There was a time, back in the early 2000s, where the BBC said that they had no plans to bring Doctor Who back to television. Now, the odds are pretty good that anyone reading this knows that the series was revived and has gone on to quite a bit of commercial success but in that before between the end of the ‘classic' run and the revival, there was still a huge fan base hungry for new material. So it made sense that in 2003, Doctor Who would come back, albeit in animated form and on the internet, just in time for the fortieth anniversary of the show.
And that's where this storyline, Scream Of The Shalka, comes in. When the six part animated series begins, the being that would have been the ninth Doctor (voiced by Richard E. Grant), arrives via TARDIS in Lancashire. He's been sent there without much care for his own opinion on the matter and once he gets there, he's locked out of his Police Box. He notes immediately how unusually quiet this village is and decides to hear into a local pub to see what's what. When he arrives, no one wants to talk, the patrons simply sip their drinks and mind their own business. The bartender, however, is a young woman named Alison (Sophie Okonedo), who is at least marginally friendly. Unimpressed, the Doctor leaves the pub and just as a bag lady is about to tell him something that may or may not be of importance, a tremor rocks the Earth and she's killed. Shortly after, the TARDIS is also swallowed up by the ground.
With no one else to realistically turn to, the Doctor winds up at the apartment that Alison shares with her boyfriend, Joe (Craig Kelly). Much to their confusion, he basically lets himself in and insists that they tell him what exactly is happening in the town. Alison then admits that strange things have been happening, that there have been aliens sighted and that the ground itself seems to be having issues given that it's making all manner of strange and sometimes very loud noises. This has caused the townsfolk to take it upon themselves to stay inside and keep quiet. The Doctor, being the Doctor and all, decides he'll make as much noise as he pleases and in turn he succeeds in bringing the aliens out. They are, as the title of the serial implies, the Shalka and they're able to use their powerful shrieks as a powerful sonic weapon. After this incident the Doctor gets in touch with UNIT and expresses his displeasure with the situation, but in order to get out, he'll have to head underground and get his TARDIS back. Given that the Shalka have congregated down there and seem to be able to navigate their way through the lava filled underground, this won't be easy. And when it turns out they intend to launch a plan to exert their dominance over the planet, well, we all know the Doctor won't be turning his back on a plight like that…
Although there were plans made for a follow up series, the announcement from the BBC that Doctor Who would return to television cut the life of this ninth Doctor short. Not considered to be an official part of the TV series' continuity, we never did get that follow up and that's a bit of a shame. Yes, by modern standards where CGI animation now seems the norm this Flash animation does seem a bit primitive. In fact, it seems more like a motion comic than a cartoon as often times only one part of a character will move and the backgrounds are often stationary. Richard Grant, however, does make for an interesting Doctor and the storyline written by Paul Cornell, who was no stranger to the series, is actually quite good.
Though obviously Grant is only doing voice work here, he plays the Doctor with quite a bit of attitude. This is not a cheery Matt Smith style Doctor, Grant's take is more curmudgeonly, he's not all that friendly and for the first half or the storyline basically just wants to get back to his TARDIS and get out of there. Of course, as the story plays out and the different layers are peeled back to reveal a considerably more important problem, his reluctance wanes but throughout, let it suffice to say that he does have an attitude. Sophia Okonedo is also quite good here as Alison Cheney. She brings a bit of humor to the role and is a likeable character. She and the Doctor wind up making a decent enough team that when this is all over with you do find yourself a little remiss that they didn't have further adventures together.
