This is story has been hailed as something of a mystery and a lost classic. 'SHADA' is the lost un-transmitted story of Doctor Who by Douglas Adams. It was originally meant for Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in 1979-80, as the season finale to Graham Williams' third and final season as producer as Doctor Who. And it would have made a genuinely tremendous finale for three fun-filled seasons of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, due to strike action at the BBC, the story never made to completion.
Now in 2003, Big Finish productions and BBCi for webcasts, have now produced a lavishly new audio production for Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K-9.
I have to say when I played this CD, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd liked how it started with a prologue sequence where the Eighth Doctor visits Romana as President on Gallifrey, and picks her to do the adventure they didn't get to do in Cambridge 1979. I was glad they managed to resolve the continuity of what happened when Tom Baker and Lalla Ward got caught up in the time-scoop during `The Five Doctors' when they were punting on the Cann It made things more clearer to me as to what was going on, and made the story more interesting when a mystery had to be solved as to why the Doctor and Romana didn't get to do their adventure in Cambridge.
For the story itself, I absolutely enjoyed the concepts going through it. I liked the Cambridge setting, the mad old Professor Chronotis and the plot of the Doctor and Romana trying to save a `book' from falling into the wrong hands. And this is not just any ordinary book. This book is `The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey' and it's the most powerful and dangerous book ever to be found on Cambridge, which Chronotis brought back with him from Gallifrey. And our heroes have to stop the power-crazed Skagra from getting hold of it and using the book for his megalomaniac scheme.
As the story was originally written by Douglas Adams, I expected the quality of humour that had presented in Doctor Who stories like 'The Pirate Planet' and 'City of Death' (also written by Douglas Adams) to be in this tale. And I wasn't disappointed. There are scenes which I absolutely relished when listening to the story. I love the moments when Chronotis is making tea all the time, where Wilkin the porter has to deal with the annoying Skagra when he comes along, and I love the little `Ford Prefect' moment they cheekily put in. As this is an audio adaption of a TV scripts, Gary Russell who adapted the script has put in some new additional scenes into the story and I didn't even know they were there until I saw the actual TV version on YouTube. I've recently bought the novel `Dirk Gently's Holistic Agency' (also written by Douglas Adams) since most of the concepts and humour from Shada are also in that story. The `Tea?', `Oh yes, please', `One lump or two', `Two please', `Sugar?' joke's my favourite and it's in both stories apparently.
As always with Big Finish audio productions, this story is filled with star guest performances as well as the regulars. I loved Andrew Sachs (Manuel from `Fawlty Towers') as Skagra, as he's so cool and calculating with his role as the villain of the piece. You could easily find him funny and take him seriously at the same time, since he plays the part with relish and believability. I found his performance as Skagra much more enjoyable than the actor who originally plays him in the TV version. The cliff-hanger for Episode 2 is my favourite in the whole story, as I enjoyed the Doctor confronting Skagra, getting a headache from his sphere, Skagra taking the book, and deciding after all for the Doctor's mind to be drained completely and doing an utterly evil laugh at the end. Sachs seems to be really enjoying himself in the role.
I also like James Fox as Professor Chronotis, who's so woolly-headed and loveable at the same time. I enjoyed the twist where he got killed in Part 2 and was brought back to life again in Part 4.
The other performances are very likeable. I enjoyed listening to the actors who played Chris Parsons (Sean Biggerstaff), Wilkin (Melvyn Haynes) and Clare Keightley (Susannah Harker). I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Hannah Gordon in this story as `the Ship'.
Paul McGann excels in this story as the Doctor. He's managed to do a lot of audio dramas in Doctor Who compared to his single TV appearance in 1996. And to be given `Shada' (the lost story by Douglas Adams) and to be chosen as the Doctor for that particular story, he certainly relishes the stuff he's given and makes the amusing parts of the story come out clearly. I enjoyed his scenes with Clare in Episode 2 and the scenes where he confronts Skagra, as he's clearly taking the mick first and then being serious at the end.
Lalla Ward certainly enjoys playing Romana again in this script and being able to complete it after so long. And it's nice to have John Leeson play the part of K-9 compared to David Brierley who originally did the voice in 1979. It seemed so right for John Leeson to do the voice for the audio since he is after all K-9 perfection. I always like K-9 and having met John Leeson twice, I've been able to enjoy his performance in this story throughout. The scenes where he's told to `blast' the wall with Romana and Chris Parson were extremely funny, and I like it when he says `Affirmative Master' or `Insufficient data'.
I highly recommend this story to anyone who likes Doctor Who comedy-drama. If you really want to have the full effect of this tale, listen to it with a nice cup of tea like Professor Chronotis and have a biscuit or two (unless you're 'crackers').
If you wish to see a visual representation of this story, then go to the BBC website and you'll find the webcast for this story on there. It's not the best animation for a Doctor Who story, but you can still enjoy the settings and imagine what the story could have been like if it'd been made for telly.
A brilliant story, full of great ideas and certainly hailed as a classic. Such a shame it never got completed for telly. Though saying that (after watching some of the original starring Tom Baker) this audio adaption is far superior (but that's just my personal feeling since Paul McGann relishes as the Doctor with this script).