By David J Howe
Five letters making up a word which has become a part of Doctor Who mythology. It has been referred to as 'the lost classic', 'the unfinished climax to season seventeen', 'Douglas Adams' masterpiece' and so on.
Now we can see the story at last, completed, in a manner of speaking, by the Doctor - alias Tom Baker - filling in the missing bits and explaining the plot.
I think that the release of 'Shada' on video will throw many fans in a bit of a quandary. What are we to make of it? On the one hand it is marvellous to see new, previously unseen material released. If this had been a partially-completed Troughton or Pertwee story then there would have been paroxysms of joy from the fans (witness the furore surrounding 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' - and that had been transmitted!). As it is, the release has been surrounded by scepticism and doubt, rather than passionate joy.
This review is going to fall on both sides of the fence. I am delighted that 'Shada' has been released and that we can at last all own something which is a part of Doctor Who's history (although, as it was never transmitted, I am one of those bores who believes it does not form part of recognised Who-lore, but that's another article). I am pleased that it has been mostly untampered with and that we can now see how season seventeen might have ended. Tom Baker's narration is good, but the script for the linking passages is poor and inconsistent, in keeping with all the special releases to date. I am even pleased at the inclusion of the little script book as that fills in the gaps far better than any narration could ever do.
I also think that it is a pile of rubbish.
The reason for this lies in the very concept itself. 'Shada' was never finished, and what is more, all the missing bits are the exciting, climactic bits - including the whole ending of the story. What on earth is the point of releasing something that has the ending missing? It looks as though we might get 'The Tenth Planet' released next year - but what is the point? Three episodes of excitement and then someone telling us how it all ended. What a let down.
To take it further, as most of the individual episode endings in 'Shada' are missing, why bother to split the story into episodes? It adds nothing to the viewing of it, and serves to make an already disjointed production even more so.
As for the story itself. I have said this before and I'll say it again - I was glad at the time that 'Shada' was never transmitted as it took Doctor Who more firmly into the realms of pantomime than JNT ever did. Lalla Ward is the worst offender, breezing through the story as though she is in a different production altogether. Her delivery is straight out of farce, and the silly dialogue and asides (the Time Tots bit and the medal bit spring to mind) just heighten the effect that Ward and Baker were playing the whole thing for laughs.
The plot is uncharacteristically weak for Douglas Adams. A madman wants to rule the universe by stealing everyone else's minds. That's about it really. There are some nice touches, like the Professor's college rooms being a TARDIS, and a book over which time runs backwards, but these become insignificant when compared with the bad points.
Christopher Neame's Skagra is, like Ward's performance, straight out of a pantomime - I was half expecting people to shout 'He's behind you!' and booing and hissing each time he appeared. His acting seemed to consist of leering menacingly at the camera and strutting about in his somewhat outrageous costume. He wins the award for worst co-star of the season, outdoing Tim Barlow's Tyssan, John Bryans' Torvin, Lewis Fiander's Tryst and Simon Gipps-Kent's Seth.
There are also some effects and monsters even naffer than those earlier in the seventeenth season: remember the wobbly Daleks from 'Destiny of the Daleks', or the green blob from 'The Creature from the Pit', the pitiful Mandrels from 'Nightmare of Eden' or the balletic Nimon from 'The Horns of Nimon'. The Kraag looks worse than any of them and is totally unmenacing, added to which that awful CSO flame effect just does not work. The vortex stuff at the end is also grim but the new model-work (using photographs) is just passable as is the material with the sphere.
To sum up, 'Shada' does have some nice moments - I like the bicycle chase, and the scenes with Denis Carey as Chronotis have a certain charm. It is good that some new Doctor Who has been released, but I for one do not intend to watch it again unless I absolutely have to.
BBC Video are reportedly gearing up to release more incomplete material next year. When there are so many completed stories to be released this seems a crying shame. Surely if there is now this supposed office to try and track down lost episodes, it is madness to even consider releasing incomplete stories. BBC Video managed to release all the Blake's 7 stories in order, in matching boxes (there is even a special cabinet on offer in which to store them all). Why can't Doctor Who be given the same careful attention? The look of the Doctor Who releases has already changed several times, and now the bottom of the barrel is being scraped when it is still full of ripe apples. Come on BBC Video - leave the incomplete stuff until there is no more complete material to release. Please!
David J Howe