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Recap: Doctor Who S17 E6 "Shada"

The Doctor: When I was on the river, I heard a strange babble of inhuman voices. Didn't you, Romana?
Romana: Yes.
Professor Chronotis: Oh, undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I've tried to have it banned.

Filming on "Shada" ("SHAH-duh"), which was interrupted by the 1979 BBC strike, was never completed. It remains the only story of Classic Who that has never aired. But Douglas Adams scripts aren't so common that they can be discarded so easily, and eventually three official versions saw the light of day.

The first was a 1992 filmed version cobbled together out of the existing bits, with linking narration provided by Tom Baker — appearing as a curator in a museum full of old Doctor Who things, and telling the story in first person.

A Big Finish-produced audio (also available for free with some web-animation) was recorded from the full script in 2003, with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann as the story's Doctor.

Finally, a 2012 novelisation by Gareth Roberts, based on the final versions of the scripts. Clips from this episode were also used in "The Five Doctors" to Fake Shemp Tom Baker.

For extra credit, spot the plot elements that Adams recycled into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.


One day, the Doctor gets an invitation from Professor Chronotis, a retired Time Lord posing as an eccentric old Cambridge don. He and Romana drop by St. Cedd's College, Cambridge, in 1979.

Chronotis is extremely old, even for a Time Lord, which makes his memory spotty and unreliable... but after some gentle prompting, he eventually remembers that he'd wanted the Doctor to take a certain book back to Gallifrey. No ordinary book, this, but an ancient relic from the days of Rassilon, the founder of Time Lord society, and possibly (read: almost certainly) full of uncertain and dangerous powers. The three Time Lords begin to search Chronotis' flat for it.

Unfortunately, Chronotis has already forgotten that he'd just that morning lent it out to physics student Chris Parsons — who's taken his new toy over to the lab to examine it, with baffled fascination, and even asked his girlfriend Clare to come have a look.

Even more unfortunately, someone else is after the book, too: a guy named Skagra, and with a name like that he's got to be evil. Skagra's putting the finishing touches on a brain-in-a-jar — actually, a collection of great minds, whom he'd lured into working with him under false pretenses and then mind-napped — and just needs one more mind. Specifically, he wants the mind of legendary Time Lord criminal Salyavin, who was said to have the power to project his own mind into other minds; with this power in Skagra's brain jar, he'd be able to control the rest of the universe. Salyavin is imprisoned on the prison planet of Shada, whose location has been lost for centuries, but Skagra is convinced that the directions are in Chronotis' book.

By the time Chronotis remembers Chris Parsons' name (going through the alphabet until he reaches "Y"... "Young Parsons!"), Skagra has parked his spaceship outside town and gotten a lift to St Cedd's. The Doctor's just left, though — he's borrowed a bike and gone off to fetch Chris from the physics lab, little realizing that the guy he nearly crashed into on the way was Chris himself, on his way to see Chronotis to ask about the book.

The Doctor does meet Clare at the lab; with her in tow, and in possession of the book, they return to Chronotis' flat — to find the old professor dead, killed by Skagra while Romana was in the TARDIS looking for milk for the tea. With the help of some Time Lord technology, Chronotis manages to convey a final message: watch out for Shada.

Shada turns out to be a prison planet, and the gang soon all find themselves there. The Doctor is (of course) captured by Skagra, fibs his way through an interrogation by pretending to be really dumb, and is promptly killed by a very annoyed Skagra. However, the Doctor knows enough about this sort of thing to relax his mind at the last moment, meaning Skagra only gets a copy of his memories and the Doctor continues to live. He convinces Skagra's ship that, since he's now dead, he's not a threat anymore and the ship can freely listen to him. The ship is a bit confused, but rolls with it.

