“Shada” was supposed to be a Tom Baker/Fourth Doctor serial, but a general strike in Britain shut down the BBC and it was never finished. Since Baker declined to return for The Five Doctors, some of the unaired footage from “Shada” was used to explain where his Doctor was. The script was from Douglas Adams, so it stands to reason someone would work to finish it later.
That would have been Big Finish in the form of one of their audio dramas. Baker declined to reprise the role of the Doctor (he’s since changed his mind on that), so the story was reworked a bit to become an adventure for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Plus, Lalla Ward and John Leeson returned to play Romana and K9, respectively. So, what was “Shada” and why did the Doctor have an issue with it?
That’s an excellent question because, as the story starts, the Doctor himself doesn’t know. Traveling to Gallifrey, the Doctor finds Romana, now President of the Time Lords with K9 by her side, and convinces the pair to come to Earth with him to look into what they were doing with an old friend of the Doctor’s, one Professor Chronotis. And with a name like that, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the fellow is a Time Lord.
The Doctor, you see, wants to know why he doesn’t quite remember why he went there in the first place. Neither does Romana. K9 was left in the TARDIS, so he didn’t even see anything. Mysteries like that provoke curiosity, and the trio soon go down to Earth in the late 70s.
And from there, it’s actually a rather fun story. True, the Eighth Doctor is behaving a bit more like the Fourth, but given the script was written for Baker, that makes sense. Likewise, the changes made can give the home audience a wink in the direction of the late Adams’s most famous work of fiction by having a couple characters drive around in a Ford Prefect. However, the real issue is Chronotis took a book from Gallifrey before he retired to Earth to live out the rest of his days as an eccentric college professor. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the book in question was one of the sacred items of Rassalon, and as such has a lot of forbidden knowledge in it…assuming you can even read the dang thing. Chronotis absently mindedly loans it to a couple grad students, and a mad scientist from another planet it looking to get his hands on it himself. Said scientist, Skagra, has a device that can suck the knowledge out of anyone. Resisting such efforts can prove fatal.
I actually really enjoyed this one. Shada, it turns out, is the Time Lords’s prison planet, but it’s one neither the Doctor nor Romana can seem to remember, despite the fact you’d think the home of the Time Lords’ most notorious criminals would be something they remember, particularly a nasty criminal of Chronotis’s generation named Salyavin. And there’s a good reason for why no one remembers the place, what Skagra wants from it, and how an alien who isn’t from Gallifrey would even know the place exists. Big Finish actually included the theme song at various points to suggest different episodes, and the original plan was for a six part story, so it does divide into six episodes, more or less, over the two hour+ run time.
So, really, a charming story with a nice twist and a very Doctor-ish way to defeat a villain while out-thinking a computer. Multiple TARDISes, literal-minded artificial intelligences, and crystal monsters are the order of the day. It’s a fun story for Doctor Who fans, and while I am still not sure I have much of a handle on the Eighth Doctor, I did enjoy the hell out of this one.
I have one more Big Finish audio play, and if it’s as good as this one, I may have to invest in a few more.