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Recap / Doctor Who S17 E6 "Shada"

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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.

The one screwed over by shenanigans.

Intended to air at the start of 1980note , filming on "Shada" ("SHAH-duh") was never completed due to a union strike at the BBC in 1979 interrupting the studio shoots after all the location filming was completed. While the show has had a number of stories that were scrapped earlier in development, this is the first — and, to date, only — example of a story that had to be abandoned midway through filming. But Douglas Adams scripts aren't so common that they can be discarded so easily, and eventually four official versions saw the light of day.

The first was the incomplete filmed version. Clips from this episode were initially re-used in "The Five Doctors", which saw the Doctor and Romana time-scooped out of the "Shada" plot altogether. In 1992, a full episode was finally cobbled together out of the existing bits, with linking narration provided by Tom Baker — appearing as a curator (ho ho) 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. It stars the Eighth Doctor Paul McGann as the story's Doctor, and Romana during her time as President of Gallifrey, as per Big Finish Doctor Who canon. In this version of events, the two decide to investigate what should have happened when they were time-scooped out of their previous attempt to have this adventure.

A 2012 novelisation was written by Gareth Roberts, based on the final versions of the scripts.

Finally in 2017, it was announced that the BBC had commissioned the serial to be completed using animation to create the scenes that were left unfilmed (as well as new live-action model shots), and it would be released on home video for the holiday season. It was finally broadcast on television in December 2019 — nearly 40 years overdue — as part of a marathon for the revival series in the leadup to the 2020 New Year's special. For all intents and purposes, this version is considered the definitive take on the unfinished serial.


Dougles Adams ended up recycling entire chunks of the plot, as well as the character of Professor Chronotis, 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.


