Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shada - "Oh, undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I’m trying to have it banned."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Shada - Details

Season 17, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #109) | Previous - Next | Index

The infamous uncompleted, unaired Tom Baker story written by Douglas Adams, the one that was cannibalized to cover Tom's unwillingness to participate in the 20th anniversary special, "The Five Doctors." Why I'm even attempting to squeeze this is a bit of mystery, even to myself, when I'd said at the start I was going to cover only the televised stories to keep this project from spiraling out of control. But here we are. It's got a page on the BBC site, and the About Time guys covered it, so even though it didn't actually happen, we're going fudge like it did. (Also, since I've decided to include some Big Finish productions, and perhaps other miscellany, "Shada" safely belongs to this project as much as those.)

To write this post, I approached "Shada" from three angles: read Gareth Roberts's 2011 novelization, watched the 2003 BBCi webcast that recast the story for Paul McGann's 8th Doctor and President Romana, and watched the version JN-T produced with Tom Baker's linking narration. In case any of you are considering this story for a blogging project of your own, I don't necessarily recommend this approach. After all that, I feel like the perfect post to cover "Shada" might have been this: nothing more than a clip of Tom Baker from the introduction to JN-T version where he howls, "Shaaaaaada!"

But then I'd hardly feel it was a worthwhile reading/listening/watching this one story as much as I did, so I'll drone on for a bit as if you're still there, but fully understanding if you are satisfied with with mental image of Tom Baker pretending he is grief-stricken for this lost story.

For a story that never properly aired, I certainly got my fill of it. Not hard to see why Douglas Adams wasn't thrilled with what he wrote. However, it's interesting nonetheless and worth the small effort to take in one of the versions. If you're going to check it out, I suggest the video with the linking narration, of the three I managed. The webcast isn't bad, but it's not a fourth Doctor story the way it's told, so I don't really grok the point of it. The animation is shit, but thought of primarily as an audio, it's not a terrible experience. The novel has a few fatal flaws, some inherited, but at least one groan-inducing passage and few not-so-clever post-1979 allusions that must be the work of Gareth Roberts. The linking narration is insufficient to render the story coherent, but you get to watch Tom talk about himself as if he were the Doctor, one suspects a natural inclination for him, and it at least gives a few broad strokes to cover what's missing. A fair amount of the story was shot -- enough that it was actually a little exciting to realize how much of this there actually was. Going back to the days of 20th anniversary special, I somehow got it in my mind that there was hardly any more than what we saw of Four and Romana II punting. Had I known how much had been filmed, I'd have made the effort to see it much sooner than I did.

One element I genuinely liked and thought sly was the Think Tank, where Skagra's plan for universal ... "domination" isn't the word, perhaps "becoming" suits? The phrase "think tank" originated in the late '50s/early 60s as a description of a research institute where intellectuals and wonks were gathered, ostensibly to craft forward-thinking policies, but more practically, seem to functioned primarily as ways to produce a higher class of propaganda to justify American hegemony. Think tanks then, as now, were largely about the subjugation of intellect to ideology. Skagra's totalitarian ambitions are very much dependent on the genius of others.

The lynchpin of Skagra's plan is to subsume the mind of a legendary Time Lord, Salyavin, who had the ability to dominate the minds of others. Salyavin was supposed to be imprisoned in the forgotten Time Lord prison planetoid, Shada. And to find Shada, and therein Salyavin,  Skagra (so many S names!) needed a book in the possession of a doddering old friend of the Doctor's, one Professor Chronotis, who had retired to Cambridge to live out his final days among his books.

The absurdity of the plan, the dialogue here and there (but certainly not consistently), and the plot of this story, show glimmers of Adams's brilliance, but never to the degree fans of the Dirk Gently and Hitchhiker's novels would hope. The impression I gather from Roberts's comments in his Afterword to the novel is that Adams basically put his effort in other areas, including the Hitchhiker series, and "Shada," as a result, never got the full attention it needed from its writer.

I will say, that since this one doesn't really exist, there's enough there that another writer could salvage something of it to make a version for Twelve and Clara that would plug the Shada-shaped hole in the television canon. Chronotis's TARDIS is a lovely idea; a forgotten prison planetoid cryogenically storing scads of old-timey Gallifreyan baddies would be an intriguing dilemma for the Doctor; and I wouldn't mind a story that set out to eviscerate the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and their ilk. The DW universe may be better off without a bunch of Gallifreyan intrigue, and a villain with a plan as bonkers as Skagra's, so I'll stop short of actually advocating for yet another take on "Shada," but leave it out there that one that addressed the shortcomings of the original story, and its several shambling zombies.

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia Entry

chakoteya.net transcript

Sandifer post
There are things that are difficult to accept as a Doctor Who fan - the fact that we will likely never see Patrick Troughton's first episode, or the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Aleister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. But there is perhaps nothing quite so galling as knowing that we are only fifty-five minutes short of a Douglas Adams story. And that unlike Power of the Daleks or The Web of Fear there's not even audio of it. Shada is not merely lost or missing, it is absent - a gaping, crushing, and mocking wound in Doctor Who.
Shabogan Graffiti
Meanwhile, Tom and Lalla alternate between openly mocking everything around them and pretending that they're in an adaptation of an Anthony Trollope novel (which both charms and repels me simultaneously) and Christopher Neame ... commits skin-crawling dignitycide by walking around in Cambridge dressed as a charity shop Ziggy Stardust ... 
And Claire is just another dim, girly sidekick despite supposedly being a Physics postgrad student. And there's a real snobbish condescension in the way that the College Porter is mocked at the expense of all the posh, cerebral characters. 
Thank goodness it was cancelled and DNA got to cannibalise it for parts when writing his infinitely superior Dirk Gently novels. Really, I'd rather have had 'Doctor Who and the Krikkit Men'.
Wife in Space post
Sue: So Keff has found the oboe setting on his Casio keyboard, has he? It still doesn’t make him Dudley. I bet Dudley is turning in his grave.
Me: Dudley isn’t dead.
Sue: So why not just hire Dudley? This makes no sense at all.
AV Club review

TV Tropes page

Locations guide

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...