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The Making of Shada

By Paul Scoones

Shada was to have been the six part finale for the seventeenth season. Douglas Adams was script editor for this season, and took on the post just before his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series became a success. Throughout 1979 he had to juggle Doctor Who with writing Hitchhikers scripts and novelisations. This heavy workload prevented Adams from securing new stories, and although he had planned to get Hitchhikers co-writer John Lloyd to write a script, Lloyd had not worked out and Adams himself ended up having to take on responsibility for the six episodes himself.

Adams first idea had the Doctor disenchanted with his fight against evil and trying to go into retirement, but his attempts are thwarted by problems which he must reluctantly solve. Producer Graham Williams disliked the idea, feeling it was too much of a send-up, so the script editor thought again and instead came up with the storyline for Shada, based on the question of what would the Time Lords do about their criminals. Adams was also keen to incorporate something of his experiences at St Johns College, Cambridge, and had an idea that one of the many slightly eccentric professors he had encountered at Cambridge University might have been a Time Lord in hiding. Although unconfirmed, it seems likely that Adams first idea might have had the Doctor himself cast in the role of the eccentric recluse at Cambridge.

Adams began writing Shada in July 1979 and the scripts were still being written when director Pennant Roberts arrived to begin work on the story in August. Graham Williams also worked on the scripts in a bid to get them completed, although his input was mainly on the editing side. An earlier, provisional title for Shada was Sunburst. The scripts were revised during September, at which point and the production team were preparing for location filming in mid October.

Almost invariably, a Doctor Who season would be running short of money by the end, often resulting in financial shortcuts affecting the look of the season's last story. In the case of the seventeenth season, the finances had been allocated so that the inexpensive stories occurred earlier in the year and money was saved from doing three stories entirely in studio to allow for the expense of a week on location for Shada. The unfortunate and unforeseeable outcome of this careful budgeting was that with Shada's cancellation, the season was reduced to just one expensive-looking story in the form of City of Death, filmed partly on location in Paris.

Location Filming

Five days were scheduled for location filming in Cambridge, from Monday 15 October to Friday 19 October 1979. On Sunday 14 October, Tom Baker was in Cambridge to practise punting as he had never handled a punt before. The following day, Monday 15 October, the punting sequence was filmed on a section of the river Cam called the Backs around King's College. The shots were achieved by positioning the camera on the riverbank, bridges, another punt, and also by substituting either the Doctor or Romana for the camera and operator.

The rest of the day was spent filming Skagra watching the Doctor's punt, cycling shots of Chris Parsons, his near collision with the Doctor on a bicycle, and various shots of Skagra strolling around Cambridge streets. The camera was mounted in a hired Citroen 2CV to keep pace in the bicycle shots.

On Tuesday 16 October, the cast and crew moved out just outside Cambridge to film the invisible spaceship scenes in a meadow in Grantchester. Also filmed on this day were brief shots of the sphere attacking a fisherman. It was on this day that the technical manager was recalled by his union as part of an ongoing industrial dispute at the BBC. This left the production without lighting for the rest of the week. Fortunately natural light conditions were bright enough to allow daytime filming to continue as planned, although some location scenes are noticeably murkier than others.

Wednesday 17 October was the day on which all of the scenes set in and around Emmanuel College - doubling for the fictitious St Cedd's - were filmed. The actors playing the Porter, the Policeman and Clare Keightley were only needed on location for this one day. Also filmed was Skagra's taking of the car.

Thursday 18 October had been intended as a rest day in preparation for a long night shoot starting at 6pm, and extending into the early hours of Friday. The entire sequence involving the Doctor meeting Skagra, the chase, and the Doctor's eventual rescue by Romana was all to be filmed at night. Because of the strike action, the night shoot became impossible. Thursday was still a rest day, and Pennant Roberts spent it rescheduling the night chase sequence for the daylight hours of Friday. It was during Thursday, whilst Roberts and Tom Baker were relaxing in a local pub, that the director was approached by a member of the St John's Choristers who asked if they could be included in the production.

Friday 19 October, the last day on location, saw the chase sequences filmed in daylight, including the last-minute appearance by the Choristers singing Chattanooga Choo-Choo under a lamp-post in one shot. A cherry picker truck was used to achieve some high-angle shots. This was the last day of location filming.

