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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Shada

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This month’s Doctor Who DVD from the BBC is Shada. Originally intended to be the season 17 finale, only about half of Shada was ever filmed, owing to a strike, and it remains the only unaired Doctor Who serial. Now, for the first time on DVD, Shada sees the light of day.

This release is a three-disc set. The first disc contains the six episodes that make up Shada. Because these episodes were never completed, in 1992, long after he’d given up his title as the Doctor (he was #4), Tom Baker filmed new footage, explaining the parts of the story never actually shot back in the 1970s when Shada was to have aired. The original footage and new bits were spliced together, and the result was released on VHS. Now BBC Home Video has released Shada for the first time on DVD.

Shada is an interesting serial. It is written by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and begins at Cambridge. The Doctor and Ramona (Lalla Ward) answer, quite a bit late, a message sent out by Professor Chronotis (Denis Carey), a retired Time Lord near the end of his life. Unfortunately, Skagra (Christopher Neame) has also come, seeking the location of the Time Lord prison planet Shada, where there is an inmate that can help him take over the galaxy.

The story told in Shada is a bit similar to other tales. There’s a villain, the Doctor and his friends, which this time include Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) and Clare Keightley (Victoria Burgoyne) from the university, investigate. They are captured, escape or are rescued, and fight off Skagra before his plans can be fully realized.

There are some great whimsical moments. Chronotis himself is a pleasant and amusing chap, who often gets verb tenses mixed up, and who has his priorities a bit skewed. His memory isn’t all that reliable anymore, and his rooms at Cambridge, where he has lived for three hundred years, are a traveling TARDIS itself. Plus, any serial with K-9 (David Brierly) makes one smile.

I think the pacing, though, is hampered by the incompleteness of the filming. Many of the action sequences, including the showdown at the end, are among the missing scenes. Baker is great at recapturing the character again in the 1990s, but it’s disappointing not to have these bits, and it keeps the flow from ever taking off. More footage is missing in later episodes than in earlier installments, which makes getting through the serial a little laborious.

There is a second version of Shada included in this set. In 2003, a radio play edition was released, with Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, taking over the lead, and mostly recasting the other parts, save Lalla Ward’s Romona. This has been set to animation, and makes for a more cohesive story. The only unfortunate part about this is that it is Flash, and must be played on a computer, rather than a DVD player.

The extras are plentiful, possibly more than in any other release. There are PDF materials, photo galleries, and production notes, of course, but also tons of featurettes including a discussion about why Shada was not completed, a look at the strike and its impact, and a visit to the shooting locations.

A full length, 90-minute documentary entitled More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS, originally released in 1993, is included. There’s a remembrance of series star Nicholas Courtney, only slightly weird because he isn’t part of this story. Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who, is interviewed. Plus, there are also Doctor Who Stories and Those Deadly Divas, with a couple of extras that focus on the ladies of the show.

I definitely recommend this collection. Granted, it’s not the best presented or looking serial of the series, but it is a rare view of something begun, but not finished. The sheer amount of bonuses included make up for any shortcomings of the episodes themselves, and for any Doctor Who, the opportunity to see a previously missing piece of the puzzle should prove too tempting too resist.

Doctor Who – Shada is available now on DVD.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com