The Doctor lands his TARDIS just outside the office of the President of the Time Lords, and whisks President Romana and her K-9 unit away to Earth to see to unfinished business. At St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge, an elderly Time Lord refugee going by the name of Professor Chronotis has summoned the Doctor to help him return a book, “The Ancient and Worshipful Law of Ancient Gallifrey”, to the Time Lords themsevlves. His plan to have the Doctor do this for him, this preserving his anonymity, has one major snag: Chronotis appears to have accidentally loaned the book out to one of his students, Chris Parsons. Before the Doctor can locate the book, Parsons and his friend Clare Keightly have already figured out that there’s something strange and perhaps even dangerous about the book. And something dangerous is certainly on the trail of the book – a megalomanical criminal named Skagra, using his mind-draining sphere, will stop at nothing to find Chronotis and the book. He hopes to use the book to find the well-hidden Time Lord prison planet, Shada – and once there, he hopes to drain the mind of the Time Lords’ most dangerous criminal, Salyavin, using his knowledge to take over every sentient mind in the universe.
Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K-9), James Fox (Professor Chronotis), Andrew Sachs (Skagra), Sean Biggerstaff (Chris Parsons), Susannah Harker (Clare Keightly), Melvyn Hayes (Wilkin), Hannah Gordon (The Ship), Barnaby Edwards (Caldera), Stuart Crossman (Constable), Nicholas Pegg (Think Tank Voice)
Timeline: after Doctor Who and before Storm Warning
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: Originally produced as a webcast (with limited flash animation based on artwork by Doctor Who comics artist Lee Sullivan) for BBCi to celebrate the series’ 40th anniversary in 2003 – several months prior to the shocking announcement that the Doctor would be returning to television – Shada was not the first attempt to finish Douglas Adams’ lost 1979 six-parter. For the 30th anniversary in 1993, former Doctor Who TV producer John Nathan-Turner attempted to piece together those portions of the story that had been filmed before a strike at the BBC left the entirety of Shada on the cutting room floor, never to be broadcast, filling the gaps with new narration by Tom Baker. In this case, Shada marked the last time that Big Finish approached Baker to take part in one of their audio dramas – the actor had previously been less than flattering in his opinion of Big Finish and their work – and ultimately the story was slightly altered to not only include Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, but to account for the only footage from the original 1979 Shada that had been seen by the general public, the handful of scenes used as “new” fourth Doctor sequences in 1983’s The Five Doctors. (Seems like Shada is unearthed for every Doctor Who anniversary – one wonders what’s planned for the 50th…)
If there’s a big problem with Big Finish’s Shada, it lies simply with the fact that the story was written for the eccentricity of Tom Baker’s Doctor. Paul McGann, as the Doctor, plays a slightly different kind of eccentricity, and it just seems ever so slightly out of place. The rest of the cast is phenomenal, with Fawlty Towers’ Andrew Sachs lending the main villain of the story an unnerving voice that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from the heavy of the piece. Aside from the Doctor himself, this almost sounds like it could’ve been lifted from the soundtrack of the long-lost original. Fortunately, my complaint about eccentricity and casting the eighth Doctor in a set of scripts intended for the fourth is a minor one – there aren’t that many gags in Shada, and in fact, some new ones were slipped in by Big Finish (notably the unsubtle mention of one character driving a Ford Prefect). Having seen what was filmed of the original Shada, and now having heard this version, the sad thing is that I still really don’t know what to make of the story. Of the three Doctor Who scripts written by Douglas Adams, Shada still comes up my least favorite, regardless of how it’s resurrected, and my biggest regret is not that Shada never aired, but that Adams didn’t get to write the story he really wanted to write for the end of the 17th season, which would’ve involved the Doctor tiring of saving the universe – a story which he later grafted onto Ford Prefect in “Life, The Universe And Everything”. However, I think it’s reasonable to say that I’m in a very small minority of Doctor Who fans there; Shada seemed to generally be well-received. For my part, I can take or leave this remake of it.