Shada - At last, it's time has come....
2017/2018 DVD/Blu-ray Packages include:
It's worth noting that the reviews and listings below all refer to
earlier incomplete versions of the story,
During the aborted making of this story, only the outdoor location filming and the first of three studio sessions were completed. The story was not scored until the mid-1990's, when the existing footage with added special effects was linked together with narration by Tom Baker and released on VHS video. The story has never been shown on or syndicated for broadcast television.
2013 DVD Packages include:
However, there is an earlier VHS reconstruction of Shada, which I believe was created privately by archivist Ian Levine before trading amongst fans caused a copy to land in my lap around 1990 or 1991. While presenting the footage in a much more rough and raw state, the story itself remains much more complete thanks to the full length text drawn from the rehearsal scripts to fill in all the missing scenes. The finished effect makes it feel as though you have switched to reading the novelization each time a scene is missing, which really is the next best way to enjoy a Doctor Who story. Douglas Adams' writing clearly appears far more balanced and interesting in this form, reminding one why he became such a celebrated writer.
Then of course there is a 3rd version, which IS included on the DVD, starring Eighth Doctor Paul McGann who never really had a proper era of his own. I can't say I'm excited about that. "Shada" is a Tom Baker story, belonging to this precise point in the show's chronology, and I wouldn't know how to invest in it emotionally any other way.
Rumour is that Ian Levine spearheaded yet another more recent attempt to reconstruct this story, which was rejected by the makers of this DVD. I have no idea how legitimate their reasons may have been, but I can't say I'm motivated to buy what they did put out on DVD. I've already got both "Shada" and "More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS" on VHS. Ideally, even if Levine's new version wasn't usable, the next best thing should have been to remake Levine's older text version with a bigger font and some background music, and let the viewer choose between that and the Baker narration as is often done with optional CGI effects sequences on other Doctor Who DVD releases. This is a great opportunity lost.... at least until some kind of double-dipping Special Edition Ultra-Definition Pink-ray with digital cyber brainload comes along.... at which point the story won't seem so much like fiction anymore.
The story is not without its share of problems. The Krargs don't really have much opportunity to demonstrate that they can accomplish anything at any point in the story. The Doctor's encounter with them bridging episodes 4 and 5 does not demonstrate any strategy for creating an interesting conflict between the two, resulting in an extremely impotent reprise. The script for the encounter bridging episodes 5 and 6 seems poised to produce exactly the same effect. Luckily, the final battle in episode six seems to be much better thought out, and under a good director, would probably work quite well.
Christopher Neame's Skagra does not really have a chance to shine during the existing footage, but his role seems to get more interesting in other portions of the script. One can, however, see more of Neame's villainy in the second season opener of "Sliders", titled "Into the Mystic" (Sliders story no. 10), or as a Sith Lord in the PC video game "Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II". Denis Carey was able to complete nearly all of his scenes as Professor Chronotis, easily the most memorable and beloved of his performances on both Doctor Who and Blake's 7. The humorous Time Lord Chronotis reminds me very much of Patrick Troughton's Doctor, and has a similar appeal. Shada's existing footage shines brightest while developing professor Chronotis and the legends of Gallifrey.
Chris Parsons and Clare Keightly seem to work best while fulfilling the traditional companion role, and when they can put their considerable university educations to good use. They don't work quite as well when responding to the unknown - which they typically do with either too much misplaced emotion, or bland philosophy, or, as happened in the previous story, they need to catch up with the audience. A little too much screen time is spent convincing laymen that science fiction ideas are an intergalactic reality.
The location filming at Cambridge is a lot of fun in itself, and highly memorable, seeming to cement the Doctor's growing popularity with young adults and university students. It's a wonder that they hadn't thought to set a story there before... or since!
Only entering post-production over a decade after it was shot has allowed the task of musical scoring to escape Dudley Simpson's monopoly and land in freelance composer Keff McCulloch's lap instead, making the incidental backing of this story far different from the usual season seventeen fare. The score sounds and works best when traditional sounding instruments like the flute come to the fore. Many scenes get a new boost with music added, such as the moment where a mid-cue switch to low piano notes adds a wonderful underlying menace to Skagra's first conversation with the porter Wilkin. But in other scenes, the music actually seems to be sapping atmosphere out of the story, and a wavering synthetic instrument in the foreground seems to be what spoils it most for me. When all is said and done, there is a lot to enjoy from this story musically.
Had "Shada" actually been properly completed (as in shooting the whole thing with the actors in 1979), it could have beaten "City of Death" and been in contention for best story of the season. But, if you've only got the BBC VHS Video or DVD with abbreviated links narrated by Tom Baker, don't expect it to be quite as wonderful. A bit too much of the essential story just isn't there.
Season Seventeen Rankings:
Shada - New 2017 / 2018 Version:
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