There are currently 97 episodes of classic Doctor Who missing from the archives, but one story that’s never counted in this tally is the 1979 adventure ‘Shada.’ This is because, frustratingly, it was never completed. Strike action at the BBC halted its production, and although multiple attempts were made to remount the recording and complete the serial, ‘Shada’ has – for many years – existed only in pieces.
And yet, bizarrely, there are now more ways to enjoy this lost classic than any other Doctor Who story (no mean feat, as anyone who’s ever owned the myriad versions of ‘Spearhead from Space’ will tell you!) So as we raise a glass to Douglas Adams’ fine contributions to the Whoniverse, we ask the question: what is the best way to enjoy ‘Shada’ today?
Keep it simple: The VHS version
If you’re a purist, you might be drawn to the original source material. In 1979, ‘Shada’ existed as a pile of scripts, a handful of studio recordings, and some filmed sequences which were captured on the streets of Cambridge. Arguably, this is as close to the bona fide ‘Shada’ experience as we’re ever going to get. For a few glorious moments, we can bask in the wonderfulness of Tom Baker being chased by a floating sphere – on a bike – and pretend that the dark shadow of strike action never fell on the BBC studios…
For this, you’ll want the 2013 DVD release (included in The Legacy Collection box set) which features linking material from Tom Baker to plug the story’s gaps. It’s a very bare-bones affair, and merely reuses footage that was captured for the VHS release in 1992, but it’s the version that arguably feels the most ‘pure.’
However, if you’re hoping for something a little more exotic, this DVD release also comes with an intriguing bonus feature…
Something flashy: The Paul McGann version
Yes. Bizarrely (and wonderfully, depending on your viewpoint) the 2013 DVD comes with an animated version of ‘Shada’ that you can access via a web interface on your PC.
And whilst this may seem random, there is a rationale for its inclusion. In 2003, the BBC produced this special edition for broadcast on its BBCi service. But instead of adhering to the original scripts (and original cast) ‘Shada’ was repurposed as an adventure for the Eighth Doctor. So the story actually begins with Paul McGann’s Doctor arriving on Gallifrey to collect his old friend Romana (now President) and the ever-faithful K9, returning them to Earth to complete a strange, unfinished adventure…
It’s an interesting idea, and one that’s a real treat for fans of the Eighth Doctor. But it’s fair to say that, in animation terms, this rendition of Shada won’t knock you off your bike. It’s the very basic of basics; as the characters’ lips don’t move, this edition is more of a glorified slideshow than a true cartoon, although the audio presentation is of an excellent standard as it’s produced by Big Finish.
So you could always close your eyes as you listen to the Eighth Doctor and Romana confront the wicked Skagra and pretend that it’s a radio drama instead, (or pick up the Shada Big Finish CD!)
High definition goodness: The nicely-animated version
It was a big surprise to everyone when the BBC released ‘Shada’ in 2013 without any animation. Many fans were perplexed, particularly missing episode hunter Ian Levine who had offered the BBC his own specially-made animated version to save them the time (and money!)
However, in 2017 the BBC saw sense and finally animated ‘Shada’s’ missing scenes together with newly-recorded dialogue from Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, and other members of the original cast. The complete ‘Shada’ animation is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and also includes a specially-written soundtrack composed by Doctor Who veteran Mark Ayres.
And whilst this version of Shada isn’t assembled in its original six part format, it’s probably the most definitive version we’re ever likely to get, not least because (spoiler alert) it also includes a newly-filmed TARDIS scene with the Fourth Doctor and Romana at the story’s conclusion, which is a joy to watch.
Moreover – for the really hardcore Whovian – if you insert the DVD into your computer, you can access a range of intriguing special features, including Douglas Adams’ original scripts, the 1979 Doctor Who annual, and even a knitting pattern for the Fourth Doctor’s scarf! (Or you could just order one from Lovarzi…)
Personally, this is my favourite edition of the lost classic, and encapsulates everything I love about Douglas Adams and Doctor Who, even if the animation isn’t quite at Disney standard…
Page-turner: The Worshipful and Ancient novelisation
Finally, if you favour a gentler, more in-depth ‘Shada’ experience, you might want to read Gareth Roberts’ 2014 novelisation (based upon Douglas Adams’ original notes and scripts) as it greatly expands upon the ‘televised’ version. For example, when the character of Chris is on board the TARDIS, he discovers a cinema, a cricket pavilion and an Olympic-sized swimming pool as he wanders its vast, labyrinthine chambers. Roberts has also tweaked the bicycle chase scene so that it now takes place at night, which had in fact been Adams’ original intention (a decision which had been cancelled due to the ongoing strikes at the BBC.)
Now I haven’t read this version, so you’ll have to take a punt if you choose to dive in. However the ‘Shada’ novelisation is still available on Amazon, where it’s currently rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, so it must have something going for it. Indeed, many people have praised the way in which Roberts has fused Douglas Adams and Doctor Who with his own, unique writing style. (There’s also an audiobook version read by Lalla Ward, if headphones are more your thing…)
But tell us – which version of ‘Shada’ gets your vote? Do you favour 2003’s ‘reimagining’ with Paul McGann? Or do you (like me) consider the 2017 animation to be the definitive ‘Shada’? Let us know in the comments below.
For more about Doctor Who and Douglas Adams, check out our ultimate guide to ‘City of Death‘!
Doctor Who 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) scarf, 18 ft., Season 16 – 17, official BBC scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!
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