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17x6. Shada
Writer: Douglas Adams
Director: Pennant Roberts
Script Editor: Douglas Adams
Producer: Graham Williams

Synopsis: The Doctor is summoned by an old friend, the retired Time Lord Professor Chronotis, who now works as a Cambridge professor and has "borrowed" an immensely powerful Gallifreyan book which he wants the Doctor to return for him. The book is also being sought by a megalomanical scientist named Skagra who has absorbed the mental abilities of a number of famous geniuses and who hopes to use the powers of Time Lord criminal Salyavin to render his mind one with the entire universe.

Review: "Shada," needless to say, has a complex and troubled history. Intended as the final serial of Season 17, it was left incomplete due to industrial disputes at the BBC and never transmitted. Now restored with linking narration by Tom Baker to fill in the parts of the story that were never filmed, it is perhaps unique as a BBC-produced television feature that is of questionable status in the canon. Footage from the unused serial was incorporated into "The Five Doctors" and implied that the events of the serial were interrupted and never took place. To complicate matters further, the BBC eventually also produced an animated version of the story that features Paul McGann's incarnation as the Doctor remembering that he had unfinished business at Cambridge and persuading Romana and K-9 to rejoin him to track down Professor Chronotis.

So did the events of this restored serial "really happen" in the Whoniverse? There's no definitive answer, of course, but either way, I'd say that the material for a potentially strong installment was certainly here. The script, like "City of Death," again finds Douglas Adams portraying the two Time Lords in a more relaxed setting at first, punting near the campus and sitting down for tea with Professor Chronotis. Adams' typically whimsical humor is in evidence throughout, particularly in the dialogue, such as Chronotis forgetting that he has "a mind like a sieve" and the Doctor's reaction to the invisible spaceship ("Do you see what I don't see? Neither do I"). One of the unfilmed scenes that I really wish we could have seen comes at the end of Episode 3, when the Doctor convinces Skagra's ship that he is dead and therefore poses no threat, only to discover that he's been a bit too clever when the ship cuts off his air supply, informing him, "Dead men do not require oxygen." And Skagra's apparent punishment at the end - being imprisoned on his own ship while its computer expounds at length on what a wonderful person the Doctor is - strikes me as an amusing yet appropriate comeuppance.

"Shada" also boasts several strong guest characters. First, of course, is Chronotis himself, a loveably absent-minded but intelligent eccentric who turns out to be the Time Lord criminal Salyavin; while it's certainly possible to imagine how his powers of thought projection could be abused, his benevolent manner suggests that, like the Doctor (who claims to admire him), he probably mostly just fell on the wrong side of Gallifrey's regressive establishment. Skagra emerges as one of the more interesting villains, if only by virtue of his motive: rather than wanting to "take over" the universe (a concept that Douglas Adams reportedly disliked as motivation for a villain), he wants to become one with the universe mentally. Chris Parsons and Clare Keightley, meanwhile, are effective as guest characters who are themselves competent and intelligent but nonetheless in over their heads. The two of them, along with Chronotis, have a clever final scene trying to deflect suspicion from a policeman who's been called in to investigate the theft of a room (Chronotis' office, which is actually his TARDIS) and isn't sure what to make of the disappearing police box.

The limits of the restoration become more apparent as the story progresses and the action increasingly shifts to locations where filming evidently had not yet been completed (specifically the TARDIS control room and certain of the spacecraft scenes). In particular, the confrontation with Skagra in which he fully reveals his scheme to the Doctor (a scene which I remember being especially striking in the animated restoration) is lost; I appreciate the concept, and Baker does the best he can with the narration, but it just doesn't have the same impact that actually seeing it probably would have. The music, which is the work of McCoy-era composer Keff McCulloch, also feels a bit anachronistic, reminding me more of...well, an '80s Who serial, I suppose. Still, it's hard to fault the restoration in general, as it's clear that the team behind this release were doing the best they could with the material available to them, and they admirably resist the temptation to "update" the special effects.

Because so many critical scenes are lost towards the end, I am refraining from giving "Shada" a star rating, but it looked like it had the stuff of a *** or ***1/2 serial from what's left and from what I know of what's missing. Though it stumbles in a few places (such as the seeming indifference of the passersby in Episodes 1 and 2 to a floating sphere and to Skagra's bizarrely flamboyant costume), it likely would have ended Season 17, and the tenures of Douglas Adams and Graham Williams on the series, on a high note.


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