Monday 22 October was scheduled for effects and model filming at Ealing Television Film Studios. Four live-action sequences were filmed involving characters walking up or down a ramp covered in a blue Colour Separation Overlay sheet. These shots of characters on an invisible ramp were then laid over scenes shot in Grantchester meadow to give the illusion of characters entering or leaving Skagra's invisible spaceship. Also filmed on this day was a model shot of the Think Tank space station exploding. All other model sequences were to be recorded on videotape during regular studio recording.

Studio Recording

Rehearsals for the studio recordings began on Thursday 25 October at the Television Rehearsal Rooms in Acton. These continued for a week prior to the recording of the first of three studio blocks from Saturday 3 November to Monday 5 November, in studio TC3.

Although the industrial dispute involving the BBC technical managers and production assistants continued, the first block of studio recording on Shada passed unhindered.

Saturday 3 November mainly involved the recording of the first scene of the story on the Think Tank station, and scenes within the Professor's study.

Sunday 4 November covered the remainder of the scenes set within the Professor's study, and then moved on to those set in the brig of Skagra's ship.

Monday 5 November saw the postponement of several sequences planned for that day, including scenes of the Krarg on Skagra's ship and the Doctor crawling through the vortex between the two TARDISes. Model shots of Skagra's ship, the Think Tank space station, the Krarg ship and Shada were recorded as were insert shots of the Doctor and Romana for Skagra's mind probing. Last of all, the scenes on the dirtied-down Think Tank set were recorded, ending the first block. Effects filming took place on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 November at Ealing film studios, with model filming taking place first, followed by CSO work for the actors entering and leaving Skagra's ship via the invisible ramp.


Rehearsals for the second studio block took place between 6 and 18 November 1979. The sets were designed and constructed in studio TC6, and on the morning of Monday 19 November, the cast and crew ran through the camera rehearsals on set for that afternoon's recording, which was to have covered all of the scenes set within Chris Parsons' laboratory. After lunch, the cast and crew returned to find themselves locked out and the studio in darkness. This was the result of a full blown strike involving the production assistants and the studio technical staff which affected all BBC studios. The planned two day recording block for Shada had to be abandoned. As the strike could have ended at any time, rehearsals went ahead as planned for the third studio block (planned for TC3, 1-3 December). It was hoped that the missing days could be rescheduled in time to complete the production.

As originally scheduled, the two cancelled studio recording blocks would have covered scenes involving the following sets, in roughly the order listed here:

Block Two, Studio TC6, 19-20 November 1979
Chris Parsons' Laboratory
Skagra's Ship: generation annexe
Krarg Carrier: command deck, corridors and generation annexe
Doctor's TARDIS: console room and equipment room

Block Three, Studio TC3, 1-3 December 1979
Skagra's Ship: control chamber, corridor and generation annexe
Shada: reception, corridors and main chamber
Chris Parsons' Laboratory (again)
CSO scenes: Doctor in vortex and models

The strike was resolved on 1 December but BBC management, faced with a backlog of shows which had been delayed by the strike, were unable to allow the Doctor Who production team to have their three scheduled days in studio. The sets had been constructed for the third block, but were never assembled.

On Monday 10 December Shada was officially dropped from Season Seventeen; although it was still hoped that the production could be completed, time had run out to get the story ready in time to follow The Horns of Nimon. On this day, Graham Williams issued a BBC memo:

Due to present schedules this 6-part story has been abandoned and therefore will not be transmitted between weeks 4 & 9 1980. As soon as a replacement programme is found you will be notified.

Shada was to have screened from 19 January to 23 February 1980. Its place was taken on the BBC schedules by episodes of The Pink Panther Show.

Script Changes

A comparison of the rehearsal scripts with the recorded scenes reveals a large amount of rewriting of dialogue. Tom Baker's infamous propensity for improvisation was at its height in this season, and it comes as no surprise to discover that the scenes in which he appears are those that deviate the most from the script. A series of scenes set within Chronotis's study involving the Doctor, Romana and Clare Keightley feature numerous line changes up to the point where the Doctor disappears into the vortex; thereafter, the dialogue between Romana and Clare is almost verbatim.

