Audio Review: Doctor Who: Shada
DESPITE being described as the great, “lost” Doctor Who story from the show’s classic years, Shada has actually popped up a few times in various media formats already. First off we had a VHS release of the existing footage, with linking narration from Tom Baker, then a couple of years back Eighth Doctor Paul McGann starred in a webcast (and subsequent audio) of the story for the Beeb’s Who website.
For those of you not in the know, Shada was originally scheduled to conclude the series’ 17th season, not quite the all-guns-blazing finale of contemporary Who, but still a major six-part adventure written by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams.
Flitting between Cambridge and space, the story revolved around the power-crazed Skagra’s hunt for an incredibly powerful book called the Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey - now in the possession of the enigmatic Professor Chronotis - and the Time Lords’ prison planet, with rumoured cameos from various old monsters incarcerated within its cells.
Then a major strike hit the BBC (it was the ‘70s after all!), scuppering the production of many shows and leading to Shada’s cancellation. Subsequent efforts to shoot the missing footage came to nought, and the story eventually passed into legend.
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Now, over 30 years later, a new, perhaps definitive version based on the original scripts has made it into a novelisation, penned by long-term Who scribe Gareth Roberts following Douglas Adams’ sad passing in 2001.
This interpretation of the story includes new material from Roberts to rectify plotholes and answer unresolved issues in the script which could very well have been sorted during filming had it proceeded (the whole story was actually written in just a matter of days). It’s not the same as having Adams himself write the book, but it’s the next best thing without a shadow of a doubt, and it’s actually hard to tell who wrote what without further research.
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The audio version is fortunate enough to have the talents of Lalla Ward (Romana) and John Leeson (K9) to bring it to life, and they achieve that admirably, injecting just the right degree of humour into proceedings without ending up as a pastiche.
Be careful what you wish for, goes the old saying, an adage which might have been applied to this project if it hadn’t succeeded so well. It’s never going to replace an actual completed version of the story filmed back in the ‘seventies, but that’s probably for the best, as what we are treated to here is a polished, well-written version of Adams’ stories which irons out the flaws to present an accomplished piece of Who fiction which stands on its own feet.