Professor Chronotis, meanwhile, is Only Mostly Dead and uses Clare to track down the others (using his TARDIS, which turns out to be have been his living room all along). He also turns out to be Salyavin. Once the Doctor rejoins the plot (after taking a short unprotected trip directly through the vortex and MacGyvering one very silly mind-shielding helmet), he's able to mind-control Skagra's golems and prevent the Assimilation Plot. He and Romana decide to simply drop Chronotis/Salyavin off back home, since rumours of his great evil were probably for the most part just exaggerated nonsense. The Doctor wonders if people will say the same about him someday.

Tropes

  • Actually, I Am Him
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The animated version sexes up Claire from a woman dressed in mainstream (and nowadays slightly silly) late-70s fashion into a late-70s British Punk, bondage gear and all. Chronotis is also much more handsome.
    • The book version turns Clare back into a mainstream 70s chick (even mentioning a complaint from her about a poodle perm she washed out) and Chronotis into an extremely old and silly man, but Skagra is described as extremely, androgynously beautiful, especially his 'full, sensual lips'. A side character expresses amazement that even though Skagra has a facial scar, it's a sexy one instead of a disfiguring one.
    • Discussed Trope In-Universe in the book, when Romana sees the Outlaws, ancient muderors, tyrants and terrorists of Gallifreyan history she used to have nightmares about as a child, based on a children's picture book she used to have called "Our Planet Story". She sees that the real Lady Scintilla is very different to the drawing of her in the book, which portrayed her as a tall, imperious Ice Queen, remarking that she's actually short and 'dumpy' - but she still possesses razor-sharp, blood red Femme Fatalons.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the book, David (a Victim of the Week character murdered by Skagra) is shown in his internal monologue to be gay, talking about gay clubs and worrying that his taste for Cilla Black is a bit too stereotypical. This is also used to explain his relative generosity towards Skagra, being that he fancies him and has mistaken Skagra's demands as a come-on. Bury Your Gays Unfortunate Implications are somewhat averted, since the Doctor eventually implants David's consciousness into an extremely handsome artificial body as well as reuniting him with his mother.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Names of major heroic characters and places introduced in the story begin with the letter "C" - Chris, Claire/Clare, Chronotis, Cedd's College. Names of major villanous characters and places begin with the letter "S" - Skagra, Shada, Salvayin, Sujatric and Rundgar, Scintilla, the Ship. Lampshaded in the book by Chris who complains that he can't remember any more stupid names that begin with "S".
  • Assimilation Plot: "The Universe, Doctor, as you so crudely put it, will not be mine, the Universe will be me!"
  • Brain in a Jar
  • Break the Haughty: Skagra. We first assume he is an Evil Genius and a totally logical, emotionless overlord, but we begin to realise he's actually an awkward nerd, alienated by his incredible intelligence and socially tone-deaf as a result, who is in love with an image of himself as a logical, emotionless overlord. His breakdown is caused by the Doctor, who enjoys being intentionally annoying, managing finally to get under his skin enough that he begins to act like the tantruming Man Child that he is.
  • Call Forward: The novelization casually references concepts and characters introduced after Tom Baker left the show, up to and including the Corsair.
  • Development Gag: The Big Finish version stars the Eighth Doctor instead of the Fourth. The story starts when he gets an invitation from Professor Chronotis — he remembers that when he was "all teeth and curls" and he and Romana went punting on the Cam, they were taken out by a time scoop, kept confined between dimensions for just over two hours, and delivered back onto the Cam once the crisis was over. But they were supposed to visit Professor Chronotis that day, and neither he nor Romana, now Lady President of Gallifrey, remember why they never visited their friend. This means that in the Big Finish Doctor Who continuity, the original version of "Shada" never happened.
  • Disco Dan: In the novel, Chris is a mild example. His long hair and flared trousers are just starting to be very out of fashion in 1978, and he feels alienated by how all the young undergrads are dressed in tight jeans and short hair. He also gives preferential treatment to a student wearing a Jethro Tull tshirt because he feels like he looks more normal.
