Review: Doctor Who - The Legacy Collection / Cert: PG / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Daniel Hill, Denis Carey, Christopher Neame/ Release Date: January 7th 2013
Douglas Adams’ Shada, planned as the final serial in the 1979/80 seventeenth season of Doctor Who, is the famous “lost” story from the show’s canon, its production halted and eventually abandoned thanks to one of the many industrial disputes which so bedevilled the BBC in the 1970s. But in truth Shada has been “found” several times in the intervening years, so its air of mystery has been somewhat diminished across the decades. The surviving footage was available on a bootleg video back in the early 1980s (so we’re told); the BBC issued the story on VHS in 1992 (the same version now presented on this new DVD) with linking narration by Tom Baker to fill in the (many) gaps; and the whole thing was reworked into a audio drama starring Paul McGann and finally novelised (after a fashion) by current show writer Gareth Roberts and published earlier this year. Given all that, you might expect most Doctor Who fans to be able to recite Shada off by heart by now, such must be their familiarity with the material. But for anyone new to Who or for those who just haven’t been tempted by the story’s presentation so far, its appearance on this new three-disc box set along with copious special features may well be the time to take the plunge and find out quite what was supposed to be so great about this mysterious, legendary story.
Much further along in his career, Adams himself looked back at his unfinished Who masterpiece and made comments to the effect that it really wasn’t that good a story. Watching the cobbled-together remains of Shada on this DVD (only a week’s location filming in Cambridge and one of three planned studio sessions was recorded before the plug was pulled) it’s probably fair to say that perhaps he had a point. The problem is and always will be that, whatever format the story turns up in, it’s impossible to be quite sure what the finished TV version would have been like. But I’d be willing to wager my sonic screwdriver collection that it would have been the same sort of slightly shambolic, slightly silly fare the rest of the season had served up, albeit spruced up with some refreshing location footage (the previous three serials having all been entirely studio-based). But Shada still starred Tom Baker at his ripest, along with some arch performances from the supporting cast and a script which never knowingly strayed across the line into serious (even by Who standards) drama.
Camp baddy Skagra (Neame) escapes from imprisonment in deep space and speeds off to 1979 Cambridge to track down Professor Chronotis (Carey), living in splendid isolation surrounded by his books in his cloisters. Chronotis is an old friend of the Doctor’s and he has in his possession The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, a mysterious and all-powerful tome from the home of the Time Lords. The Doctor and Romana (Ward), enjoying a bit of punting on the Cam, have been lured to Cambridge by mysterious voices and before long Skagra, looking way beyond ludicrous striding around Cambridge in his early New Romantic cape and whites, is on the attack with his mind-sucking floating sphere and his plans to take over the Universe with the power of thought. Or something.
The surviving Shada footage has been hopefully sliced into six episode lengths; but with much of the completed studio footage comprising material in Chronotis’ Cambridge rooms, the story quickly drifts into frustrating narration mode as the Doctor rushes out of the room and we cut to Tom Baker telling us where he went next and what he did there (usually to another set which was never filmed on). Parts 1 and 2 are the nearest we have to complete episodes here, boasting most of the location footage and sequential Chronotis material. Later episodes run to around fifteen minutes and are comprised of the handful of scenes filmed on the spaceship set and some cheesy freeze-frames of earlier material to visually represent characters we haven’t actually been able to see on screen for two or three episodes. But from what remains – and there are a few new visual effects here and there – it seems likely that Shada would have deteriorated into an increasingly fanciful runaround of escapes and captures boasting, in the slate-like Krargs (one of which does at least appear in a couple of recorded sequences), one of the show’s less memorable monsters. But there’s some witty dialogue, Baker’s off-screen chemistry with co-star Ward is wonderfully evident on screen and Carey is a hoot as the archetypal absent-minded Professor who’s actually quite a bit more.
No matter how many ways the story is retold or reinvented, Shada will always have the whiff of legend about it and fans will undoubtedly forever dream of what might have been. But the simple fact is that, on the evidence of what survives and the way it’s been assembled here, the story would really not have been much more than an acceptable and enjoyable enough finale to a season which had seen Doctor Who slip further and further into tongue-in-cheek parody and irrelevance as it unknowingly embarked on the long journey which would lead to its cancellation ten years later.
Shada and its attendant special features occupy the first two discs of the Legacy Collection box set. Disc 3 leads with the 1993 BBC TV documentary More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS, an extended ninety-minute edit of the sixty-minute TV broadcast. This is undoubtedly the best documentary ever made about the series, but now, some twenty years later, and with the benefit of knowing how the Doctor has subsequently been spectacularly revived, it seems uncomfortably dated, shot through as it is with a wistful poignancy about a show which had already been dead for four years when it was made and which had a few more years in limbo left to endure. Even more depressing is the fact that it features prominently so many classic Who faces who are no longer with us; Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) narrates and appears, Jon Pertwee whizzes around the South Bank in his Whomobile, Elisabeth Sladen and her young daughter escape the attentions of a Sontaran, 1960s producer Verity Lambert pontificates about the origins of the show.
The rest of disc 3 seems to be a dumping ground for a grab-bag of stray bits and pieces which haven’t fitted onto other releases and have been shoehorned in here under the Legacy title. So we get vintage interview material with Peter Purves (Steven Taylor in the Hartnell era) and Verity Lambert, a rather touching tribute to the late Courtney (the standout piece across all three discs) and a collection of camp on-screen and off-screen Doctor Who talent discussing the merits of Those Deadly Divas - Doctor Who’s most dangerous ladies. Oh well… it’s always nice to see Camille Coduri (Rose's Mum Jackie) again.
The Legacy Collection box set is a rather scrappy and random way to launch the 2013 Doctor Who release schedule, and even though there’s an interesting selection-box mix of material here, the slightly maudlin documentary and the frustrating unfinishedness of Shada give the set an air of barrel-scraping desperation which was surely never intended and really isn’t deserved.
Extras: Shada boasts the usual “making of” (or in this case “not making of”) documentary which takes cast and crew back to Cambridge to reminisce about a TV show they half-made and why they never finished it; Strike! Strike! Strike! looks at the series’ history of BBC disruption; Being a Girl considers the representation of women in Doctor Who; Now and Then revisits the Cambridge locations and the McGann animation is computer-accessible.