  • Actually, I Am Him: Chronotis is Salyavin.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Chris introduces himself as "Chris Parsons, Bristol Grammar School". The Doctor appears to misparse this phrase, and refers to Chris as "Bristol" thereafter.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The 2003 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.
  • Adaptational Heroism: From the TV version to the 2003 webcast, Salyavin moves from a reformed villain to someone who was never actually a villain at all, but just misunderstood.
  • 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, Salyavin, Sujatric and Rundgar, Scintilla, the Ship.
  • The Alcatraz:
    • Shada. Since the only way to get to it is by using the Book, breakouts from the outside are virtually impossible, and since all prisoners are put into stasis the moment they enter their cells, breakouts from the inside are also impossible. The only person to ever escape was Salyavin, who did it by avoiding getting locked into a stasis cell in the first place.
    • Skagra's brig is a smaller example. It's a small room with no exits. The only way in or out is by teleporter. In the end, Skagra ends up locked up in it himself.
  • Aside Glance: The Doctor pulls one at the end of the 2017 version; after discussing with Romana how he one day wants to be seen by others as a "nice old man" akin to Professor Chronotis, he turns to the camera and grins - as he's now being portrayed by Tom Baker aged in his eighties!
  • Assimilation Plot: Skagra wants to create the Universal Mind. "The Universe, Doctor, as you so crudely put it, will not be mine, the Universe will be me!"
  • Author Appeal: Douglas Adams set the story in his own Cambridge University.
  • Brain in a Jar: Skagra uses his sphere to drain people's minds.
  • 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 Manchild that he is.
  • Captain Obvious:
    Romana: (To the unconscious Professor Chronotis) Professor!
    K9: No response, Mistress.
  • Continuity Announcement: The 2017 completed version has a period-accurate one at the beginning of the serial, complete with the announcer apologising for broadcasting the story later than planned.
  • Continuity Snarl: So... which version of "Shada" really happened? Did Romana and the Fourth Doctor meet Chronotis, or did the events of "The Five Doctors" distract them and it wasn't until four lives later the Doctor remembered to go back? We'll probably just have to blame the Time War...
    • This is somewhat mitigated by the Recut of "The Five Doctors", in which the Time Scoop drops off the Fourth Doctor and Romana exactly where it picked them up, allowing them to continue the story as though nothing had happened.
  • End of an Era: Though never broadcast, this story marked the end of the following features of the show from a production standpoint:
    • The 1967 arrangement of the theme by Delia Derbyshire.
    • The tunnel opening sequence by Bernard Lodge and the diamond series logo introduced in "The Time Warrior".
    • Graham Williams's tenure as producer; the rest of the show's original run would be produced by John Nathan-Turner.
    • Douglas Adams's tenure as script editor.
    • Dudley Simpson's tenure as incidental music composer (though he didn't have time to compose any music before production was halted— late 80's incidental music composers Keff McCulloch and Mark Ayres ended up scoring the 1992 and 2017 reconstructions, respectively— it's highly likely Simpson would've held this duty had the serial been finished on-time).
    • David Brierley as the voice of K9; John Leeson would reprise the role the following season onwards (despite having been dead for nine years, Brierley appears as K9 in the 2017 version courtesy of archival audio).
    • The Fourth Doctor's multicolour scarf and brown frock coat; the following season would feature the Doctor (in Tom Baker's final season on the show) in a burgundy & purple scarf and a larger burgundy frock coat.
    • The TARDIS prop designed by Barry Newberry; the next nine years of the show's original run would utilize a new, fibreglass prop designed by Tom Yardley-Jones.
    • The use of six-part stories; all future serials would span four parts at most.
  • Everybody Lives: In the novelization, the Doctor rescues the Think Tank minds and the Victim of the Week out of Skagra's sphere and has new bodies cloned for them.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Although in this case, Romana is able to hear Chronotis's heart beating in Gallifreyan Morse.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The Doctor teases Skagra about his emotionlessness being an affectation, because there is no way he would be fighting someone who didn't have a "manic gleam" in the eye and keep announcing things like "The universe belongs to me!!" Skagra pretends to be above that sort of thing, but still heads headfirst into Villainous Breakdown between his plan failing and the Doctor intentionally annoying him, eventually being reduced to having a manic gleam in the eye and shouting things like "The universe belongs to me!"
  • 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.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Skagra's outfit - a belted white tunic, a sparkly fedora, a glittery silver cape, a v-neck and shiny white high-waisted trousers tucked into silver platform boots - shrieks disco. In particular, it appears to be a pastiche of the outfit worn by the disco star Sir Monti Rock III (of Disco Tek and the Sex-Olettes "fame"). It is supposed to look ridiculous in-universe, and it might have been intended as a case of Skagra trying to pick an outfit that would blend in on Earth 1979 and getting it hilariously wrong, especially since he coordinates it with a carpet bag... but the story makes a point of having him dress like that when he's in space, too.
  • 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: Skagra's goal is to join people's minds together into a Universal Mind.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Paul McGann vs Andrew Sachs, in the Big Finish audio version. It's rather magnificent.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Salyavin, aka Professor Chronotis.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Cambridge has so many old professors who had been around for as long as anyone could remember because of tenure that nobody noticed that Chronotis had been in their number for 300 years.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In the novelization, Salyavin wasn't really a criminal. The Time Lords were so afraid of what he might do with his powers that they locked him up (or at least, tried to lock him up) preemptively and then spread propaganda about how dangerous he was to retroactively justify their actions. In time, people assumed that the fictional stories made up by the government were the truth. The 2017 version just has claims that the severity of Salyavin's crimes were exaggerated, but since the primary source of that explanation in both cases was Salyavin himself, and since the story of Salyavin was old when the Doctor was young, it's hard to determine how accurate it was.
  • Hotter and Sexier: For some reason, the 2003 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.
  • 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.
    • Likewise an Enforced Trope for the 2017 reconstruction, as the entire point was to fill in the uncompleted scenes, and so the animation resembles the actors.
  • 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.
  • Instant Expert: Chronotis downloads all his knowledge of TARDIS engineering into Clare's head to get an extra set of skilled hands to help repair his ancient time machine, providing the first clue that he's really Salyavin. No mention is ever made of him taking that knowledge back out, which invites the question of what she'll do with that knowledge when the adventure is over.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Inverted. A Cambridge staffer reports to the police that Professor Chronotis' quarters have disappeared (because Chronotis' quarters were a TARDIS that had just vworped off after Skagra). By the time the police send someone to look into the report, Chronotis and his quarters have returned.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: The audio version features an incredibly Hammy turn from Andrew Sachs of Fawlty Towers fame as the hysterically camp Big Bad Skagra.