    • Skagra unintentionally comes off as this because his ceremonial alien overlord gear looks to humans like a ridiculous disco costume, leading to passers-by to mock him in the street. He considers this to be awe.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Although in this case it's Gallifreyan Morse.
  • Expy: Professor Chronotis is something of an Expy of the retired Fourth Doctor Douglas Adams originally wanted to write this serial about. Later, another expy of the Fourth Doctor (Dirk Gently) and an expy of Chris (Richard) showed up in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, starring alongside a Transplanted Professor Chronotis. The character of the Curator in "Day of the Doctor" owes rather a lot to Chronotis as well.
  • Fangirl: The book version of the Ship is fascinated by the Doctor and starts seeking out and watching old holographic video footage of his adventures, which are strongly implied to just be Doctor Who episodes. She becomes a serious fan, and eventually forces Skagra to watch them all with her in the hope that he'll learn some good moral lessons from the stories.
  • Freudian Excuse: Spoofed in the book. Skagra talks about his planet to Romana, explaining how a rogue Time Lord conquered his planet, brainwashed the populace and, when he eventually left for Gallifrey again, the people were unable to handle their own emotions after centuries of repression and tore each other apart in an unspeakable war that almost destroyed the entire planet. Romana is horrified and expresses pity for his people, until Skagra informs her that it happened thousands of years before he was born and that they were not his people. He then shows her the planet from his point in history, a rich, laid-back, beachy Pleasure Planet with a primary import of ice cream. Romana is slightly less able to sympathise with this, no matter how much he insists that his people's shallowness and consumerism was unbearable to someone as brilliant and clever as him.
  • Functional Genre Savvy: In the book, the Doctor appears to project this into people around him, as a kind of force-of-personality-transmitted Theory of Narrative Causality, railroading his accomplices into the role of The Watson regardless of how they might feel about it.
    • Clare gets a whole scene where she realises that she is like this and, as a result, is incapable of reacting sensibly towards the huge Rummage Sale Reject eccentric who claims to be an alien looking through her stuff - instead describing that she feels an inexplicable love and generosity towards him as if he was a nostalgic fixture of her childhood, and a strong desire for him to take her with him. She knows she should be intimidated and trying to get rid of him, but instead feels that she has no choice but to find him charming, ask helpful questions and do whatever he asks her to.
    • The book's version of Chris is somewhat less like this, as he's mainly concerned with the long-term scientific implications of everything that happens to him, but he also has his moments - as he hangs around the Doctor, despite becoming braver and more curious, he also sinks further into being a Non-Action Guy, commenting in his internal monologue that helping out the Doctor just makes you feel all "girly", sweetly curious and dependent on him for protection.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Doctor convinces the computer that he's dead and a dead enemy ain't an enemy no more. However, "dead men do not require oxygen."
  • Grand Theft Me
  • Hate Dumb: Skagra's hatred for the Doctor is played like this in the novelisation, as a form of Fandom Nod. He spends a good deal of time watching archive footage of the Fourth Doctor's adventures, and criticises them in the same manner of a fan criticising the writing and acting of Doctor Who serials. His hatred for the Doctor builds, to the point where he eventually has a vision of his future and is horrified and confused to discover that it is apparently "the Doctor, forever". We find out why this is when his eventual Cool and Unusual Punishment is to be imprisoned inside a room with an in-universe Doctor Who fangirl who wants him to watch every single record of his adventures, with her Squeeing about it the whole time, in order (starting with a description of the first shot of the first episode of the Doctor Who TV show, just so we get the message). This reduces him to howls of Angrish.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Paul McGann vs Andrew Sachs, in the Big Finish audio version. It's rather magnificent.
  • Heel-Face Turn: In some versions, Salyavin, aka Professor Chronotis. In the novelization, this does not apply as Salyavin was never actually evil to begin with.
  • Hotter and Sexier: For some reason, the animated version's Claire is a lot less conservatively and more punkishly costumed than the live-action version, with a pink fluffy sweater showing quite a bit of cleavage, a goth-influenced make-up job, and a studded leather dog collar. The animated Chronotis is also rather more well-preserved than the live-action one.
