Length Without Narration: 21'17
First of all, I have to say that this is, in a real sense, the very first time I've actually seen this story. I'm sure like many people that for years my Who collection was made up of third, fourth, fifth and even sixth generation copies of off-air stories, often with the episodes lumped together, or even more frequently, an Australian ABC announcer. For years I thought the robot double of the first Doctor in The Chase was actually the spitting image of him, so poor was my copy. Yet pride of place in the "even with the sound up full you still can't hear it and the picture looks like a blizzard" collection came Shada. A copy made by fans, with computer text filling in the gaps between untreated footage, it really was quite poor.
Yet now I have a copy of the "reconstructed" version, put together by JNT and released by the BBC. Okay, let's get the two moans out of the way first:
D'OH No.1: The script book. Okay, it's not part of the episode, but the BBC designed a beautiful-looking scriptbook, with a cut out hole in the cover so that the Who logo will show through. Great idea, except that the logo in question isn't on the first page. Apart from that, it's a lovely book, though only the BBC would have the balls to charge £19.99 for a story that is made up of incomplete footage. (On the subject of packaging, check out the blurb on the back that gives away the revelation of Professor Chronotis being a Time Lord, and also calls him "Dr. Chronotis", despite saying earlier that he's a Professor.
D'OH No.2: The music. The Seeds of Keff. His "Dudley Style" music is just (well, almost) as crap as his usual effluence. Who needs a synthesised cymbal crash when you get to the "sugar" joke? And what is that "record" they're listening to in the punt scene? It totally kills a good scene stone dead. Worst of all though are the scenes with Skagra. Can the guy not think of anything but the same repetitive notes? I really hate the guy. And where are the "voices" that Romana claims she can hear coming from the sphere?
Okay, apart from that, it's a smashing little episode, if slightly indulgent and lacking in any kind of narrative tension. Let's be quite honest about this: Christopher Neame looks and dresses like a stereotypical homosexual. Fine though this is, does a camp mincer really make a scary villain? It's this lack of plot cohesion and purpose that makes Shada the least of Douglas Adams's three stories. The witty lines aren't as witty as in, particularly, City of Death, while Lalla Ward is at her most overplayed. Fun, and nearly an extra mark, but not quite:
Without Narration: 17'21
The Doctor starts this episode by sniffing at the idea of Tandoori Chicken for starters. Is this more of the Doctor's home counties snobbery against colonial foodstuffs or just a starter/main course faux pas?
You know, in a way I'm glad this never made it to TV because it really would have died on its arse. The indulgent plot elements (Cambridge undergraduates helping the Doctor), fannish, intangible plot (a Gallifreyan book that must be recovered) and misfiring comic dialogue all work against it. As a fan I enjoy it, but a mainstream audience would surely have found it tiresome. And Lalla Ward's acting is appalling this episode.
Watch out for Skagra's sphere, which makes Dennis Carey's glasses appear and disappear several times. For the 70s this would probably have been better, but the pace is too slow (remember, in TV terms this was a fortnight) and, for the reconstruction, then Keff McCulloch's grossly inappropriate music jars. It even sounds like Battlefield in places. Thankfully, the "special" effect of the sphere flying is so crap it at least resembles a late 70s production.
Stupidest scene? The Professor's heart beating in morse code. If this had been broadcast then Douglas Adams's reputation as a Who writer would be a lot lower than it is today.
Without Narration: 16'26
Just listen to the exaggerated, breathy way Lalla Ward says "Shada???" at the beginning of this one. She's not even being ironic, just plain crap. And as for that extra playing the fisherman... where did they get him from, Planks'R'Us? They couldn't even hire someone who I would to play Claire.
I feel mean slating this one as I got it as a kind of present, but I have to be honest and say that this really isn't very good. It's too loose, desperately in need of a few more drafts, and lacks cohesion. It's almost at times as if Tom improvised it on gin. And Keff's extremely limited and intrusive music makes him a "musician" sorely in need of a slap. And when was K-9 blaster ever bright pink? Pah!
Without Narration: 15'34
While the first three episodes have got by with Tom giving only small bridging narratives, this episode requires him to dole out enormous chunks of plot. It's a shame in a way, as it's finally starting to kick in, and what's left is more so-so whimsy. Tom's flippancy isn't funny, just annoying, and this is probably one of the five weakest six-parters in the history of the series.
Without Narration: 12'11
For the first time this story, Douglas Adams shows ingenuity with the revelation of Chronotis's Tardis. Seeing the Doctor walking into it from the ship is a top mind-bending moment. If this episode was complete, and Tom's performance more sedate, then maybe it would be a four:
Without Narration: 12'54
More silliness and Ward amateurism here. Check out the comedy scene where the Doctor pins the medal on Romana. Notice anything unusual about it? That's right - it's not even remotely funny. In fact, the only funny thing in this whole story is Tom's narration informing us that "I pressed a button on my helmet and looked hard."
Christopher Neame's final scene is awfully hammy, and would doubtlessly have had some music to back it up if Dudley had been at the reigns. However, Keff clearly doesn't understand the nature of incidental music, so it's either full blast or not at all. The final resolution to this story is so contrived and ethereal that even Pertwee would have complained. (And, looking back over my reviews, how many times have I done that gag? A shorter one than usual, this, so uploading it a year after writing it I realise I perhaps wasn't that inspired).
I have many favourite seasons of the show... Hartnell's were good, The Mighty Trout's of course. Then there was Big Nose rocking in season seven (and not much else), along with seasons 14, 18, and, to a lesser extent, 26. Yet while my favourite seasons tend to be the grittier, more well produced ones, I also LOVE season 17. The ironic camp of Creature from the Pit and The Horns of Nimon, along with the fun of Destiny and Eden, topped off by the sheer brilliance of City of Death. It really is great fun.
So it's a shame to admit that, if Shada had been completed and broadcast, the season would be a lot, lot weaker. While City was the period at its best, Shada shows the very worst of the Adams/Baker/Williams triad. Two smug, self-satisfied leads inanely delivering half-baked lines and believing they're the work of Oscar Wilde. A script-editor's dialogue that is flat, flaccid and lacking in any form of direction. The story is buried amongst all the dirge, and in no way justifies its six episode length. Easily the weakest Tom Baker six-parter (narrowly beating even The Armageddon Factor, which at least had focus and drive), this really is leagues away from the work of the first three Doctors, with an overindulged, plastered star who thinks he's bigger than the show, and a script that really wasn't up to the job. Sorry guys, but it ain't so good.