on one of his professors during his time at St John's College at Cambridge, and Carey builds upon what Adams put upon the page by giving Chronotis a slightly dithering quality that endears him to the viewer. Adams liked the concept of this character so much, that he ended up reusing it, and other ideas and concepts from Shada in one of his subsequent works…

The location footage is well-shot, with director Pennant Roberts bringing an almost cinematic quality to it (the fact that he intended to shoot a bicycle chase through Cambridge at night with TWO crews gives weight to his lofty ambitions, despite this attracting the unwanted attentions of the union), and Cambridge seems to take on a sort of romanticised quality that you tend to find on the lid of a tin of expensive chocolates.

Sorry - our smut restraining bolt ispreventing us from adding a caption to this image...

Video


The original 1992 VHS release used unrestored footage and looked pretty much how you would expect an unrestored VHS Doctor Who story to look, but the good folks at the Doctor Who Restoration Team have given this neglected story the customary treatment and the results are most pleasing.

The location footage seems to be sourced from the original elements, as there is a pleasing amount of natural-looking film grain and a surprising degree of vibrancy in the colours. There is precious little in the way of dirt, debris and general print damage, and the image in generally look pretty damn spiffy.

Audio


The VHS release had incidental music composed by eighties Doctor Who composer, Keff McCulloch, who tried to ape the style of beloved composer Dudley Simpson, but the results were not generally liked by Doctor Who fans. Irrespective of general opinion of the score, McCulloch’s work is presented here in a perfectly fine manner, with the music sounding cleaner and more vibrant that the original VHS release.

Extras


2002 Shada: A year after the death of author Douglas Adams, a bold attempt to finally bring a completed version of Shada emerged; produced by Big Finish and starring Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, along with Lalla Ward, this internet-based version of the story is presented in here in full, the only catch is that it can only be accessed by popping this disc into your PC or laptop. Further to this, it only seems to be accessible by the internet, as it can only be viewed using an online "viewer".

We have to say that we could never really get into this version of Shada - we happen to love Paul McGann's Big Finish audio adventures, but there's something about this that seems to rub us up the wrong way; whilst it's great to hear Lalla Ward reprising her role and McGann is as fabulous as ever, the whole thing seems like Dead Man's Shoes and Tom Baker's cuff-boots must have seemed like Bigfoot's in comparison.

Taken Out of Time: This is a 25 minute documentary that examines what happened to Shada and examines what could have been, had industrial action not robbed Doctor Who fans of a Douglas Adams-penned story. The most exciting aspect of Taken Out of Time is that it has the active participation of Tom Baker, who is always entertaining whenever a camera is pointed in his general direction and he does not disappoint here, spouting witty yet insightful comments about the production and the profound sense of shared disappointment felt by cast and crew alike.

There are many picturesque shots of Cambridge, which form the backdrop for several interviews with the participants and it shows that very little had changed between the end of the seventies and the early half of this decade. The background of how Douglas Adams came up with the story of Shada is not really explored, but this documentary ultimtely looks at the production aspects, rather than the creative genesis, but this is to be expected, when the almost mythical nature of Shada outweighs the story itself.

If Shada could be regarded as a disaster in production terms, the this documentary points out that at least something good and lasting emerged from the televisual wreckage, in that actor Daniel Hill had been getting friendly with Director's Assistant Olivia Bazalgette, which resulting in their getting together and they are still happily married to this day - their devotion to each other is shown in this featurette in a manner that is genuinely sweet, rather than nauseating. Speaking of relationships that were formed during the Graham Williams era, it's curious that there is no sign of the erstwhile Mrs Baker in this thing; you would have imagined that because of the connection to Douglas Adams, Lalla Ward would have jumped at the chance to appear on-camera and sing his praises once again. You'd have at least thought she'd do it to elaborate upon Tom Baker's inability to use a pole to steer a waterborne craft and use the term "silly punt".

One of the few monster shots in Shada....

Actor Daniel Hill's morbid aversion to two-wheeled vehicles is discussed, with the actor's near-death experience in front of the cameras being brought up in a fairly amusing manner, and the clip that made it into the (ahem) finished version of Shada is used to illustrate the point. Hill himself comes across as a terribly likeable chap and seems like is he cut from the same sort of cloth as Douglas Adams himself, providing many interesting anecdotes about the filming of this most mysterious of Doctor Who projects.

Director Pennant Roberts passed away in 2010, but is represented here by clips from an interview conducted in 2005 and he is able to provide a few posthumous nuggets of information about the filming of Shada, including the specifics surrounding the first of the industrial actions taken during the shoot.

The first half of this documentary covers the relatively successful location shooting and early studio filming of Shada and, as is often the case when watching documentaries about disasters, you know what's coming, but you still hold a faint glimmer in your heart that things will work out in the end, and this is certainly the case here. It is around the halfway point that the first ominous signs of union troubles emerge, when the use of two crews for the filming of the chase scene through Cambridge was targeted by the unions and it just goes downhill from there, with depressing tales of how Shada became jinxed and eventually doomed.

Now and Then: This is yet another in the occasional series that takes a look at the locations used for Doctor Who, comparing and contrasting them with how they appeared at the time of filming and how they look now. Predictably, very little has changed in the historic city of Cambridge, with most of the historic buildings looking either identical or, in some cases, cleaner than how they were seen during the filming over three decades ago. All of the locations are covered, including the places used during the bicycle chase and the punting on the river scenes. This enjoyable 12 minute featurette serves to highlight just how much of Cambridge has been unnervingly unaltered by time and the remastered clips from Shada just underline this.