In the script the Doctor calls Chris by his first name, but on screen he calls him 'Bristol', a reference to the school at which Chris tells the Doctor he was educated when they first meet.

In Adams' scripts, Chris is described as "born 1951, graduated 1975." On screen this line became: "Born 1956, graduated 1978," reducing his age from 28 to 23.

The St Cedds College porter, Wilkin, was not named in the scripts.

Pennant Roberts had wanted to shoot the chase between the Doctor and Skagra's mind-sapping sphere in the daytime, feeling that the need to move the lighting and generators around Cambridge would create enormous problems. Graham Williams however convinced Roberts that problems with crowds and public reaction to filming made a daytime shoot impractical. The script set the chase at night, with the Doctor encountering Skagra under a street lamp and then running off into the night when the sphere attacked. As events transpired however, the events took place in broad daylight, with the Doctor meeting Skagra on a bridge over the river and then riding off on a bicycle as the sphere attacked.

The script specifies the sequence in when the TARDIS crew discover Skagra's ship in the meadow as also being set at night (so that in story terms, a whole day was therefore supposed to have passed during Part Three whilst the Doctor and co wait to pick up the trace of Skagra's sphere).

A scene in which the Doctor and Chris Parsons cycle past each other, unaware of the other's identity, takes place on foot in the script. Conversely, a scene in the script in which the sphere 'noodles' (as Adams puts it in the script) an old man riding his bicycle becomes on screen a man fishing by the river when the sphere attacks and he topples in.

The punting scene in the script bears very little relation to its onscreen equivalent in terms of dialogue. The following is an excerpt from the scene as it appears in the rehearsal script:

ROMANA reclining in a punt.
The DOCTOR punting with skill, or at least with great élan.

ROMANA: Doctor, are you sure it's the right time of year for this sort of thing?
THE DOCTOR: Well the river's so crowded in the spring.
ROMANA: Don't make excuses. You misprogrammed the Tardis. You forgot to take axial tilt, diurnal rotation and the orbital parabola into account. One day you're going to materialise in the middle of the ocean.
THE DOCTOR: If I feel like a swim.
ROMANA hugs herself. She's cold.
THE DOCTOR: You know what you want?
ROMANA: A hot drink?
THE DOCTOR: Moral fibre.
ROMANA: I thought this was meant to be fun.
THE DOCTOR: It is if you've got moral fibre.
ROMANA: Don't you think it's time to see if the Professor is back in his room by now?
THE DOCTOR: That's where we're going.
ROMANA: Well can't you make this thing go more quickly?
THE DOCTOR: Of course I can. I could put a dimensional stabiliser on it and dematerialise. But that's not the point.
ROMANA: Then what is the point?
THE DOCTOR: Moral fibre.
ROMANA slumps beck resignedly.
The DOCTOR soldiers on, manfully whistling "Jolly Boating Weather".

Salvage Attempt

On Friday 14 December 1979, Graham Williams and Douglas Adams hosted their farewell party attended by most of the cast and crew of Shada. John Nathan-Turner, Graham Williams' Production Unit Manager for the past three seasons, took over at this point as the show's new producer. One of his first tasks as producer was to look at ways of salvaging Shada.

Nathan-Turner first attempted to gain studio time for the five days of recording needed to complete the story, but the BBC couldn't spare this. Douglas Adams reworked the scripts to remove two episodes of material so that Shada could be presented as two 50-minute episodes to be screened over Christmas 1980. Pennant Roberts and Nathan-Turner decided that the remaining scenes could be completed in two studio sessions in October. The problem they faced was that too many of the crucial action scenes had yet to be recorded, and what existed were generally the talking scenes, such as those set in the Professor's study, which could easily be condensed. BBC management could not allocate studio time to the production, and so on Wednesday 25 June 1980 Nathan-Turner notified Graham Williams and Douglas Adams that Shada had been officially cancelled.

