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A Lost Epic

By:Matthew Kresal, United States
Date:Saturday 6 September 2008
Rating:   9

Shada may have one of the most complicated behind the scenes stories of all time. Originally conceived as the six-part finale of the 1979-1980 season of Doctor Who by Douglas Adams (then script editor and creator of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) and was extensively set at Cambridge University. Now all of the location filming at Cambridge had been completed and some of the studio work done before an actors strike halted the production. Then the decision was made not to finish all of the filming. Then in 1992, the BBC finally decided to take the recorded footage from 1979 and use Tom Baker to help tie those sequences that were never filmed with narration. This is the result.

To say the least this is one of the most impressive Doctor Who adventures. Adams script is taught, tense, and even fun at times. The story is complicated to say the least and is virtually impossible to quickly summarize. Yet despite this (or rather because of it) the story keeps your riveted to the screen and waiting for the next scene right up until the very end.

The performances by the actors are good and amongst the better ones of the series. Tom Baker is at his height as the Doctor, playing everything so well that it is hard to find a problem with it. Lalla Ward is well as Romana and this is one of her better episodes as well. Beyond them is a strong supporting cast in the form of Denis Carey as Professor Chronotis, the retired Time Lord who is not what he seems. Christopher Neame as the evil Skagra, who is evil despite the laughable costume (white outfit, complete with silver cloak and hat) and the addition of the mind draining sphere helps immensely.

The story was never fully filmed and is tied together by clips of narration featuring Tom Baker. This is actually a pro rather then a con. Baker brilliantly reprises his role of the Doctor and narrates the story's missing parts expertly. Baker gives in his narration an inkling of what Shada could have and should have been. It is a testament to his power as an actor that the story works as well as it does in an uncompleted form.

The one big minus of the story is in the special effects. The special effects are up to par with those of the series at the time. Yet there are some special effects featuring spacecrafts that don't work at all. It seems that the producers of the video decided that these special effects should only give an inkling of what was intended. A great shame really.

Shada is the sum of its parts. With the combination of a fine script, fine performances, great humor, some terrific location filming, and some brilliant narration by Tom Baker, Shada is more then just a lost story from a classic series. It is an inkling of what could have a Doctor Who classic. While it is isn't as good as seeing a full-fledged story (though Big Finish audio did the full story in audio form starring Paul McGann's eighth Doctor) this is still an amazing sci-fi epic. For any serious fan of Doctor Who or Douglas Adams, this is a must see.

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