    • The book plays the Doctor's relationship with Skagra's Ship with copious Does This Remind You of Anything?, making it resemble an affair between an open-minded stranger and a sexually-repressed housewife sneaking around behind the back of her Jerk Ass husband. For instance, when he teaches her how to open a time Vortex, this is played as if he's giving her her first orgasm. Seduction of eventually helpful female characters is much more of an Eleventh Doctor move than a Fourth and wouldn't happen in the show of that era. Of course, the book's writer wrote most of his episodes for Matt Smith's run.
    • The book's version of Clare's first visit to Professor Chronitis's study. In the filmed version she's neatly buttoned up with her hair in a prim bun, in the book she's dishevelled in a way that automatically makes Willkins assume she's sneaking out of a male student's digs, or possibly a male don's study (but not Chronitis's. He's such a nice old man.)
  • Ink-Suit Actor: In the animated version. Obviously this is required for the Eighth Doctor and Romana since they appeared in live-action TV, but it extends to the human and humanoid guest characters, who look much more like their voice actors than the actors in the live-action version.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The Doctor convincing the ship's computer that he is dead "in a fabulous display of illogic logic" in order to get it to release Chris and K-9.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Chronotis. Justified in that between his handsome young appearance, seen briefly by the Doctor in a psychic vision, and the way he looks now, he not only aged about 900 years but regenerated.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The book makes multiple references to how 1970s Doctor Who was originally broadcast in serial format on Saturday evenings, to the point that it's a Running Gag:
    For goodness' sakes, thought the Doctor, why weren't all these tourists, roadies and nuns at home watching television on a Saturday evening like normal people.
    He... permitted himself just a tinge of inward pleasure at the thought of scrambled eggs on toast and the BBC's Saturday serial in a few hours...
    The Doctor's shoulders slumped. 'And I usually like Saturdays,' he said.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Clare in the live-action TV version, after she accidentally takes Chronotis's TARDIS off.
  • Literal-Minded: Neither rhetorical questions nor expletives are a particularly good idea around K-9.
  • MacGuffin: the book
  • My Nayme Is: For some reason, Clare is spelt without an "i" in the script book and credits of the video version. The webcast goes for the standard spelling, and the novel turns this oddity into a Call Forward.
  • Mythology Gag: Throughout the story, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey is described as "a small red book, about five inches by seven". The paperback edition of Gareth Roberts' 2012 novelisation is a red book. It's five inches wide and seven (and a half, admittedly) inches tall. (This is also an allusion to a basically identical cover art/book MacGuffin gag being used in The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy.)
    • In the closing scene of all versions, the Doctor ponders a future in which he retires and everyone assumes he's just a "nice old man". This is a reference to the original Douglas Adams story written for this serial slot - a story about the Doctor retiring from his travels, an idea that excited him but was killed by Executive Meddling. This also works as a Call Forward to Doctor Who 50th AS "The Day of the Doctor" , in which the Doctor meets a nice old man who is implied to be himself, from a far, far future in which he has retired... played by Tom Baker, who suggests that the Doctor may revisit some of his 'favourite old faces' some day. (It also works nicely in the video, where the line is spoken by a Tom Baker who does seem like a nice old man.)
  • Named by the Adaptation: David Taylor.
  • Not So Stoic: Skagra. In the book, we are repeatedly reminded that he allows himself only two smiles a day and lives only on logic. The Doctor teases him about this, joking that he'll end up getting a 'mad gleam in the eye' and start saying things like "The universe belongs to me!", since that's what everyone else he deals with does, but Skagra remains impenetrable, if a little bit more attracted to Romana than he'll even admit to himself. Until his plan suddenly implodes in a way none of them saw coming, after which Chris observes Skagra crying uncontrollably in the arms of his sworn enemy the Doctor, who has bundled him up in his coat like he's trying to console a small child. Even though he gets his plan back on the rails after this, the mask has well and truly slipped, and he goes straight into the 'mad gleam' mode that the Doctor told him would happen.
