Sunday, January 31, 2010

Me and My Shada...

Pixie's been doing her homework again.

Let's just say that my recommendation of "The Kingmaker" didn't go down too well with the rest of the team (Philistines) but they have graciously accorded me the opportunity to redeem my honour by recommending another Big Finish audio adventure. Oolon wants something more traditional, so I'm going to have to revoke "The Chimes of Midnight" as my next suggestion and go for "Shada" instead. You can't get much more traditional than this somewhat legendary unfinished Tom Baker adventure, now can you?

This is an adventure that Big Finish actually did for the BBC, rather than just being licenced to use the Beeb's characters. It was originally done for BBCi's Cult TV website (and the Prof seems to think there was Flash animation alongside it) where I missed it, so I've settled for the extended CD instead.

Shada was written by Douglas Adams and fell victim to strike action in 1979 (for the full story, see the Beeb's own take on it here). Bits of what was actually shot before the whole thing was abandoned eventually turned up in "The Five Doctors". The CD script has, by necessity, been tweaked to take into account that it's Paul McGann in the role and not Tom Baker, but that does lead to the excellent line of "...back when I was all curly hair and teeth". Yep, 'cos that wig in the TV movie was perfectly fine, apparently...

McGann is excellent as the Doctor. I'm not a huge fan of the TV movie, but he does a cracking audio. He works very well with Lalla Ward, who's back to being more of a useful Romana rather than the whimpering idiot one in "The Creature from the Pit". And most of the rest of the cast is pretty stellar: James Fox is wonderfully bumbling as Professor Chronotis (whilst supplying further evidence to support my argument that most Timelords really aren't cool), Hannah Gordon does a great line in sexy starships and Andrew Sachs does a funny voice (but then, I suppose we'd be disappointed if he didn't).

Susannah Harker also turns up (presumably having been let out of Sapphire and Steel's reality warping box specially for the occassion) and Melvin Hayes (a name which will mean nothing to anyone not old enough to remember "It Ain't 'Alf Hot, Mum") does an excellent impersonation of another gravelly voiced old-crotchett whose face I can visualise but can't remember what the hell he's called. Hopefully it'll come to me before I finish writing this; even the Prof can't remember his name, but he thinks he's in "The Vicar of Dibley" if that helps (I don't want to know how he knows that). The only really duff bit of voice-acting comes from the lad playing Chris Parsons, who doesn't quite realise in the first episode that he's supposed to be acting and not just reading out loud. Still, he seems to get the hang of it by the second act.

The story takes place over six parts, and like a lot of the original series could happily have been sorted out in four. Still, it doesn't feel quite as relentlessly padded as, say, "Inferno". There are some whacking great plot-holes, too. Now I know its probably not PC to say bad things about Douglas Adams, who by all accounts was a truly lovely bloke, but his writing was always a bit, well, wayward. "Shada" really flags up the problems inherent in being your own script editor, something RTD reinforced constantly throughout his own reign. Just let someone else do it, its far less painful in the long run.

I did enjoy listening to "Shada", and it is an interesting story in spite of the "WT*?" moments, but the one thought that kept coming back to haunt me was just how god-awful it would have looked if the BBC ever had got round to filming it all. In my mind's eye, the starship was pretty impressive, the Kraag were all nobbly and smouldering and Shada was grim and never-ending, but I just know that the Beeb's version would have been absolute tat. There would have been another of Matt Irving's washing-up liquid bottle and a pair of stabilisers space vehicles, some truly dreadful rubber suits and an "Ark in Space" set of pods, just sprayed black for the hell of it. And that's the real downfall for this audio; because it is a real script, from the real show you know exactly how it would look, rather than the rest of the audios, where you can dream about how it should look.

So, traditional? - yes; entertaining? - yes; flawed? - definitely; tainted by bad special effects association? - sadly; worth bothering with? - yes, as an interesting piece of ephemera that reminds us of the fact that no matter how ropey the effects, we still love the Doctor. Unless he's Sylvester McCoy.

Oh yes, and his name is Trevor Peacock, by the way. All hail IMDB!


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