Shada - Serial 5M - Season Seventeen

Writer: Douglas Adams
Director: Pennant Roberts
Producer: Graham Williams
Script Editor: Douglas Adams

Tom Baker (Doctor Who); Lalla Ward (Romana); David Brierley (Voice of K9); Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis); Christopher Neame (Skagra); Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons); Victoria Burgoyne (Clare Keightley); Gerald Campion (Porter Wilkin); Shirley Dixon (Voice of Ship); Derek Pollitt (Professor Caldera); Harry Fielder (Krarg Commander); Lionel Sansby, James Muir, Derek Suthern, Reg Woods (Krargs); James Coombes (Krarg Voices); The Cambridge Choristers (Street singers); John Hallett (Policeman)

Graham Cole, Terry Creasey, Norman Bradley, Ken Sedd, Tony Graham (Young scientists); John Dolan, Ernest Jennings, Johnny Clayton, Max Mundy (Old scientists); David Strong (Car driver); Tria Lining, Beth Turner, Lynn Goliday (Passers-by); Nicky Ryde, David Cole (Students); Richard English, Harry Bunges (Students/passers-by); Colin Thomas (Don); James Muir (Man fishing); Roger Neate (Lab technician/passer-by); Prisoners on Shada: Ann Lee (Lucre tia Borgia); Joan Harsant (Boedicia); Shirley Conrad (Lady Macbeth); Julie Le Rousse (Salome); John Cannon (Executioner); Derek Moss (Rasputin); Barry Summerfield (Nero); Steve Kelly (Gladiator); Dave Cooper (Genghis Khan); Steve Ismay, Ridgewell Hawkes, Les Shannon (Space monster aliens, supposedly a Dalek, a Cyberman, and a Zygon)

Production Crew (1979)
Production Assistant: Ralph Wilton; Director's Assistant: Jenny Doe (film); Olivia Bazalgette (studio); Assistant Floor Manager: Val McCrinimon; Floor Assistant: Barbra Jones; Studio Lighting: Mike Jefferies; Technical Manager: Tony Bate; Studio Manager: John Hartshom; Grams Operator: Gordon Phillipson; Vision Mixer: James Gould (studio 1), Sue Thorne (studio 2); Electronic Effects: Dave Chapman; Videotape Editor: Rod Waldron; Senior Cameraman: Alec Wheal; Show Working Supervisor: Chick Hetherington; Film Cameraman: Fintan Sheehan; Film Camera Assistant: Cohn Chase; Film Sound Recordist: Ron Blight; Grips: Stan Swetman; Film Operatives: Mike Smith, Stan Cresswell, Johnny Watson, Jimmy Hughes; Film Operations Manager: Ian Brindle; Film Editor: Tariq Anwar; Costume Designer: Rupert Jarvis; Make-up Artist: Kim Burns; Make-up Assistants: Sinikka Ikaheimo, Blaize Bettinson, Kim Vines, Christine Greenwood; Visual Effects Designer: Dave Harvard; Visual Effects Assistants: Nigel Brackley, Stephen Cambden; Properties Buyer: Helen Mackenzie; Design Assistant: Les McCallum; Production Unit Manager: John Nathan-Turner, Kathleen Bidmead; Special Sound: Dick Mills; Incidental Music: Dudley Simpson; Designer: Vic Meredith.

Production Crew (1992)
Presenter: Tom Baker; Cameraman: Gerry Ellis; Sound: Dave Hill; Make-up: Erica Wareing; Lighting: Ian Dow; Incidental Music: Keff McCulloch; Special Sound: Dick Mills; Sound Dubbing: Gemini Audio; Researcher: Ross McGinley; Video Tape Editor: Simon Ashcroft; Additional Effects: Ace Editing; Producer/Director: John Nathan-Turner

The Five Doctors

The opportunity to use something from Shada emerged a couple of years later, in the planning stages of the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors. Although initially agreeing to take part, Tom Baker later withdrew from the project when the script had already been written. Clearly it was not possible to put out a story under this title with only four Doctors, and so the production team turned to Shada for archival material of the Fourth Doctor. The punting sequence was an obvious choice since it contained no references to the plot of the story, and showed Tom Baker in typical form. This provided the time scoop snatch scene, complete with dubbed gramophone music. Although a gramophone sits in the bottom of the punt, no music was played during the recording of the scene, and would have been added in post production (the Shada video release has a different piece of music). The 'return' scene was a little more difficult to select, and was originally to have been that of the Doctor and Romana walking up to St Cedd's College from just slightly later in the same episode - thus implying that the pair had hardly been away at all - but this was changed to one of the Doctor and Romana leaving by TARDIS from the opening scene of Part Three, to tie in with the concept of all five Doctors departing by TARDIS. An additional static shot of the Doctor and Romana standing in Professor Chronotis' study was used to represent the pair trapped in limbo, distorted using a video effect.