    "REMOVE all the contents of his MIND? Why not? Muah-ha-ha! Muah-HA-HA! AH-HAH-HA-HA-HAAAA!"
  • 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.
  • Logic Bomb: The Doctor gets attacked by Skagra while snooping around his ship. After the villain attacks the Doctor, the Doctor puts himself into a state of Faux Death thanks to his Bizarre Alien Biology so he can escape. During this, The Ship, who is extremely obsequious towards the villain, scans the Doctor and confirms him dead. When the Doctor gets up and starts walking around and talking to it, the Ship is extremely confused, since it can't understand why he is talking if he is dead, and suggests rescanning him. At this point, the Doctor takes advantage of the situation by convincing it that the Ship does not need to rescan him, as her master is infallible, and she is therefore infallible. Therefore, her reading was right, the Doctor is dead, and as he is dead he cannot order her to do anything that would cause any harm to her or to her master, so she should start obeying his commands. The Ship starts listening to him, but also turns off the oxygen as there are no live people on board, and finds the Doctor's request to turn it back on illogical.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: Clare is searching Prof. Chronotis' study and discovers the controls to his TARDIS by leaning on a bookshelf.
  • MacGuffin: The book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey.
  • Meaningful Echo: In the novelization, everyone keeps thinking of and referring to Chronotis as a "nice old man". It's implied that he'd been using his mind control powers to get people to think of him like this as part of his cover.
  • Me's a Crowd: How the Doctor defeats Skagra. Because he had been mind drained earlier, there was a copy of the Doctor's mind in the hive mind that Skagra had created. The Doctor then used his cobbled-together helmet to link with the other copy of his mind to convince the hive mind to turn against Skagra.
  • Mind Rape: The first victims of Skagra's device. Most victims are simply killed, but the first six people were left alive and so nonfunctional by the experience that they are unable to talk or care for themselves. The Doctor is eventually able to communicate with Akrotiri, one of the victims, by connecting Chris's brain to his - and Akrotiri's brain is so wrecked that the experience is excruciatingly painful for Chris (defying this trope, the Doctor tells Chris that this might happen and gets his consent first).
  • My Nayme Is: For some reason, Clare is spelt without an "i" in the script book and credits of the 1992 video version. The webcast goes for the standard spelling.
  • Mythology Gag: In the closing scene, 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.
  • Named by the Adaptation: David Taylor.
  • Nice Hat: Romana again. White hat with berries and flowers.
  • Noodle Incident: Salyavin allegedly used his mind control powers to commit terrible crimes, which was why he was locked up. But no adaptation ever explicitly states what those crimes actually were. The novelization uses this to claim that this was because they never actually happened - the Council was so afraid of what he might do that they locked him up pre-emptively and then invented tales of him being a criminal to justify their actions.
  • Penal Colony: Shada itself.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: In the end, the Doctor and Romana allow Salyavin, who they know and like, to go back to his retirement into obscurity at Cambridge instead of taking him to the cell he was supposed to be locked up in in Shada. But all the other prisoners that Skagra let out of their cells, who they have never spoken to, are locked back up the moment the Doctor finished restoring their minds, saying it's not up to them to argue with Gallifrey's courts.
  • Punny Name: The men in the Think-Tank have weirdly jokey names, e.g. RAF Akrotiri (the name of an airforce base in Cyprus), GV Centauri (a star), AST Thira (Ast-Thira refers to a flight route within Greece.)
  • 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.
  • Rapid Aging: Happens to the Doctor at the end of the 2017 version as a sight gag, with an elderly Tom Baker reprising his iconic role just for the hell of it (incidentally marking his first canon appearance as the Fourth Doctor in the main TV series since 1982).
  • Retraux: Barring the animated segments, the 2017 reconstruction is made up to look and feel as close to an actual Season 17 Doctor Who episode as possible. The new model effects, bluescreen effects, and live-action ending scene in the 2017 version were created using the exact same methods and technology that was used for the original 1979 footage, allowing it to be seamlessly integrated with the archival material; the only modern-looking scene in the live-action footage is that of the Doctor walking through the time vortex, which eschews the typical slit-scan effect in favor of CGI glow and steam effects (the 1992 version uses a more period-accurate design). Additionally, Mark Ayres' incidental music for the 2017 version is done In the Style of... Dudley Simpson's scores for the show during his tenure as incidental music composer, again aiding in the realm of authenticity. Again, with the exception of the HD digital animation, the end result looks startlingly close to how the actual serial might've turned out had it made it to air in early 1980.
  • 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.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Chronotis. It's part of the reason he wanted to turn the book over to the Doctor, why he lost the book to Parsons, and why he had a hard time remembering who took it. After his death and accidental resurrection, his mind is much sharper.
  • Scenery Porn: The surviving footage shows some gorgeous location filming at Cambridge.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Silicon-Based Life: The Kraags, probably.
    • In the 1992 BBC Video version, Tom Baker states that they're made of "crystallized coal."
  • Sissy Villain: One of the flaws Douglas Adams noted about his script was that he'd written Skagra in this way, which he admitted was lazy on his part and neither funny nor frightening, especially in comparison to the dynamic and interesting villains in his much preferred script "City of Death". He is Rescued from the Scrappy Heap in the Big Finish adaptation (in which he gets a ridiculously hammy performance from Andrew Sachs).
  • Spot of Tea: Professor Chronotis offers these to his visitors.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Nobody in Cambridge pays any attention to Skagra's caped disco suit, or to the Doctor fleeing a flying metal sphere on a bicycle.
  • Wacky Fratboy Hijinks: At the end of the story, a policeman comes by to investigate the report of Professor Chronitis' quarters disappearing, only to find that they had suddenly reappeared. He goes on to assume that this was some sort of student prank, like snatching policemen's helmets. Then he notices the police call box sitting in the corner of the Professor's living room and comes to the conclusion that this particular set of schoolboy shenanigans had taken it up a notch. After watching the call box suddenly vanish into thin air, the constable decides to take Chronotis, Clare and Chris to the station for questioning.
  • 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.
  • 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 Schönberg?
    Parsons: Of course.
    The Doctor: You've got a lot to unlearn.


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