October 18th, 2012
Shada is a television story from 1979 starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Lalla Ward as Romana and David Brierley as K-9, the incomplete parts of which got a video release in 1992.
Shada is a webcast from 2003 starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Lalla Ward as President Romana and John Leeson as K-9.
Shada is a novel from 2012 by Gareth Roberts.
SHADA is the Sexual Health And Disability Alliance, not to be confused with any of the above.
What Shada actually is is the end of the Golden Age. The moment where it all started to go wrong. Shada has the same status among Doctor Who fandom that Smile (which, oddly, also had an incomplete release in the early 1990s and reconstructions at almost exactly the same time as those of Shada) has for Beach Boys fans. It’s the one that could have been great, that was never completed, and that was followed by a decline after which nothing was ever quite as good again.
The 1979 series of Doctor Who, script-edited by Douglas Adams, does not have a reputation as one of the better series of the programme, apart from the second story, City Of Death, where the show got entirely lucky. Not only was it the best script the programme has ever had (written by Adams in a coffee-fueled weekend after a script that had been commissioned fell through), but it also had the best production the show had ever had, and a great cast including Julian Glover as the villain and featuring cameos from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron. And then ITV went on strike, and showed nothing at all, leading to City Of Death getting the highest ratings the show had ever got.
But the other end of the series was not so lucky. This time it was a BBC strike which meant that the concluding six-parter, the swan-song of both Douglas Adams as writer/script-editor and Graham Williams as producer, had to be cancelled two thirds of the way through filming. Shada was meant to end the series on a high — instead, it ended with The Horns Of Nimon, voted thirty years later by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine as the 189th out of 200 TV Doctor Who stories. The last episode of The Horns Of Nimon got 10.4 million viewers. The first episode of the next series got only 5.9 million, and those viewers never came back. The show would have highs and lows in future, but that was the beginning of the end.
Annoyingly, Shada would have made the perfect bridge into the next series. Christopher Bidmead (the script editor in 1980) and Douglas Adams are often regarded as poles apart — Bidmead being keen to get rid of any elements of ‘silliness’ in the scripts, and to base them more on science. But in fact, their preoccupations at this time were very close to each other’s — artificial intelligence, evolution, teleology and, the big one, entropy. And Shada seems as much like a Bidmead script as an Adams one — based firmly in those ideas, with very little outright comedy.
So from the point of view of the popularity of the show, Shada not being completed is a tragedy. But in another way it’s a good thing. The story halted filming before most of the effects shots were filmed, and the director, Pennant Roberts, was not exactly good at that kind of thing. What we’re left with, since we don’t have the footage of the lava-monsters and space prisons, is a bunch of extremely good character actors sat around in Cambridge (a very telegenic location), being terribly witty at each other. Which is probably better than the finished version would have been.
But a certain kind of Doctor Who fan, of whom we’ll be hearing much more in the future, can’t abide a gap. There have been attempts at releasing ‘finished’ versions of Shada over the years — a video with Tom Baker narrating the missing sequences (to be released on DVD in 2013), a decent adaptation by Big Finish as a limited-animation webcast (the soundtrack of which is also available on CD), and most recently a novelisation by Gareth Roberts, a writer for the new series, who has tried to make it seem like a new Douglas Adams book and done a decent job of it.
But it’s precisely the story’s unfinished nature that allows us to have all these different takes on it. Were the story finished, nailed down, completed, in any kind of definitive form, then these would just be ‘other versions’. Lesser ones.
That’s what Ian Levine wants.
Ian Levine is someone who we’ll be talking about more and more over the next few entries, unfortunately. He is a particular kind of Doctor Who fan, and Who fans actually have quite a lot to thank him for — he saved and found many previously lost episodes of the show from the 60s that would also have been destroyed.
But…well, most of the readers of this site will know the different types of people who get involved in fandoms. Ian Levine owns every DC Comic ever published — he’s the only person in the world to do so. He also owns a record label. It only releases new recordings by people who used to be signed to Motown but aren’t any more. Those two facts should be enough to describe the man for most readers.
And he has claimed, many times, that the only Doctor Who that ‘counts’ is TV Doctor Who, and that there is no such thing as a bad episode of Doctor Who.
To this end, he has hired all the surviving original cast of Shada (except Baker, who’s been replaced by a soundalike) to read the scripts for the parts of the story that were never completed, which he’s had animated, in a bid to ensure that Shada is properly, once-and-for-all, complete. He’s tried to get the BBC to release his animation on DVD, but they’ve refused.
Now it might seem here that I’m picking on a harmless fan indulging his hobby, but the only reason I know Levine’s name is that for the next seven years of the show’s existence, at least, he’s intimately bound up with the story of the show. He was an ‘unofficial continuity adviser’ to the series, and also co-wrote one story, but more importantly he was the person who made himself the voice of the fan within the production office. And what he told the production team was that the fans wanted more continuity references, more returns of old monsters, and entire stories dedicated to explaining the discrepancy between The Moonbase and its novelisation. And so that’s eventually what the show’s production team gave us.
And the thing is, this shows a profound misunderstanding of what Doctor Who is, and nothing shows that more than Shada. Because Levine is trying to create a definitive, perfect, finished version of Doctor Who, and he needs a finished Shada to do that. There can’t be any loose ends, everything has to fit together.
And yet look at the actual story of Shada. It’s about someone who wants to create a perfect universe, controlled by one single mind — someone who wants to fight entropy by becoming the universe and having all of its constituent parts work towards one end. He wants everything ordere, and nothing missing or out of place, nothing ever decayed.
And the Doctor fights against him, because that’s entirely the opposite of everything the Doctor stands for. He wants a scruffy, anarchic world. While Skagra, the villain, fights entropy out of fear it’ll change him, and wants to order everything to keep it at bay, the Doctor fights it because it makes the universe boring, and rather than order he uses intelligence to fight it. While I’d love to see the missing episodes, in a way it’s right for Doctor Who to be a show where over a hundred of the episodes are missing, and you have to use your imagination to experience them at all.
Over the next few years, the show will have many great successes, great individual moments of brilliance. But its overall direction will be determined by reacting to people who, deep down, side with the villains.