DOCTOR WHO: SHADA
Starring: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Christopher Neame, Daniel Hill, Denis Carey, Victoria Burgoyne, David Brierly, and Shirley Dixon
Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts and Charles Norton
”Take over the universe. How CHILDISH. Who could possibly want to take over the universe?”
“Exactly! That’s what I keep on trying to tell people. It’s a troublesome place, difficult to administer, and as a piece of real estate it’s worthless because by definition there’d be no one to sell it to!”
Douglas Adams’ infamous “lost episode” of Doctor Who gets a fantastically watchable reconstruction in Shada. Televised here recently on BBC America as “The Lost Episode” (during SDCC Weekend, no less!), the new restoration of the original serial effortlessly weaves Charles Norton directed animation, voiced by the original cast, into the originally filmed action in and around Cambridge University. The result is perhaps the best-filmed version of the story yet. Standing as a marked improvement over the janky DVD reconstruction and the Flash Animated retooling of the story for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. The story doesn’t reach the giddy heights of The Pirate Planet or Adams’ breathlessly funny Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV scripts. Doctor Who: Shada is a reverently entertaining new version of the infamous footnote on the esteemed author’s bibliography.
I won’t bore you with the sordid history of Shada. The short version is the story was intended to be the finale of Season 17 of the original show. However, it was promptly shelved thanks to a strike that hammered the BBC. Over the years, many attempts were made to incorporate the few bits filmed of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward. Once in the Five Doctors crossover, which is… super goddamn weird, as well as the aforementioned DVD reconstruction of the episode, which has all the fun of watching someone acting out their dreams with paper dolls.
Cut to 2017 where the team behind the stellar animated reconstruction of another “lost episode” The Power of the Daleks, take on the herculean task of finally making a watchable version of Shada. And I am pleased as punch to report that they bloody well did it. Though, by its “infamous” reputation a letdown, the episode itself is a ball, made even more so by the loving restoration Charles Norton’s team applied to the original film and their fantastic animated scenes.
I was worried going into the episode that the contrast between the film and the animation would prove too distracting to take the episode face value. But quickly, the episode assuaged my fears. If anything the switching between film and animation heightened the experience of the episode as a whole! Making it feel like a particularly sumptuously produced Big Finish Audio Adventure (of which there is already an adaptation of Shada. A few actually, now that I think about it.).
Centered around the Fourth Doctor and Romana’s trip to Cambridge to visit another rogue Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, Shada might not have the huge ideas of a Dirk Gently. It does really capture Adams unique charm and humor when it came to writing for Tom Baker’s incarnation. What starts as a routine tea time visit quickly turns into a struggle against Time Lord criminal Skagra, who is seeking to ingest the minds of the universe into his own.
Though, as I have said, Shada isn’t exactly the Holy Grail of Classic Doctor Who. This new restoration finally presents it in an accessible and entertaining form. One that finally doesn’t take the commitment of a novel (though I do recommend Gareth Roberts’ fantastic adaptation. That one may be the most “complete,” in terms of Adams vision of the story) or multi-disc audio play. Seeing and hearing Tom Baker and Lalla Ward back on screen as a duo, quipping and dashing down corridors, is just too good to pass up as is the opportunity to finally add this classic episode to your B.R./DVD shelf.
Verdict: Watch It
Even if you don’t truck with Classic Who (you MONSTER), or if you have just always wanted to see what this “lost” episode was really like, Doctor Who: Shada finally gives the episode the proper TV treatment thanks to Charles Norton and his team’s painstaking reconstruction. Aided with cleaned up special effect akin to the “restored” Star Trek episode and new dialogue recordings of the original cast, Shada finally lives up to being what it was supposed to be in the first place; just an entertaining episode of Doctor Who.