Shada is, in some ways, more interesting for its history than anything else. Originally intended to be the final serial in the seventeenth season of Doctor Who, this Douglas Adams penned storyline was never finished and therefore never aired on television. Why? Because there was a strike at the BBC and by the time that strike was resolved, the BBC had moved on to their highly touted Christmas programming. The story was eventually 'finished' in a sense when in 1992 Tom Baker was brought in to shoot some bridging segments where he, in character as The Doctor and looking back on his exploits, would simply explain what happened in the missing segments. So we wind up bouncing back and forth between the completed footage from the story and bits with Baker popping up and saying 'and then the bad guys did this to me!' in order to fill in the blanks. It's not ideal, but it gets the job done.
So what's the story about? Well it begins at Cambridge University where a retired Time Lord named Professor Chronitis (Denis Carey) has an office jam packed with books. When one of his fellow teachers, Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) wants to borrow a book on carbon dating the elderly Chronitis is happy to oblige but Parsons inadvertently walks off with a book that is actually a sacred artifact from the Time Lords' home planet of Gallifrey. This artifact wields great power, something that has not gone unnoticed by an alien named Skagra (Christopher Neame), who arrives in an invisible spaceship in hopes of taking the book for his own nefarious purposes.
Enter The Doctor (Baker) and his companion, Romana (Lalla Ward) who, with K-9 in tow, arrive at Cambridge for a visit with Chronitis only to find that he's more or less lost his memory. Though it takes him a while, he eventually remembers that the missing book was leant to Parsons. When The Doctor identifies it as an artifact of great power he retrieves it but in a strange chase scene in which he's pursued by Skagra's 'sphere' (its' kind of like one of the balls from Phantasm except instead of drilling into your head it sucks out the contents of your brain) it gets dropped. Romana, Parsons and K-9 wind up aboard Skagra's ship. Soon, The Doctor finds out the truth about Skagra, who highjacks the TARDIS and whose obsession with the book continues to grow until ultimately we learn of the power that it can offer and how it ties into the Galifreyan prison planet named... Shada!
Told in six short parts (only the first one runs over twenty minutes, the rest run fourteen to eighteen minutes apiece), Shada has a lot for the Doctor Who fan to like even if in its unfinished form it isn't the most impressive of his adventures. Tom Baker is, as usual, a lot of fun to watch here. He handles the comedic side of the character well but also has that noticeable twinge of insanity to the way he portrays the character, something that always made his take a lot of fun to watch. He has some good back and forth with Lalla Ward, who makes a fine companion here and offers the character both some legitimate smarts as well as the requisite good looks. In short, they make a good team. There's more than that, however - Denis Carey is great as the forgetful old Chronitis, an interesting addition to the mythos of the Time Lords and an enjoyable and amusing character in his own right. While initially he seems a goofy old man obsessed with tea time, as Adams' story plays out, we learn more about him and realize there's more to him than just simple comic relief. Christopher Neame makes for a pretty solid villain here too. While his outfit, a silver and white jumpsuit, doesn't do him any favors he has an imposing enough presence even when dressed like a disco dancer that he winds up suiting the part of the 'bad guy' fairly well. All involved do fine in front of the camera.
