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The Shada Debate

TSV 31's letters featured some discussion on the subject of whether or not Shada should be regarded as canonical, that is officially recognised as an authentic part of the Doctor Who universe. The matter will probably never be resolved one way or the other, but two TSV writers who hold opposing views have put their reasons in print, each without getting to read the other's contribution before submitting their own.

The proposition: That Shada should be accepted as part of the Doctor Who canon.


by Paul Scoones

In 1979, producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams planned out the 26 part Season Seventeen. In the tradition of the previous four seasons of the show, the episodes were arranged as five four-parters and one six parter scheduled last in the season. Adams allocated himself the task of writing the six parter. This story became Shada, and but for circumstances beyond the control of Williams, Adams or anyone else working on this production, it would indeed have been transmitted as the last story of the season as was planned. Unfortunately, industrial action closed the BBC studios on the day that the second of three recording sessions for Shada was due to commence, and by the time the strike ended, it was not possible to remount the unrecorded scenes.

This case is unique in the history of Doctor Who. Many other stories have been cancelled for a variety of reasons - some were very close to production, such as William's own story The Nightmare Fair, which already had a director assigned to it when the show was 'cancelled' for eighteen months in early 1985 - but Shada is the only story to have actually stopped production once recording had commenced.

As Tom Baker relates in his introduction to the 1992 BBC Video release of the incomplete story, everyone involved in the production was very upset at the cancellation. Five more days of studio recording was all that was required to get this story to screen, and in 1980 incoming producer John Nathan-Turner made an attempt to salvage what had been recorded by way of an reworked story. The attempt was unsuccessful, but more than a decade later, he did succeed in getting the surviving footage released on video, helped by Tom Baker's narration.

All this indicates that Shada was very definitely meant to have been completed and screened. The story is now well-known through its video release and accompanying script book, and yet for many die-hard fans of Doctor Who, the story is not regarded as canonical. The reason, which to my mind appears rather feeble, is that it wasn't transmitted and therefore it isn't Doctor Who. The view seems to rest on the argument that to accept it would be to provide all other 'forgotten tales' with canonical status.

I would be the first to deny any other forgotten tale canonical status - Shada stands apart from the rest in that it actually commenced recording. All other unused stories were rejected as unsuitable for production for various reasons, and in this I am not discounting the original Season 23, containing such stories as Mission to Magnus, The Ultimate Evil and the aforementioned The Nightmare Fair, as although these stories would apparently have gone into production if it wasn't for the temporary cancellation of the show, the fact remains that none were rescheduled or rewritten for the transmitted Season 23.

So why not include Shada in the Doctor Who canon? I suspect that although many fans are steadfastly unwilling to shift from their 'it must be transmitted to be canonical' credo, they are fuelled in their belief by the thought of the nature of the extra baggage the Doctor Who myth takes on board if Shada is accepted into the fold.

Shada - like a number of other Fourth Doctor stories - substantially adds to Time Lord history in a way which gives a perceptibly different perspective on the past activities of the Doctor's race. These prospective additions to the myth revolve mainly around the creations of Salyavin and the Time Lord prison Shada. Salyavin, better known as Professor Chronotis, is a Time Lord criminal with great mental powers whom the Doctor idolised in his youth. Before he escaped to Cambridge on Earth, Salyavin was incarcerated in the prison built by the Time Lords on the planet Shada.

This prison contains notorious criminals from different times and places, including a number of characters from Earth history, such as Rasputin, Nero and Genghis Khan, held in stasis for eternity. The existence of this prison gives a markedly different view of the Time Lords than that presented in earlier stories, where they are very much omniscient beings refusing to interfere in the affairs of other races. It does however have some correlation with the Game of Rassilon seen in The Five Doctors, in which various creatures from time and space are abducted; or the Celestial Intervention Agency, a covert body of Time Lords who manipulate various people and events to ensure that history follows a determined course. The concept of a Time Lord prison planet is not completely at odds with this 'subversive' level of Gallifreyan culture.

It is my belief that Shada fits rather better in to the Doctor Who universe than some stories which were transmitted! To deny it a place in the 'official' canon seems absurd since it was always intended to be aired, and the recent BBC home video release of the story as part of the Doctor Who collection merely reinforces this view. It is high time this story received the recognition it deserves.


by Jon Preddle

"Now that Shada has been released on video, and can be viewed on our television screens, it is time to accept the story into the Doctor Who canon."

With that - or at least words to that effect - some fans are justifying Shada's inclusion into the Who-universe. However, the major point that they are overlooking is that Shada has NOT been released on video! That's right, Shada has not been released - only bits and pieces from a television story that was never completed.

What fans are now calling canonical Shada is nothing more than a piece of merchandise - a compilation of all the completed scenes from the BBC archives, accompanied by a facsimile of the rehearsal scripts (which could be deemed inaccurate because there is one page of important dialogue missing, and also a lot of other dialogue differs between tape and script). No other Doctor Who story consists of such a pot-pourri of elements, so why should Shada be the exception? It has remained dormant for thirteen years, so why the sudden desire to accept it into the canon? For me, canonical Doctor Who means episodes that have been broadcast by a TV network, and not a low-selling piece of BBC merchandise (even the packaging of the tape is different from the other Doctor Who releases, which suggests that even the BBC don't consider it to be part of the series).

The video itself contains most of the existing footage from the BBC archives. Only most of, because not all the model film-work has been used, as some of it is in the hands of a well-known fan. As a substitute there are some computer animation effects specially produced for the video.

In lieu of the missing segments - of which there are a lot! - there is a narration given by Tom Baker. However, don't be fooled by this; it is Tom Baker narrating the story, not the Doctor, despite the narration being in the first person. This is backed up by the afore-mentioned scripts - which means that in order to "watch" the story, one has to constantly stop and start the video all the while reading the script. And that makes Shada canonical? I don't think so, somehow. If anything, it becomes something of a chore, which I am sure will put many people off.

Another argument against Shada is that no one can be absolutely one hundred percent certain of what Shada is about, so how can it be canonical? Tell me, what do the Krargs sound like? Who are the prisoners released by Skagra? Is there a Cyberman included in this line up? A Dalek? No one can say for certain, can they. Even the BBC cast list for the story is inconclusive. For something to be canonical, it has to be tangible to the point that minute details such as names and places can be ascertained, and this cannot be done with that which is currently known as Shada.

I will now contradict myself, however, and agree that some parts of Shada are canonical - the two scenes that appear in The Five Doctors. Some would argue that this now makes Shada canonical because it has been broadcast by a TV network. Wrong! Only two scenes lifted from Shada were broadcast, and not the whole story, so only those two scenes are canonical. They now belong to The Five Doctors, and nothing else. Their actual origin is now irrelevant. And besides, if one were to try and fit Shada into those two scenes from The Five Doctors, then all the Doctor/Romana scenes that occur between would become invalid - after all, they can't be trapped in the vortex and be in Cambridge drinking tea with Professor Chronotis at the same time, can they?!

My argument is that Shada does not exist in a complete form of any nature and so it cannot be wholly accepted into the canon. The only "complete" form that I know of is Paul Scoones' novelisation. Here, Paul combined the video footage, the script and the cast list to create a hybrid story giving an individual's interpretation of what Shada may have been like.

Shada is not canonical and can never be, unless, of course, the BBC does broadcast all the existing footage, in full. But that isn't likely, is it. Shada has been a curiosity for thirteen years, and I say let it remain that way. After all, what have we got to lose?

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).

Index nodes: Shada