*checks watch* Oh, it’s new version of Shada time already?! Seriously though, this is presumably the last time this partly filmed Douglas Adams “classic” is re-released, not just because it’s finally “complete” with the original cast, but because it’s really good! I’m sure one day I’ll do the Paul McGann/Eighth Doctor 2003 version, but this will probably be the only Fourth Doctor version I review… so let’s get too it!
The lost planet Shada, a planet on which the Time Lords built a prison for defeated would-be conquerors of the universe. Skagra, one such would-be conqueror, needs the help of one of the prison’s inmates. He finds nobody knows where Shada is anymore except one aged Time Lord who has retired to Earth, where he is a professor at St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge. Luckily for the universe, Skagra’s attempt to force the information out of Professor Chronotis coincides with a visit by the professor’s old friend, the Doctor…
Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!
Cast of Characters:
The actual new blu-ray transfer looks better than this, to be fair, but still: here are three characters!
The Doctor (Tom Baker) – The Doctor has received a message from his old pal Dr. Chronotis, asking for his help, and he wastes… a bit of time before arriving in his room to help with the most dire of needs: a lost book!
Romana (Lalla Ward) – Romana isn’t new to The Doctor’s ramblings, but she’s soon on board with this visit to Dr. Chronotis, if nothing else to meet such an old, veteran Time Lord…
K9 (David Brierley) – The Doctor’s loyal robot dog, complete with handy laser gun!
Professor Chronotis (Denis Carey) – An extremely old Time Lord who is now retired and living on Earth, though it soon becomes apparent that the deadly book he stole isn’t the only secret he’s hiding…
Skagra (Christopher Neame) – Skagra isn’t interested in something as petty as universal domination, no-no, he wants to unite the universe! … as one mind … under his control…?
Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) – Chris is a post-graduate student of Cambridge University who just happened to end up taking a rather special book from Dr. Chronotis’ library, one that will change his way of thinking forever…
Clare Keightley (Victoria Burgoyne) – Clare is a student of Cambridge University and a friend of Chris Parsons. She ends up dragged into all of this commotion surrounding the “Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey” book…
The Doctor and Chris try to figure out why they feel flat all of a sudden…
First thing’s first, the animation is really good for such an understandably low-budget production. It has a lot more range of motion and facial animation than the team’s previous effort of The Power of the Daleks, and everyone looks recognisable. Despite being more live action than animation it doesn’t really feel off when it switches to one or the other. In fact the rather lovely current-day “cameo” of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor right at the end was more illusion breaking, not that I’d change it for anything. Overall it was a great effort, the new background music is perfect, very reminiscent of the “City of Death” soundtrack (which is good given that was also a Douglas Adams Fourth Doctor script!) and the new model work is the icing on the cake. It was a treat to watch the whole story with the correct actors.
As for Shada itself, it’s a good story, not blow-away amazing but really good. Although it’s presented here as one long film-like story, it was actually a six-parter (you can still see clearly where the cliffhangers should be!) and so for just over two hours the story manages to hold your interest by switching locations a lot and keeping the mystery going.
The Doctor and Romana play off each other brilliantly still, and Prof. Chronotis is the perfect lovably absent minded old man character. Then we get to Skagra, who is so extremely over-the-top in his sneering villain performance that it goes over parody and into just being great fun. Chris and Clare are fine as pseudo-companions when needed, and help fill out some scenes well (the almost entirely silent scene at the start where Chris is trying experiments on the book is great, the animators captured his facials perfectly!). Oh and Skagra’s ship A.I. is also funny, with some very Douglas Adams-y dialogue stemming from it, and the Krargs are suitable slow lumbering 70s Who monsters, I have no issues with them!
The idea of a Time Lord prison planet that was wiped from memory is a good one, and made even better when it’s revealed that Prof. Chronotis is actually escaped prisoner Salyavin, who took “The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey” book with him so no one could find Shada and find out he escaped. Makes me wonder what he did with his apparently rare mind altering abilities to be locked up, and why he escaped and just retired rather than get any kind of revenge. I guess he was probably not doing anything bad with them, per say, but was locked up because he could potentially do something really bad. Either way, it’s a fun storyline!
Let’s face it, you have to be evil to pull that outfit off…
I have to say that Skagra’s floating sphere of doom looks a bit too crap, I’m afraid. Whenever it appears in the actual footage (which is a lot) and “attacks” it really looks like the characters have a grey rubber ball stuck on their head that makes them scream for some reason. They could have at least made it look a bit more metallic! I don’t normally complain about special effects in old shows because it is of its time, but in this case I’m sure they could have done better.
I’m still kind of confused as to how Prof. Chronotis / Salyavin is still alive at the end. He did die, in his final regeneration, but was brought back due to Clare’s messing about with his TARDIS / time in general, but then he is re-absorbed by the sphere in Shada… yet he’s alive and well in the pre-end credits scene… *shrugs* Not a big deal, but I’m kind of confused about the second cheating of death, is all…
I still just don’t like David Brierley as the voice of K9, and despite the fact it would have been incorrect given this was a Season 17 story, I was disappointed it was him still rather than Leeson.
A lot of people have been complaining at the forced omnibus format, rather than having it like the six-parter it was originally planned as. I can see that, if this was an animated missing serial like Power of the Daleks was then I’d be up in arms, but given this story’s partly unflimed nature, unlike the missing episodes which still have their entire soundtracks, I don’t mind them presenting it like a 2 hour+ movie. To be honest, six parters and under I normally watch in one night and skip all but the first opening and last end credits anyway… That being said, I can at least understand why some people felt disappointed by this.
The Doctor is suddenly hit by an aging ray, and then goes off and curates a museum for a while before regaining his old body. That’s what I’m going with! (no, I’m not serious…)
Despite it’s notoriety, not much! The Eleventh Doctor and his pals revisit Shada in the Titan Comic “The One”, but that’s all I can think of, unless you include “The Five Doctors”, where footage from Shada is used to show the Fourth Doctor getting “time-scooped”, the consequences of which seem to erase this story from the timeline (which you can then use as an excuse for the Eighth Doctor version of Shada existing, as it opens with The Doctor and Romana realising they had an “unfinished adventure” they needed to redo…)
Shada is a really good story, and a good example of a six-parter (whether it had the cliffhangers or not!) that doesn’t let itself become stale. It has fun characters, a great villain and plenty of genuinely funny dialogue to go alongside the already good Doctor / Romana combination. A few things stop it from being a perfect 5, but only just! This partly-animated version was a real treat and now the definitive version, so congrats to all involved!