The design work from Cosgrove Hall, the animation company responsible for bringing all of this to visual life, is, as stated, limited by modern standards. With that having been said, it's quite appealing. The Doctor himself has a dark look here, he almost likes like a villain at times, while the TARDIS looks more or less like the TARDIS we all know and love. The Shalka themselves are interesting aliens, they look like a cross between a worm and a cockroach and have an appreciably icky quality to them. Bold use of color is a constant throughout the series that helps to pump up the visuals a bit and all in all, this one turned out to be a considerably more engrossing story than was first expected. Though we'd obviously get another ninth Doctor in the not too distant future, it's nice to have this one time take on the character preserved and those who didn't bother with it when it was first broadcast on the web who appreciate the series ought to check it out.The DVD:
Doctor Who: Scream Of The Shalka arrives on DVD in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks about as good as the animation style employed to bring the show to life will probably allow for. Colors are reproduced quite nicely and the line work visible in the animation stays solid. There is some obvious banding in spots but no serious issues with anything but the most minor of compression artifacts. Detail is only as strong as the material so don't expect too much here, this isn't hyper detailed CGI animation, it's Flash done over a decade ago but it holds up well and this is a nice presentation of the source material.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is fine, it's properly balanced and consistently crisp and clear sounding. The score sounds good and the effects are used well. There isn't a ton of channel separation here but it sounds fine, there are no problems. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.Extras:
Although the packaging identifies this as a two-disc release, it is in fact only a single disc release, though it's still fairly stacked with the kind of supplements that Doctor Who fans have come to expect from the recent BBC special editions.
First up is a commentary track with series director Wilson Milam, producer James Goss and writer Paul Cornell moderated by Martin Trickey in which the three men discuss their involvement in the serial and how it came to be. You really and truly get the impression as this track plays out that these guys figured that this was where the series really was going to go, and at the time they were doing it, in their defense it did look that way. As such, we get an interesting talk about what they were trying to do, how they hoped to expand the series in this format, and what it was like working with the BBC on all of this. Note that you can't get to this track off of the main menu, but it's there, you just need to switch audio tracks once you start the feature.
Carry On Screaming is a great twenty-six minute long featurette that explains the origins of this particular serial in a whole lot of detail. We start off with some background information on the state of Doctor Who in general in 2002 and then explore how BBCi opted to bring the series to the web for the fortieth anniversary. We learn how Cosgrove Hall came onboard to do the animation and how the BBC wound up cutting down not only the budget for the serial but also plans for this incarnation of the ninth Doctor to appear in some follow up stories. It's a detailed examination of the history of this sort of rogue chapter in the series' continuity, and it's quite interesting in its own right. It does cover much of the same ground as the commentary did but the involvement of producers Martin Trickey, Muirinn Lane Kelly and Jelena Djordjevic as well as animation director Jon Doyle and host/researcher Daniel Judd give it enough of its own perspective that you'll want to check it out.
Also found on the disc is a featurettes from 2003 called The Screaming Sessions which is a collection of interviews with voice actors Sophia Okonedo, Jim Norton, Diana Quick, Craig Kelly, Anna Calder-Marshall and director Wilson Milam. It runs roughly seven minutes and features some interesting footage of the crew doing their thing in the studio in addition to the more formal interviews in which all involved express their enthusiasm for the project. Interweb Of Fear is a quick history of the BBCi team and the BBC website and how the inclusion of Doctor Who material on that website has helped it grow. It's twenty-four minutes in length and includes input from internet consultant Martin Belam, editor Ian Garrard, producer James Goss, BBC commissioner Martin Trickey, rights expert Ann Kelly, iPlayer inventor Ben Lavender and Doctor Who executive producer Russell T. Davis. The focus here is how the site grew from something that was simply intended to be informational to an alternate content delivery platform.
From there, closing out the extras we get a text trivia track (this is interesting and it offers up not only random bits of trivia but also a lot of interesting information about the various revisions that the script wound up going through to get to the story we see in the feature), a still gallery, an option to play the music from the serial on its own overtop of a single still, a trailer for the upcoming DVD special edition release of Doctor Who: Terror Of The Zygons, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Doctor Who: Scream Of The Shalka is certainly a different take on how to bring Doctor Who to life than some of us will have seen before but despite the fact that the animation is a bit limited, the powers that be did a good job here. The design work is interesting to look at, the characters are intriguing, the alien menace is sufficiently evil and this ninth Doctor quite a good reluctant hero. The BBC's DVD release is also quite good, offering up the material in very nice shape and with a very good selection of extra features as well. Recommended.