Road trip. Friday. Me and my dad, on the way to Baltimore.
It’s a long trip from Raleigh to Baltimore. Six hours, under the best of conditions. The roads, at least from Raleigh to Richmond — half-way there — are desolate stretches of the American landscape. Boredom inducing.
I took two Doctor Who audios for the ride — Real Time and Shada.
Didn’t listen to Real Time. My dad and I listened to Shada.
I hadn’t heard this since, oh, December 2003.
Shada was written by Douglas Adams as the season finale of season 17, way back during the Tom Baker era in 1979. Due to an electrician’s strike production of the story was halted, and ultimately cancelled with the six-episode story half-completed. Fast-forward two decades and BBCi and Big Finish Productions mounted a new audio production of Shada, this time starring Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor. Some elements of Douglas Adams’ original script were reworked–a new prologue was added explaining why the eighth, not the fourth, Doctor was involved in the story, as some of the footage from the 1979 Shada was used in The Five Doctors when Tom Baker refused to appear in the twentieth-anniversary story. By and large, though, Adams’ work was brought from the television medium to the audio medium, and Shada worked.
The first five episodes worked pretty well in the audio format. The sixth episode, though, needed some visuals, especially for the final mental confrontation with Skagra. And I think they could have updated some of the dialogue to account for the changed circumstances of Romana–there’s a line where she tells Chris that she lands in prisons all the time, which really isn’t true for Madame President Romana. She used to land in prisons all the time.
It’s a little odd to hear McGann saying Tom Baker’s lines, but McGann plays them a little more seriously than Baker did in the unfinished Shada. I do think that McGann tried to play the Doctor a little broader in Shada than he did in any of his other audio stories to fit with the script. I liked McGann’s “K-9, how did I ever manage these past regenerations without you” line. It’s a paraphrase, I know, but the gist is the same.
I really don’t know where this fits into the Eighth Doctor’s chronology. My inclination would be to place it right after Enemy Within (also known as the Television Movie), but it’s clear from the dialogue with Wilkins that the Eighth Doctor has been to Cambridge many times. So it has to come sometime later, but before Neverland/Zagreus (at which point neither the Doctor or Romana would speak glowingly of Rassilon). So before Storm Warning, then, which must occur later in the Eighth Doctor’s life than previously believed, unless the Eighth Doctor immediately after sucking face with Grace visited Professor Chronotis five or six times for the sodding hell of it.
I’d have liked the dialogue to have made it clearer that the reason the Eighth Doctor and Romana were doing the bookstore and museum crawl in Cambridge in the first episode was so they wouldn’t accidentally bump into their previous selves, who were at the same time punting down the Cam and getting picked up by Borusa’s time scoop. The pre-credits sequence sort of explains how that fits, but maybe that would have been a little fanwanky for long-time fans and confusing to an audience who wasn’t familiar with the The Five Doctors (like my dad).
This is what my dad said about Shada. It was a little like Benny Hill. And it was really quite good. Since he doesn’t know much at all about Doctor Who, I think that’s a review anyone could live with. Douglas Adams, Gary Russell, Paul McGann, Big Finish, you all done good.
Originally published here.