Shada (VHS)

Thish week, errr, I would like to nominate, errrr, Shada. Yes, it’s quite a landmark moment, as I deviate from the path of canon for the first time. The plan is to view everything ever made in order of its original broadcast/release – and I’ll explain what’s included and what’s not when the classic series comes to an end – but I’m making an exception for this. Partly because I’ll be watching the animated version too later on, and partly because it’s nice to see it in the context of what was supposed to have preceded and followed it.

There are a few aspects of the video production that mark it out as being inconsistent with the era, most notably the music, which is unmistakably using early 90s technology, and reminiscent of a Mr Bean score. We’re thrown straight into the linking material in part one, before the titles, featuring an aged Tom Baker/Fourth Doctor talking about how he’s always felt at home in museums. Is this the first appearance of The Curator from Day of the Doctor?

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be The Doctor or Tom – he talks about the production and the cast during the intro, but uses “I” and “me” throughout his descriptions of the missing scenes. It’s probably best not to think about it too much. I’m not sure about the decision for these links to be written in the past tense, as it takes you out of the story at times. Not that there’s any truly satisfying way to cover the gaps without it being at least a little jarring.

But as for the story itself, it’s a cracker. I instantly loved Professor Chronotis – I always love the dynamic between The Doctor and a hitherto unseen mate, and it’s a great performance of a doddery old sweetheart. The scenes of his death were quite touching, although slightly hampered by K-9 sounding smug and sarcastic when relaying information about his condition. This version of the character lacks any emotional range, which is a limitation of the choices made by Brierley. I don’t mean to bang on about it, but I think this portrayal makes for the most badly acted companion of all time. Good riddance.

But, hurrah, the professor is not dead after all! Not quite clear on how that happened, and I’m not sure whether that’s the fault of the script or the fact that the completed material became less and less frequent as time went on. Regardless, the plot is as meandering and sketchy as you’d expect from Douglas Adams, but it’s more than made up for by some genuinely funny dialogue and really strong characters.

Skarag was a great villain, more so than the Krargs, who once more felt like they were only there to tick a box marked “contains monster”. Chronotis’s loveability survived the revelation that he was in fact a dangerous criminal in hiding, but my highlight was Chris, or Bristol. He’s a little bit Arthur Dent – a fish out of water, mildly irritated by the new, alien things he’s encountering, but taking it all in his stride. He’d have made a great new companion – it seems like ages since we’ve had a human from “our” time on the TARDIS, let alone a male one.

The location filming in Cambridge looks great. I’ll be seeing that punting scene again fairly soon. I’d always wondered what was originally supposed to happen instead of The Doctor being plucked out of the time stream – I always assumed he was about to fall backwards into the water, so I’m a little bit disappointed that he didn’t.

In the end, it was indeed like watching an old reconstruction – one of those where there’s tantalising glimpses of surviving clips, but not always the bits you really want to see. It’s a shame that so many of the cliffhangers were missing, as old Tom relaying them in a couple of sentences could never be as dramatic. Nevertheless, it’s clear that this would have been a great story, maybe even challenging Douglas’s other story as the highlight of the season.

Not sure how to approach the marking on this one – do I judge it on the merits of the final product, or on the basis of how the source material was intended to be seen? After all, I never used to deduct marks for missing episodes because of how recons aren’t as good as actual footage. But really, by any criteria, this was a highly enjoyable viewing experience – a fascinating taste of what could have been, yet still entertaining in its own right.

RATING: 9

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