Christmas Day was a very Doctor Who affair this year. Not only was there the official Christmas special in which Peter Capaldi handed over the reins to Jodie Whittaker, I also spent the afternoon watching the latest Blu-ray release direct from 1979 – “a little later than planned” as the introduction wittily explains.
The six-part serial “Shada” has legendary status among Doctor Who fans. Intended as the final story to season 17 of the classic series, it’s the only one in the 54 years of the show’s history to fail to make it to air. Of course there have been all manner of story ideas that even made it as far as being commissioned as scripts, but none have actually started filming only to be abandoned midway through.
That’s what happened to “Shada”. Industrial action saw the plug pulled after initial location filming in Cambridge and the completion of the first of three recording blocks back at BBC Television Centre. All the extant footage was carefully stored away, but with series stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward departing the show the following year there was no opportunity to go back and remount the production in order to complete the missing scenes. The existing material has been released in various forms over the years, including a VHS version with linking narration covering the missing scenes supplied by Baker. There was an animated version rewritten to star the Seventh Doctor (Paul McGann) and more recently a novelization of Douglas Adams’ scripts by Gareth Roberts. Read the rest of this entry »
Even when this four-part story originally aired back in September 1979 it was a distinctly pedestrian outing for Doctor Who. Time hasn’t really done all that much to improve things – 35 years on it remains thoroughly mediocre. But nonetheless there’s a reason why I wanted to revisit this story in particular, as it holds a quite important pivotal role in my relationship with the series as a whole. Allow me to explain…
By the time “Destiny of the Daleks” made it to air, it had been more than four years since I’d watched the programme. I simply hadn’t been able to reconcile myself to Tom Baker taking over from Jon Pertwee, and as a result my childish petulance meant I missed out on seeing the original transmissions of some of the greatest classic Who stories of all time. I’d been oblivious to the delights of such stories as “Terror of the Zygons”, “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Robots of Death” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, and what I saw when I finally climbed off my high horse to give the series another go didn’t exactly fill me with confidence or lead me to suspect the series had been any good in my absence.
What finally did draw me back, of course, was the Daleks. Just knowing that they would return for the first story of the new season gave me an impetus to check out the show again. It felt appropriate, because almost the last serial I’d watched before my self-imposed exile had been the brilliant “Genesis of the Daleks”. If only this new story could be half as good as that, I thought to myself … Read the rest of this entry »
It’s fair to say that this Doctor Who serial is not going to be anyone’s top pick of “best story of all time.” The making of this instalment was fraught with all sorts of problems, and they’re all right up there on the screen for all to see and cringe over.
To add to the collapse in budgets to the point of infeasibility in 1979, and the ever-present threat of industrial action from militant unions that year, was added the disastrous mis-selection of a totally inappropriate director. Alan Bromly was a semi-retired member of the old school style of directing, with no interest in science fiction and totally overwhelmed by the show’s growing technical complexity. As he floundered around more and more out of his depth, relations with the principal actors collapsed and led to on-set shouting matches with both Lalla Ward (playing Romana) and Tom Baker (the Doctor) – something that never happened in TV production at that time. Finally, the studio session went for a tea break – and Bromly never came back. Whether he walked out or was fired is a matter of conjecture.
Given this back story it’s amazing that the show ever made it to air at all, but it did and all the problems and repercussions of the situation are much too evident – starting with the set, which is not so much designed to be a “luxury cruise liner” as simply assembled out of whatever they had to hand in the scenery department, with the “ship’s bridge” looking like a store cupboard. Tatty flats are augmented by anything that 1970s glam rock had to offer as looking remotely futuristic, and it’s all held together by black and yellow striped tape making it look like a health and safety crime scene gone berserk – appropriately as it turns out, since the doors wobble when closing and the stairs visibly collapse under foot as the Doctor gives chase.