Yet because of the fact that it was never properly finished, Shada remains somewhat lacking. Baker does the best job that he can bridging the finished portions of the story but it obviously doesn't have quite the same effect as it would have had it been done right the first time. That's a shame, really, as Adams' script is a lot of fun. There's a good balance of humor and adventure here, some interesting and original ideas (it's noted in the extras that anyone could create a visible spaceship, so why not create and invisible spaceship instead!) and even in the patchwork form it wound up in, Shada is delightfully entertaining in the way that the best material from the show can be.The DVD:
Doctor Who: Shada arrives on DVD in its original fullframe aspect ratio. There are moments where the picture is a little soft - but this is probably as good as it's ever going to get and those accustomed to other releases of Who material from the same era will more or less know what to expect. It's all generally of pretty good quality, though scenes shot inside tend to look cleaner and clearer than those shot outdoors (which seems to be pretty normal with the Doctor Who DVDs) and it seems obvious that the powers that be have done their best with the material that they had available. The disc is well authored in that there are no problems with compression artifacts and as soft as it all is, at least it's clean in that there aren't any nasty issues with print damage at all, the picture is pretty much spotless in that regard. Again, for what it is, this looks fine and those accustomed to earlier DVD releases from this era of the show will know what to expect and have no problems - this looks like the low budget seventies era made for TV production that it is and you can't really fault it for that.Sound:
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track that comes with optional subtitles available in English only. The quality of the track is fine in that it's always easy to understand and there are no problems to report in terms of hiss or distortion. There isn't a whole lot of range - this is an older mono mix after all - but the levels are well balanced and the feature sounds just fine.Extras:
Disc One includes the VHS Version of Shada which replicates the material as it was originally released on tape in 1992. It's a curiosity item more than anything else. Aside from that? If you've got a DVD-Rom you can pop this disc into your computer and enjoy the Shada - BBCi/Big Finish Version. This was a Flash animated audio play version that was made available in 2003 on the BBC's website with Lalla Ward reprising her role and The Doctor voiced by Paul McGann. It's an interesting variation on the story and worth checking out. Aside from that, this disc also offers up a Trivia Track that plays alongside the episodes as a subtitle stream. When enabled, it offers up scene specific information on the cast and crew, the locations, the effects work and more. There's no commentary track provided for this installment, and this makes for a nice substitute.
Disc Two starts off with a twenty-five minute long featurette entitled Taken Out of Time: The Making And Breaking Of Shada which is made up of interviews with Tom Baker, Daniel Hill, Pennant Roberts and a few others. It's a decent look at what went right and what went wrong as well as who did what and why. Definitely check this out as it gives us some really enjoyable insight into this intriguing little slice of Whostory. The twelve minute Shada: Now And Then is a location comparison featurette that contrasts and compares the locations used in the original 1979 shoot to how they appear now. The twenty-seven minute long Strike! Strike! Strike! interviews former BECTU Union President Tony Lennon about the strike that caused so many problems for this particular serial while the thirty minute Being a Girl, narrated by Leela actress Louise Jameson, gives us a nice little rundown of the actresses who played the various female companions featured on the show and some insight into how women were portrayed in the series. Also found on this disc is a Shada specific still gallery.
Not to be outdone, Disc Three features the excellent feature length ninety-minute long documentary, More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS, made in 1993. Rounding up all of the surviving Doctors at the time as well as a few other supporting players, this is a fantastic retrospective look back made after the series had been cancelled (and before it had been revived) into what made Doctor Who so enjoyable for so many people. We learn about everything from how the series producers wound up helping the Daleks climb stairs to the influence of James Bond on the show. We learn how the popularity of the Daleks spun off the two movies starring the late, great Peter Cushing and we hear of the effects work, the sets, the casting, the writing and much more. This is absolutely worth your time if you have any interest in the history of the series, and it offers up a lot of great archival clips and photographs to accompany the interview segments.
The third disc also includes a bit called Remembering Nicholas Courtney, a twenty-six minute featurette narrated by Michael McManus which offers a nice look back at Courtney's career and how he would wind up achieving fame amongst the series' fans as Lethbridge-Stewart. The thirteen minute long Doctor Who Stories - Peter Purves examines how and why Purves played Steven Taylor at various times throughout the show, while The Lambert Tapes: Part One is a ten minute interview with the series' producer, Victor Lambert. Those Deadly Divas spends twenty-two minutes of quality time with actresses Kate O'Mara, Camille Coduri and Tracy Ann Oberman with writers Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman. Finishing up this third and final disc is a still gallery specific to More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS and some PDF materials including some Radio Times listings.Final Thoughts:
Doctor Who: Shada is not really a high mark in the Tom Baker era nor is it the best of the Douglas Adams stories. Given the fact that it was never completed and is instead patched together from existing footage and narrated segments featuring Baker shot years later, it's amazing that it's as coherent as it is. Still, fans will enjoy this regardless - it's not the best story, but it's amusing enough and interesting for what it is. On top of that, the BBC have jammed this release with some great extra features and presented the serial in pretty decent quality. Not the best starting point for those new to Doctor Who but recommended for fans, particularly those who appreciate Baker's take on the character.