Doctor Who: Shada
by Daniel Tessier
Contains Spoilers (last paragraph)
Shada is the legendary lost story of Doctor Who. Unlike the many episodes "missing" (read erased) from the archives, Shada is legendary because it was never finished in the first place. Roughly halfway through the filming of the six-part serial, industrial action hit the BBC and caused enormous disruption to the programme production. In late 1979, disputes over pay and procedure at first led to lighting technicians switching off the lights and scuppering any night shoots, before further industrial action led to a complete halt to filming. This was to be an ongoing problem for several years; as late as 1987, recording of the first episode of Red Dwarf was almost prevented by an electricians' strike. In this, and most cases, recording continued once the dispute was resolved. However, in the case of Shada, the BBC was so far behind that they were forced to let some programming go, and priority was given to various high-profile Christmas specials. Even with a significant portion of filming completed, Shada was not remounted.
With any other series, this would probably had left it to slip into obscurity, but not with Doctor Who. It's quite strange that the story is remembered as lost, when there have been so many different versions of it over the years. The BBC released the recorded footage on video in 1992, roughly developed into a full story with an electronic soundtrack and linking narration from Tom Baker. Audio drama company Big Finish created a version in 2003, starring Paul McGann as the Doctor (Tom Baker having reduced his involvement in Doctor Who in this period), which went out as both a radio serial and a webcast with some limited animation. Most recently, the story was novelised by Gareth Roberts, and the talking book was read by Romana actress, Lalla Ward. And that's not including various unauthorised projects in different media, such as Ian Levine's unoffical animated reconstruction. Far from being lost, Shada exists in more versions than any other Doctor Who story, with the possible exception of the first Dalek serial.
Nonetheless, there's something very exciting at the prospect of a complete version of Shada finally being released by the BBC, some almost 38 years late (the original release was scheduled for January to February, 1980). This is the closest that fans will ever get to seeing a true televised version of Shada, in a form as close to the vision of its creators as possible. Back in 1979, the serial was scripted by Douglas Adams, with some oft-overlooked input from producer Graham Williams, and directed by Pennant Roberts. Common procedure at the time was to work from a lenghthy rehearsal script and then for the writer and director to rework this into a workable camera script, almost immediately prior to recording. Because of the length of the serial and the timing of the disruption, there was never even a completed camera script for Shada, without dialogue, visual direction or effects sequences finalised beyond what has already been released.
As such, it must have been a daunting task for Charles Norton, the producer/director who headed the team who animated the missing scenes. Norton's team previously animated the missing serial The Power of the Daleks, starring Patrick Troughton, and the lost Dad's Army episode "A Stripe for Frazer." Part of the reason that Shada was chosen was the short turnaround required; completing a partial story takes less time than animating one from scratch. Nonetheless, completing a project like this in a mere five months is quite remarkable, and Norton put in a lot of work in his own time to make it happen. That's because the other reason for Shada being chosen is the desire of so many people involved to finally make it happen, including every major cast member still alive today, who all returned to record new dialogue for the story.
Having developed a complete camera script for the unfilmed scenes, Norton recruited various technicians and artists to complete the production. This included Mike Tucker, visual effects assistant on Doctor Who in the 1980s and model unit supervisor on a number of episodes of the revived series. Tucker utilised techniques and equipment that would have been available to the high end of television production in 1979 to produce new model shots and visual effects. The new animated sequences involved green screen capture of the cast in order to generate movement that matched the actors in the original footage, while the style of artwork is close enough to realism to not jar, while still having a pleasantly old-fashioned feel. Much of both the original completed scenes and the new animated scenes involve visual sequences that are low in, or free of, dialogue, and so creating a unified visual style is essential. It will never be perfect when combining animation with live action, but this is a very close result. The decision was also made to use television boom mikes to record the new dialogue instead of an audio studio, something which goes a long way to help match the soundscapes, although there is still something of the closer, more intimate sound of a radioplay to the new scenes.
