Written by Douglas Adams and abandoned due to a BBC workers strike, “Shada” has taken on almost mythic proportions among Doctor Who fans. About a third of the story was filmed back in 1979 before the serial had to be abandoned completely. A VHS release of the story with as much completed footage as was available and linking narration by Tom Baker helped a bit, but it didn’t necessarily fill the empty void left by “Shada”s abandonment all those years ago.
So when it was time to celebrate a milestone anniversary in the history of Doctor Who during the dark time before the show came back, it only make sense that the Big Finish team and the BBC would turn to “Shada.” But instead of remounting the story for TV, it would be told in audio form. And when Tom Baker declined to reprise his role as the Doctor (it’d be interesting to see if rumors will spring up of him revisiting the story now that he’s signed on for a couple of Big Finish stories…though a huge part of me doubts it since he doesn’t really get along well with Lalla Ward), Big Finish decided to ask Paul McGann to take on the role and updated the script to reflect the eighth Doctor.
The result is this audio release, originally streamed on the BBC web site many, many moons ago.
But the question that always strikes me when it comes to “Shada” is–if it weren’t the one lost story that we don’t have any hope of ever seeing in a complete format, what would the reputation of “Shada” be among Doctor Who fans today.
The answer, unfortunately, is it’s just be another mediocre story from what is arguable the least consistent season in the fourth Doctor’s tenure. “Shada” isn’t all that bad, but it’s not all that good either. It’s an interesting story and compared to a lot of season seventeen, it’s quite good. But that still doesn’t mean it’s the great lost classic many fans hope it would be.
It’s got a lot of trademark Douglas Adams flourishes. It explores Time Lord society a bit. It asks some interesting questions and it has some nice moments. But it still doesn’t all quite gel into a complete story in the final analysis. Perhaps it feels padded because it was to run as the season’s six-part serial. Or perhaps it’s because it was intended to be a visual story and not an audio one. Either way, I can’t help but come away disappointed.