  • Oxbridge: Fictional Cedd's College in actual Cambridge.
  • Pardon My Klingon: In the book, the Doctor at one point uses an Old High Gallifreyan swear word which is left in the text as symbol form. It is described in the footnote as untranslatable and descriptive of something far more obscene than any of the readers can apparently imagine, although it's first used in the form "___ you" and the first of the symbols looks quite a lot like a linked male-and-female symbol.
    • Parodied when Romana is shocked to discover a note from a criminal depicting the rudest Gallifreyan symbol, "the V of Rassilon". We do eventually get to see the note, and it's just a passable illustration of a hand doing the V Sign (set in some interlocking shapes that imitate post-Re Tool depictions of Gallifreyan writing).
  • Penal Colony: Shada itself
  • Put Off Their Food: Early in the episode, Chronotis offers to make tea for Chris. Chris changes his mind upon learning he apparently uses lumps of milk.
  • Ret Canon: For many years, fans wondered why "Shada" was being narrated by Tom Baker in the first person, and why he was standing in a museum full of Doctor Who oddities. Then "The Day Of The Doctor" came around. Sure, it's never explicitly stated that it was the Curator, but it's a brilliant little explanation.
  • Romance on the Set: Daniel Hill, who played Chris Parsons, met his future wife Olivia Bazalgette (she was the production assistant) during the location filming of this story. They married two years later and remain so to this day!
  • Sapient Ship: Skagra's Ship, which he has programmed to have a matronly voice and to view Skagra with awe and worship. The Doctor inadvertently uses a small Logic Bomb on it to get out of a scrape, and its attempts to reconcile the faulty logic with its observations lead to it questioning its entire worldview.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the animated version, the Doctor's brain-amplifying headgear is built around the Second Doctor's "witch's hat" and a spacesuit helmet labelled "NC-1701D".
    • The Victim of the Week in the webcast (David Taylor in the novel) is made into a vintage car enthusiast. He's particularly fond of the Ford Prefect.
    • In the novelization, Chronotis states that he replaced The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey with "an Earth classic... something about thumbing a lift, and there were towels in it..."
    • Multiple further Mythology Gags about Hitchhiker's are made in the novelisation, such as Skagra's observation that the human economy seems to be based on moving small pieces of green paper around and that everyone is very excited about digital watches (a shoutout to the opening of The Restaurant at the Edge of the Universe), and Chronotis saying "Time! Don't talk to me about time!", a paraphrase of Marvin's famous line. Additionally, the whole book is written in a pretty obvious pastiche of Adams' writing style, which also counts as this.
  • Silicon-Based Life: The Kraags, probably.
    • In the BBC Video version, Tom Baker states that they're made of "crystallized coal."
  • Spot of Tea
  • The Immodest Orgasm: In the book, Skagra's ship apparently really likes time travel.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Played with in the book, as it was written in 2012, and exaggerated a bit to help us relate to the alien main characters who find the 1970s laughably primitive. For instance, there's a scene where Skagra finds it proof of human inferiority that they still consider digital watches and VCR to be the cutting edge of technology, which would have been played for a fairly straight laugh by Douglas Adams but is played in the book as being just as dated and contemptible as the aliens find it to be.
    • Mocked also in the book's description of K-9, as seen through Chris's eyes. He remarks on the letters on its side being 'clearly intended to look futuristic' and seems to find its aesthetic very dated.
  • Weirdness Censor: Professor Chronotis has been living in the same set of rooms at Cambridge (actually his TARDIS, which is even more out of date than the Doctor's) for centuries. According to him everyone at the old Cambridge colleges are very discreet, that and a perception filter.
  • What We Now Know to Be True:
    The Doctor: What? Do you understand Einstein?
    Parsons: Yes.
    The Doctor: What? And quantum theory?
    Parsons: Yes.
    The Doctor: What? And Planck?
    Parsons: Yes.
    The Doctor: What? And Newton?
    Parsons: Yes.
    The Doctor: What? And Schoenberg?
    Parsons: Of course.
    The Doctor: You've got a lot to unlearn.

SHAAAAADAAAAAA!!
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