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Shada: The Doctor Who Story That Exists in Six Different Forms

By Tom Pritchard on at

Yesterday it was revealed that the BBC would be re-releasing Shada, an (in)famous episode of Doctor Who that was written by everyone's favourite towel enthusiast Douglas Adams. The new version features animated sequences that fill in the gaps left by the original production, and it's the latest in a long line of attempts to do the story justice. The sixth, in fact.

WTF is Shada?

Shada is a Doctor Who serial that was original meant to be broadcast at the end of the 1979-80 season, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana. It was written by Douglas Adams as a six episode story, but BBC strike action meant the story ended up unfinished. There were three studio sessions booked, with only the first being completed. Strike action had finished by the time the third studio session rolled around, but since the second session remained unfinished, the BBC shifted focus towards the more lucrative Christmas programming instead.

Incoming producer Nathan John Turner tried to get the story back off the ground, since around 50 per cent had already been filmed, but nothing came to fruition. By June 1980 production had been cancelled.

Douglas Adams reportedly didn't like the story, having had his original idea turned down by producers. He held off on rewrites, assuming time pressure would cause producers to cave and use his original idea, though that didn't work out and he ended up writing Shada fairly quickly. Apparently he was content with it never being seen.

Some of Shada's footage would later be used in 1983's The Five Doctors , in the scene when the fourth Doctor is picked up by the time scoop and help in stasis. This was to cover for the fact Tom Baker didn't want to take part in the anniversary special.

Version #1: 1992 VHS Release

Shada remained unfinished and unseen until 1992, when the BBC released the incomplete story on VHS. Additional footage of Tom Baker (in character) was used to describe and narrate the missing scenes. Each episode was notably shorter than a traditional episode, clocking between 14 and 22 minutes a piece for a total running time of 111 minutes.

The episode wasn't that well received, using the Doctor's supposed failing memory to account for the missing footage. Having watched it, the transitions are quite jarring and it isn't particularly enjoyable.

This version was also released on DVD in 2013 as part of The Legacy Collection box set - coupled with the 30th anniversary documentary special 30 Years in the Tardis.

Version #2: 2003 Big Finish Audio Drama

In 2003 the BBC commissioned Big Finish, who produce various Doctor Who audio dramas, to adapt Shada, featuring the currently incumbent Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor. Tom Baker was apparently approached to reprise his role, but declined to take part.

This version attempted to fit back into the original continuity, and that of other Big Finish series, featuring Romana as Lord President of the Time Lords and explaining that the events of The Five Doctors (in which the Doctor was kidnapped through the illegal use of a time scoop) prevented him from defeating the villainous Professor Chronotis the first time round. That means he needed to go back and set things right, bringing Romana and K9 along to make sure he succeeded.

Because McGann is the Doctor in question, there are some minor differences from the original script - though nothing that takes away from the original story.

This version was also broadcast on BBC 7 in 2005, and released as a standalone CD on the Big Finish website.

Version #3: BBCi Animated Webcast

The main reason for the Big Finish commission was so the BBC could animate Shada as a flash-based webcast, with six episodes in total. The animation was rather rudimentary, and more like a motion comic than a proper animated feature, but it still added plenty of visual context to the audio.

This version was eventually released on the DVD version of Shada, as a DVD-ROM extra that could only be accessed if you put the disc into a computer's DVD disc drive. It's also still available on the BBC website, though you do need to have Flash installed - and not many people do these days. For good reason.

Version #4: The Book

While Douglas Adams would use elements of Shada in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective AgencyShada itself didn't get a print adaption like most other Doctor Who stories. This is reportedly due to the fact Douglas Adams wouldn't allow it. His other stories (The Pirate Planet and The City of Death) also didn't get print adaptations.

The book eventually did get a full prose adaptation in 2012, written by long-time Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts. Roberts used the latest versions of the story's script while adding new material to deal with various plotholes and unanswered questions in the original story.

This version was also available as an audio book, read by Lalla Ward with John Leeson as the voice of K9.

Version #5: Ian Levine's Unofficial Animated Version

Radio DJ and producer Ian Levine is a noted Doctor Who superfan, having claimed to have saved a number of the original stories (including the first Dalek story) from the BBC's archive-clearing destruction. He personally financed an animated reconstruction of Shada's missing segments in 2011, managing to convince almost all of the original cast to return and record the relevant audio. The only cast member who didn't return was Tom Baker, so Levine hired an impersonator to take on the role of the Fourth Doctor. The late David Brierley was unable to reprise his role, so John Leeson was brought on to voice K9.

The animation isn't the best, but it's no worse than the earliest animated episodes the BBC produced to stand in for the missing episodes from the '60s.

Levine had hoped to sell his animated version to the BBC ready for Shada's then upcoming DVD release, but the commissioning editor of the DVD range didn't use it. This version eventually leaked onto Torrent sites, and despite the budgetary restraints this version has been incredibly well received.

Version #6: The BBC's Animated Version

And here we are now, another official BBC version that does what Levine did, but on a much larger scale - and with much better quality. The main difference here is that Tom Baker will be returning to voice the fourth Doctor, alongside the rest of the original cast. Presumably John Leeson will be back as K9, even if he didn't play the robot dog in the originally shot footage.

This version isn't just special for its animation, which is unique amongst Doctor Who recreations since it's in colour. The restoration team have also used the original negatives to remaster seven hours of original studio-shot footage ready for an HD release.

The story is set to be released as digital download on 24th November, then on Blu-ray and DVD on 4th December.


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