The episode lost and unseen is always far more impressive than the one miraculously found and watched in awkward solitude.
The BBC strike of 1979 interrupted what was to be the last six part season finale of Doctor Who to date. Back in the salad days of Classic Doctor Who, each season ended with a kind of gala story spanning 6 parts. More often than not it was a disappointment that showed just how little was left from the already scant budget allotted to the program. In the 17th season, Douglas Adams stepped up to the plate to pull out all the stops and wrote a blockbuster story featuring an enchanted book of Gallifrey, the city of Cambridge, an invisible spaceship, monsters grown from coal and even a scatter-brained timelord in hiding.
For years this story existed solely in the minds of fandom as a lost gem until their unspoken wishes were granted.
In 1992, BBC Video released a video tape featuring what little material remained knitted together with bridging narration provided by Tom Baker himself. What a treasure, right?
Whereas the first two episodes are more or less complete, as the video goes on the video devolves mainly into clips of Tom Baker describing the action and still images from the BBC vaults. While this may sound disappointment enough for such a fabled Doctor Who story, the real blow is that Shada itself isn’t really that good.
It always seemed like a lost classic, but in reality, Shada is a cobbled together plot of corny jokes and plot contrivances that may have worked in an original work by Adams but are just plain silly in Doctor Who. For some reason, the video tape even includes opening and closing credits per episode and even a recap even though this story was never shown on television. This means that many times we are treated to a close-up of Tom Baker describing a cliffhanger… twice.
I don’t mean to sound too negative. It’s still an interesting time capsule of its time and a treasure trove of nostalgia for a period of the program many fans regard as a high point. Yet I cannot help but feel that surge of excitement turn to depression each time I pop the video into the player (this story has still not been released on DVD).
Inexplicably, the story was reworked in 2006 as a radio drama (with very limited animation) starring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. I’ve never understood quite why this was done… and the result is a story that is rendered even more disappointing by its contradictory plot elements and poor animation. The world of Doctor Who has, if anything, gotten far stranger in recent years.
Again, I don’t mean to come off as too negative about this story. For want of any other accomplishment, the modern Doctor Who has made even the poorest story from the classic series look far better than ever before. If Shada were filmed today (and who knows it might be rewritten again with David Tennant as the Doctor), it would include references to BBC programs and guest appearances from television personalities of 1979.
Of course now that I’ve said that the idea is out in the aether to be used by some very demented producer.