Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.12
November seems like a long way away…until you pledge to review every episode of Doctor Who before then…
Among the lost Doctor Who episodes ‘Shada’ is the cause of the most frustration for fans. It’s not just lost…it’s unfinished. Intended to be the 17th seasons finale it was an epic story penned by none author than Douglas Adams. Filming of the episode was divided into two parts, but a technician strike prevented the second block of filming to be completed. As a result various parts of the script – some in the middle of scenes – remain unfilmed. Some attempts have to made to patch it together since then. Versions include a VHS edition (now on DVD in the ‘Legacy’ box set) that features Tom Baker narrating the missing sections, one with Paul McCann filling in the extra scenes and an independently produced animated version. This review is based of the VHS edition, with Tom Baker filling in for missing scenes.
‘Shada’ begins with a rather vicious and scarred Skagra, an nasty character with an ambitions towards universal conquest. He is on his way to Earth to discover the location of Shada, the infamous Time Lord prison that is so secret that all memory of the place has been erased. The only person who holds the clue to the location is a retired Time Lord who has been posing as a professor in Cambridge. Before Skagra arrives in Cambridge the Doctor and Romana have already arrived on site, having received a distress call ahead of time.
Based on the half that is available here the serial would’ve been particularly good and packed with Douglas Adams’ distinctly absurdist style of science-fiction. In addition to the concept of the hidden prison we are treated to invisible spaceships, a TARDIS disguised as an apartment and some very unexpected twists and turns. Part of the reason why it has remained such a well known absence from the Doctor Who canon is because it would clearly have been a stand-out from this particular era. It’s only recently become available again (packaged with some documentaries from the 90s and other special features) and every fan should be taking the chance to check it out.
The Leisure Hive
A couple of changes have come about at the beginning of the 18th season. For one thing the opening credits have undergone a dramatic change (with what is not the most flattering image of Tom Baker available) and the theme music has been beefed up a little. The Doctor has undergone a wardrobe change after wearing the same coat and scarf for six years, and he now sports a purple and burgundy coloured ensemble. K9 regains his original voice and while David Brierley had done a fine job there’s no doubting that John Leeson is the voice for the job.
The season opens with the Doctor, K9 and Romana enduring some unseasonal weather on Brighton beach, having landed in the wrong year again. After K9 damages himself by rolling into the water (in what seems to be a recurring attempt to remove the all powerful robot dog from the action) they decide to visit the famous Leisure Hives of Argolis. What they don’t know is that the holiday resort is facing bankruptcy due to increased competition and there are some buyers lurking in the wings. The main attraction remains the Tachyon Recreation Generator that can multiply and manipulative organic matter.
Shortly after the time travellers arrive a series of accidents reveal that a saboteur has been doing the rounds. With competing financiers and reptilian locals all operating in the resort suspicions and accusations escalate to point that war becomes imminent. The Doctor himself gets caught up in the Tachyon Recreation Generator leading to him first becoming aged and then cloned many times.
Something of a balancing act in this script. Many different factors and competing against each other while the central premise about cellular regeneration seems uncertain about the direction it will take. It functions more as an elaborate whodunit with a science-fiction bent. By the end it’s a solid serial – nothing special but enjoyable.
The first thing you may notice about this serial is that the bad guy is a cactus. I don’t mean some of human cactus, or a cactus themed monster, but an actual cactus plant. In a plant pot. It doesn’t move around and it’s not animated in any way, it’s just a cactus with a voice over. Let’s move on.
Beginning on the jungle world Tigella the two factions of society – the scientific minded and the religious fanatics – are in the middle of a hearty dispute. The religious group worship the Dodecahedron, a crystal which was a gift from the god Ti. The science camp has tapped into the crystal as a power source for the civilisation. As the power output of the crystal has begun fluctuating they call upon the Doctor to mediate. Before the TARDIS can arrive, however, it gets trapped in a time bubble where the inhabitants are forced to reply the same actions again and again.
The evil mind behind the plot – Meglos (the aforementioned cactus) – combines his cactus form with that of a human and disguises himself as the Doctor. He plan is to use the Doctor’s identity to steal the Dodecahedron with the aid of some pirates, and use it to power a planet-destroying laser.
With Tom Baker playing the Doctor and his evil doppelganger it’s easy to see what the selling point of this episode is. Whilst he’s proven himself to play the barmy Doctor over six and half seasons this is the first time he’s shown us a more malicious and calculating side, and it’s fantastic seeing the two characters interact. Again Romana takes a more active role in the action. The trend seems to be that Romana doesn’t need to take her cues from the Doctor or even rely on him to get the job done and it’s a refreshing change from the usual Doctor/companion relationship. The episodes are well paced with the doppelgangers trying to get one up on each other in creative ways. Once you’re past the fact that the bad guy is an inanimate cactus it’s a great story.