Strike! Strike! Strike!: Watch this baby and you are in for 27 minutes of sheer unadulterated entertainment, as your genial host Shaun Ley presents an informative and quite often amusing look at how the various unions involved in television production exerted their authority and how their actions impacted upon the recording of everyone's favourite show about a time-travelling police box. From the first documented potential walk-out after William Hartnell offended his dresser (was she Welsh?), to the potential problem that was stirred up during the current Matt Smith era, the baffling whys and wherefores are explored and the demise of the power of the unions at the hands of Thatcher is explained.

There is participation from several key people, including actress Nicola Bryant (still looking ravishing after all these years), director Richard Martin, producer Derrick Sherwin, former Doctor Who Magazine editor and author Gary Russell, along with many others.

Tom thoughtfully points out where the fault lies...

One of the most fascinating parts of this documentary involve Derrick Sherwin and the late, great Barry Letts explaining about how they were able to shoot Spearhead From Space on film and on location for the same amount of money it would have taken to shoot in the studio and with a full crew; Russell ponders upon how interesting the rest of that season would have looked if it had been shot entirely on 16mm film? The answer would probably be that it would look fabulous, but have lousy production sound. The other most interesting segment chronicles the near-miss that befell the Third Doctor's return trip to the planet of Peladon; The Monster of Peladon was very nearly recorded in black and white due to industrial action, but last minute intervention prevented this common practice from happening and the events of one of Jon Pertwee's dullest stories could be enjoyed by few.

Punctuated by clips to humorously underscore the mood of the times, and with some amusing graphics (Daleks waving placards), Strike! Strike! Strike! manages to (ahem) strike the right balance between being informative and being light-hearted. This is wonderfully enjoyable stuff, with the only sour taste coming from Tony Lennon, ex-president of BECTU, who described Doctor Who as "a cheap potboiler (sic), that filled a slot on Saturday evening" - I am sure that many Doctor Who fans will be with us when we say in response "Fuck you!"

Being a Girl: This is a half an hour documentary that has been kicking around for a while, trying to find a home and ending up in this refuge for orphaned extras known as The Legacy Collection. Ardent feminist Louise Jameson narrates this look at the changing depiction of female companions over the decades and uses plenty of clips to illustrate the views of the director of this documentary.

There are no interviews with members of the Doctor Who cast and any sort of social commentary - outside of Jameson's narration - is provided by broadcaster Samira Ahmed and Doctor Who Monthly contributor Emma Price, both of whom represent the feminist side (somewhat obviously) and the angle begins with the unfortunate stereotype of Susan being a companion who twisted her ankle and screamed a lot (which was unfortunately shovelled upon her after initially being set up as a far more interesting character). The female companions of the classic era are whipped through quite quickly, with only Sarah Jane Smith and Leela being examined in slightly more detail, and New-Who's companions are also put under the microscope and their roles in a 21st century culture are analysed, with Rose and River Song being particularly praised.

We would take issue with Ahmed's opinion that the female companions in the seventies were created by producers in order to "wind-up feminists" - Barry Letts was a very serious and sincere person, who would not have wanted to deliberately introduce a character that would upset people. Despite a couple of caveats (missing out Katarina, even thought she was a bona-fide companion is one of them), this is a pretty entertaining way of blowing half an hour and it's nice to see a collection of clips spanning the entire run of Doctor Who. Oh, and the possibility of having a female Doctor rears up at the end of the episode, with Ahmed saying that she would love to see a Margaret Rutherford-type playing The Doctor - this will NEVER happen now... they'd never cast anyone, irrespective of gender, over forty in the role these days.

Photo Gallery: Though Shada was never finished, copious production and publicity pictures were taken and are presented here for your own personal gratification. What is most interesting is that the majority of the pictures seen here come from the relatively small amount of time that was spent in the studio, rather than the comparatively large amount of time spent on location. Keff McCulloch's music from Shada is played over the assortment of images.

Information Text: Despite the incomplete nature of the story, you lucky viewers are still presented with a seemingly never-ending stream of fascinating facts, figures, statistics and trivia connected with Shada. Beginning with the genesis of how the VHS Shada came about (it was originally proposed that the-then Doctor Colin Baker would narrate the links to Peri, in a manner not dissimilar to the Big Finish story, The Hollows of Time), and that it was John Nathan-Turner who wrote the links, with some liberal improvisation from Tom Baker ( "Beat you, Cock!"). It is revealed that Douglas Adams didn't want Shada going out, and that - in an event not too dissimilar from something straight from the pages of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - it only happened because it accidentally signed the release form when it was included amongst a bunch of forms on his desk. The Info Text in during the first episode deals with the origins of the story, but the infamous production problems are dealt with in detail later on. In essence, this is another meticulously researched and entertainingly written collection of trivia and information that is always present on Doctor Who DVD releases, and though there is sadly no audio commentary on Shada (Daniel Hill would have made for a great participant), the Info Text attempts to fill the void and does so in a fairly successful manner.

Coming Soon: Yes, it's finally here! The Reign of Terror, complete with animated versions of the missing episodes. We've seen them and all we'll say for the moment is that the style of the animated episodes will seriously divide fans...

Professor Chronotis asks The Doctor if he has noticed that silly blue light on top of the TARDIS...

Overall:


Doctor Who fans can - and will - continue to debate just how much of a classic Shada would have been if the story had been completed; there are some who insist that it would have taken its place in the all-time top ten of classic Doctor Who stories and there others who say that it would have been an average story to wrap-up what is generally regarded as a fairly dull season.

The version of Shada presented here will do little to satisfy either parties in terms of changing or reinforcing their polarised opinions, as it is essentially the same version that was released two decades ago, but at least the surviving footage has been given a much-welcome wash-and-brush-up. It's still not a completed version of the story (Ian Levine's animated take easily presents the most "finished" version), but this still gives a tantalising - but ultimately frustrating - peek at what might have been.


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