Close to a hundred episodes of the long-running BBC science-fiction show Doctor Who are considered lost or are incomplete. With the renewed popularity in the show since its revival in 2005, the BBC has been aggressively trying to find, with some success, the missing episodes or reconstruct them using original audio tracks, modern animation and original production stills. Though most of the lost episodes involve the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, respectfully, one of the most famous “missing” episodes involves the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, considered by many to be the most popular actor to have played the role. Shada, the episode that was literally 37 years in the making, is quite possibly the best example of all of these.
One of the most dangerous and brilliant minds in the Universe, Skagra from the planet Dronoid is trying to locate the Time Lord’s maximum security planet Shada from where he plans to extract knowledge from the galaxy’s greatest criminals so that he can control the universe. Unfortunately for Skagra, the knowledge of the planet and its location is a closely guarded secret known only to the Time Lords.
However, Skagra learns that there is a Time Lord living on Earth, posing as a Professor Chronos, a college professor at St. Cedd’s College in Cambridge, England. Sensing danger, the professor calls for help from his old friend and protégé the Doctor. However the Doctor and his companion, Romana, are unable to prevent Skagra from attacking the professor and taking the secrets of Shada from his mind. Soon a battle of wits begins between Skagra and the Doctor with the fate of the universe at stake.
Technically Shada was never lost, per-se, it was just never finished. The script was written by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently) who originally wanted to write a tale about the Doctor deciding to retire from adventuring. When that concept was rejected, Adams wrote a tale dealing with the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey’s crime and punishment. It was the first time in two years the mythos of the Time Lords was examined, because it was felt that Gallifrey had been done to death. Adams script was accepted, but it was considered bloated and was heavily rewritten. (Though uncredited, the show’s producer, Graham Williams, co-wrote the final draft.) Shada was intended to be the final episode of the 1979-1980 or 17th season of the show and was scheduled to air in January 1980. It was (and still is) officially listed by the BBC as the 109th episode featuring the Fourth Doctor.
Filming began in late October 1979. Exterior scenes, which were shot on film around Cambridge, were completed. The production then went to the BBC studios for four days of videotaping the interior scenes. (The use of video and film in a single episode was common in all BBC programming of the 60s-80s.) After the first day of interior shooting, the production had to shut down due to a technician’s strike.
Though the strike was settled quickly, it threw off the entire BBC shooting schedule. The network re-prioritized studio space for its upcoming Christmas programs, leaving Shada in limbo, with only about 50% of it completed. Tom Baker was upset about this, stating in an interview: “SHADA was one of my favorite Doctor Who stories. I have many fond memories of shooting the location scenes in Cambridge, and it was disappointing not to finish the story in studio.”
Williams tried and failed to get approval to finish the episode. His replacement, John Nathan-Turner, also tried as late as June 1980 to finish Shada and show it as a Christmas special that year but he could not secure studio time. This effectively killed all hopes of seeing the project finished, or so it seemed.
Nathan-Turner had the foresight to have all materials for Shada put in the BBC archives. In 1983 parts of it were used in the 25th anniversary special The Five Doctors when Baker declined to participate. In 1992 an abbreviated version was released on VHS. An audio version was released in 2003 with the eighth Doctor, Paul McGann. (Baker also declined to participate in this project.) The story was also novelized and released as an audiobook in 2012.
Then the BBC decided to do a full and complete restoration/reconstruction. They hired the episode’s original recording engineer who used the same audio equipment he did in 1979. The BBC then gathered the original cast, including Baker and Lalla Ward (Romana) to make new audio recordings of the missing scenes. The animation team who had reconstructed the Second Doctor’s episode The Power of the Daleks then animated the missing scenes. It was originally released in the United Kingdom in the fall of 2017.
While the episode contains some of the best moments of the Tom Baker-era of Doctor Who, it may be too soon to declare if this episode is a classic or not. Admittedly some parts tend to drag on. Though Douglas Adams himself was not too happy with this script (at the time he had started working on Hitchhiker), sharp eared viewers will definitely pick up some of Adams’ unique style of word play. This is an episode that adds much to the Time Lord mythos, and that alone should make it worthwhile for any die-hard fan. More importantly, having one more opportunity to see Baker in action as The Doctor is plenty of reason to watch this episode. And if that is not enough, be sure to watch to the very end of the episode. You will not be disappointed!
As for the recreation itself, it is one of the best that this reviewer has ever seen. The animation team has done a much better job than they did in Power of the Daleks. Particularly well done is the way they captured Baker’s expressive facial features. The attention to sound also paid off. If you close your eyes you cannot tell which parts were made in 1979 and which parts were made in 2017. Part of this is due to Baker’s still having a clear, strong voice after all these years, which is saying a lot since he was 83 when he recorded it!
The Bottom Line:
Odds are that this will be Tom Baker’s swan song as The Doctor. If so, he has left his fans with a very nice farewell and thank-you present. For those who will always see Baker in control of the TARDIS, this will bring a smile to your face. -8.5/10
Doctor Who: Shada is currently available on Blu-Ray and Amazon Prime. It will be released in America on DVD by BBC Worldwide on November 6, 2018.
Staff Writer/Resident Historian: Nerd Nation Magazine