Mark Ayres, who composed the scores for several serials in Doctor Who's final two seasons in the 1980s, was brought in to score this version, and does so with far more success than Keff McKulloch's 1992 version. The original score for Shada was intended to be Dudley Simpson, who scored all the serials of that period. Although he was invited to finally write the Shada score, Simpson declined, having long retired. He did, however, work with Ayres to a limited degree, and Ayres has made a point of recreating Simpson's style. Indeed, there are some similarities with the score for City of Death, the exceptionally popular serial broadcast earlier in 1979, which was, like Shada, hurriedly written by Adams and Williams. This is quite apt, considering that Shada is something of a companion piece to City of Death in its general feel and content. Both feature the Doctor and Romana (Tom Baker and Lalla Ward at the height of their own romance) taking what begins as a pleasant holiday in a scenic city - Paris in City of Death, Adams's native Cambridge in Shada. Both stories playfully manipulate time to great effect.
Shada was Douglas Adams's last contribution to Doctor Who, with The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy taking over as his main project from then on (the second radio series was commissioned that year). Anyone who's a fan Hitchhikers or the Dirk Gently books will recognise this as his work, not least because several elements of both this and City of Death were recycled for the first Dirk Gently novel. Shada involves the Doctor and Romana aiding aged Cambridge don Professor Chronotis (Denis Carey), a retired Time Lord, in retrieving The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, a Time Lord book of astonishing power. The book falls into the hands of graduate Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) and his friend Claire Keightley (Victoria Burgoyne). Meanwhile, the villainous Skagra (Christopher Neame) searches for Chronotis for his own reasons. And what of the legendary criminal Salyavin? What of Shada?
It's a silly, jocular sort of story, but one that's backed up with a sense of the ancient and mythic. While Shada has been sometimes poorly re-evaluated in recent years, and it's far from the best example of Doctor Who from this very successful period, it's a charming script with some genuinely funny moments and some spectacular sci-fi ideas. A Time Lord beating his hearts in Morse code; an invisible spaceship parked in a public park; a man with the power to project his mind into others and another man who can steal minds and keep them captive. A book from ancient Gallifrey which warps time and defies analysis. The new animation brings life to some of these concepts which had previously not made it to screen, the mysterious book being foremost amongst them. Indeed, the book is now very much a character in its own right, getting some of the most memorable moments.
The new Shada was unveiled to the press on November 23rd 2017 - Doctor Who's 54th anniversary - with a public release the following day. The screening was followed by a panel hosted by noted Who historian (Whostorian?) Toby Hadoke, and dominated by Charles Norton. Also included were star Daniel Hill and the production assistant on the original, Olivia Bazalgette - now married, having met during the production of the serial in 1979. What became clear from the panel is the tremendous conviction and love that went into making this new version, and the sense of completion that the cast and crew now feel. It is, truly, a landmark achievement for Doctor Who, and it's hard to see what Norton and his team can come up with next to follow this.
While Shada, as noted, has been made available in numerous other forms, that doesn't mean there aren't some surprises for fans with this new version. While it may be strange to think that a 38-year-old story can be prone to spoilers, there is one moment that was kept under wraps until the very last minute.
One of Norton's very first thoughts, upon deciding to complete Shada, was to involve Tom Baker as much as possible. Indeed, the whole endeavour would be rather moot if the Doctor himself were not involved. Norton decided that simply having Baker behind a mike wasn't enough, and the 83-year-old actor took little convincing when Norton asked him to appear for one very last scene as the Doctor. While it's not quite the first appearance by Tom Baker as the Doctor on screen since he left the role in 1981, it is certainly a rare and special occurrence. Recorded using 1970s studio equipment on a reconstructed TARDIS control room set, the Doctor's final appearance in Shada is a magical moment. He seems such a nice old man...
Shada is available for download at itunes
Daniel Tessier February 23 2017