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A Delicious Taste of ‘The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey’ with the Eighth Doctor, Romana and K-9
This story has been hailed as something of a mystery and a lost classic!
‘Shada’ was the lost un-transmitted story of ‘Doctor Who’ by Douglas Adams. It was originally meant for Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in 1979, as the season finale to Graham Williams’ third and final season as producer of ‘Doctor Who’. And it would have made a genuinely tremendous season finale!
Unfortunately, due to strike action at the BBC, the story never made to completion for TV. Years later in 2003, Big Finish Productions and BBCi for webcasts produced a lavishly new audio production of ‘Shada’ for Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor with Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K-9.
I’ve had the CD cover of ‘Shada’ signed by Paul McGann at ‘Dimensions 2013’ in Newcastle, October 2013; Lalla Ward at ‘Big Finish Day 6’ in Slough, January 2015; John Leeson at ‘Timey-Wimey 1’ in Brighton, November 2014 and director Nicholas Pegg at ‘Big Blue Box 2’ in Tunbridge Wells, March 2013. I enjoyed chatting to these four people, since they enjoyed working on this version of ‘Shada’.
I have to say, when I played this CD, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked how the story started with a prologue sequence where the Eighth Doctor visits Romana as President on Gallifrey. He picks her and K-9 up to do the adventure that they didn’t get to do in Cambridge 1979. It was all very exciting!
I’m glad they managed to resolve the continuity of what happened when Tom Baker and Lalla Ward got caught up in the time-scoop during ‘The Five Doctors’ when they were punting on the Cam. It made things clearer as to what was going on and made the story interesting with a mystery to solve.
For the story, I enjoyed the concepts running throughout. I liked the Cambridge setting, the mad old Professor Chronotis and the plot of the Doctor and Romana trying to save a ‘book’ from falling into the wrong hands. And this is no ordinary book. This is ‘The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey’!
‘The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey’ is the most powerful and dangerous book ever to be found in Cambridge. Chronotis brought it back with him from Gallifrey. Soon our heroes have to stop the power-crazed Skagra from getting a hold of it and using the book for his megalomaniac scheme.
As the story was originally written by Douglas Adams, I expected the quality of humour that had been presented in other ‘Doctor Who’ stories like ‘The Pirate Planet’ and ‘City of Death’ (also written by Adams) to be in this story. And I wasn’t disappointed! There are scenes that I absolutely relished!
I love the moments when Chronotis is making tea all the time; where Wilkin the porter has to deal with the annoying Skagra when he comes along; and I love the little ‘Ford Prefect’ moment they cheekily put in. If you don’t know what I’m on about, check out ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
As this is an audio adaption of the TV scripts, Gary Russell, who adapted the scripts, put some new additional material into the story. I didn’t even know that they were new until I saw the actual TV version of ‘Shada’ on YouTube. Some of the new stuff in the audio version was very hilarious to hear.
I’ve also purchased the novel ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ by Douglas Adams. Most of the concepts and humour from ‘Shada’ are in that story too. The “Tea?”, “Oh thanks!”, “Milk?”, “Oh yes, please!”, “One lump or two?”, “Two please!”, “Sugar?” joke is my favourite and that’s in both stories.
As always with Big Finish audio productions, this story is filled with superb guest star performances as well as the regulars. I love Andrew Sachs (Manuel from ‘Fawlty Towers’) as Skagra. He’s cool and calculating as the villain, since you can easily find him funny and take him seriously at the same time.
Andrew plays Skagra with relish and believability. I found his performance more enjoyable than the actor who originally played him in the TV version. The cliff-hanger for ‘Part Two’ is my favourite in the whole story, since I enjoyed the Doctor confronting Skagra with Skagra laughing at the end of it.
I also like James Fox as Professor Chronotis, who’s so woolly-headed and loveable at the same time. I love it when he always seems to be making tea when he receives visitors. He seems to have ‘a mind like a sieve’. It was funny when he said “Oh dear! I’ve run out of milk!”, making as if it’s a big disaster.
Chronotis attempts to go out and get some more milk ‘since it’s the only way he can think of getting milk, short of keeping a cow.’ I like the twist where he got killed in ‘Part Two’ and was brought back to life in ‘Part Four’. There’s another huge twist with Professor Chronotis, which took me by surprise.
The rest of the guest cast are very likeable. I enjoyed listening to Sean Biggerstaff as Chris Parsons; Susannah Harker as Clare Keightley and Melvyn Hayes (from ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’) as Wilkin. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Hannah Gordon as the Ship in this. The cast for ‘Shada’ were superb here.
Paul McGann excels as the Doctor in this story. He’s managed to do a lot of audio dramas in ‘Doctor Who’ compared to his single TV appearance in 1996 in ‘The TV Movie’. And to be given ‘Shada’, the lost story by Douglas Adams and to be chosen as the Doctor for that particular story is a big honour.
It’s clear that Paul McGann relishes the stuff he’s given as the Doctor in ‘Shada’. He makes the amusing parts of the story come out clearly. I enjoyed his scenes with Clare in ‘Part Two’ and the scenes where he confronts Skagra. He’s clearly taking the mick first before he becomes serious later.
Lalla Ward clearly enjoys playing Romana again in this ‘Doctor Who’ story and being able to complete it after so long. It’s well-established that the Douglas Adams era of ‘Doctor Who’ was her favourite and Lalla Ward clearly gets on well with Paul McGann’s Doctor, as they brace through this.
It’s nice to have John Leeson as the voice of K-9, compared to David Brierley who originally voiced him in 1979. It seemed so right for John Leeson to do the voice of K-9 in the audio story, since he is K-9 perfection after all. I always like K-9 and I’ve been able to enjoy his appearance in this adventure.
I highly recommend this audio version of ‘Shada’ to anyone who likes ‘Doctor Who’ comedy-drama. If you really want to have the full effect of this audio tale, then listen to it with a nice cup of tea just like Professor Chronotis does. I suggest you have a biscuit or two with it…unless you’re ‘crackers’. 😀
If you wish to see a visual representation of ‘Shada’, then purchase the DVD release in ‘The Legacy Collection’ box set. This contains the flash animation webcast with Paul McGann, which can be accessed on a PC/Mac, as well as the original 1979 TV version with Tom Baker. Very exciting indeed!!
The flash animation webcast of ‘Shada’ was released on the BBC website in 2003. It’s not the best animation for a ‘Doctor Who’ story, since the characters and background are mostly static. But you can still enjoy the settings and imagine what the story would have been like if it’d been made for TV.
‘Shada’ is a brilliant story full of great ideas and is hailed as a classic. It’s a shame it never got completed for TV. Though saying that, after watching what’s left of the original with Tom Baker, the audio adaption is superior. But that’s my opinion really and Paul McGann’s Doctor relishes this story.
‘Shada’ (2003) rating – 10/10
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