In 1995 The Five Doctors was re-released on video as a 'special edition' which took the form of an extended and extensively re-edited version of the story. This was later also released on DVD in 1999. For this special edition version, some of the Shada footage was replaced. The shot of the Doctor and Romana in Professor Chronotis' study was replaced with a shot of the Doctor on the punt. The scene of the Doctor and Romana leaving in the TARDIS was also replaced with a short clip of the Doctor and Romana back on the punt.

On Video

Ian Levine, Nathan-Turner's unofficial script consultant in the early 1980s, held a copy of all of the existing material from Shada. With the assistance of Kevin Davies, James Russell and Richard Landen, Levine edited together a reconstruction of the story without music or sound effects using computer-generated text on screen to link the missing sequences. This version was shown at a Doctor Who Appreciation Society convention, PanoptiCon 5, in September 1983.

In late 1984 BBC Enterprises first considered the Shada footage as a possible video release. John Nathan-Turner was approached about the idea, and in 1985 revealed that there was a proposal to link the missing segments with narration by Colin Baker, possibly in the form of a fireside chat to current companion Peri. The idea was apparently abandoned when it was realised just how much was missing.

In 1991 interest in Shada was revived as Doctor Who was rating highly in the video charts, and BBC Enterprises were looking at various topics for special releases other than standard stories. The BBC at first considered that Shada might be an appropriate subject for the Tom Baker Years tape, but then decided to make Shada a video release in its own right.

Although Douglas Adams initially gave his permission to release Shada on video, it later transpired that he thought he was signing the contract for City of Death. Not only did Adams believe that Shada wasn't worthy of release, but he was also concerned that it might infringe on a deal he'd signed for the film rights for his book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency which (as explained below) reuses situations and characters from Shada. Adams was persuaded to let the video release go ahead, providing his name was removed from the packaging. His royalties were donated to the Comic Relief charity, and a sticker on the video cover stating this fact provided the only reference to Douglas Adams other than on the video recording itself.

The video was produced and directed by John Nathan-Turner, and the missing segments were narrated by Tom Baker (who, although not dressed as the Doctor, consistently refers to his character in the first person). Tom Baker's material was recorded 4th February 1992 at the Museum of the Moving Image's Doctor Who exhibition, which included a Krarg prop. The tape contains all of the recorded scenes except almost every model sequence; this reel of videotape could not be located in the BBC Archives, and although copies of this footage are held by fans, Nathan-Turner elected instead to digitally animate photographic stills of the models. Video effects were also used to place the hovering sphere in scenes where it was meant to appear. Sound effects were added by Dick Mills, and the incidental music was composed by Keff McCulloch (the original story was to have had music supplied by Dudley Simpson).

David Brierley, who had played the voice of K9 throughout Season Seventeen, was rehired to provide not only the mechanical dog's voice for the location scene in which he appears (which was always intended to be added in postproduction), but also to perform the voice of the Think Tank quarantine message. The video was presented as six distinct episodes, complete with opening and closing titles for each, produced for the video but in the style of the seventeenth season.

The video (BBCV 4814) was released on 6th July 1992, with a book containing a facsimile of the complete six rehearsal scripts to fill in the dialogue and action of the missing scenes - though what was recorded differs in many places from the scripts.

BBCi WebCast

Shada was revived in 2003 as a six-part webcast produced in partnership by BBCi and Big Finish Productions, combining a full cast audio recording, with Flash animation. It was hoped that Tom Baker would reprise his role as the Doctor but when Baker declined, the story was re-worked for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor, who teams up with Romana and K9 (with both Lalla Ward and John Leeson reprising their respective roles) to pick up the adventure that was interrupted by the events of The Five Doctors. Various minor changes to the script, including an introductory sequence, were made by Big Finish producer Gary Russell. The production was directed by Nicholas Pegg and featured a new cast with included James Fox (Professor Chronotis), Andrew Sachs (Skagra), Sean Biggerstaff (Chris Parsons), Susannah Harker (Clare Keightley), Melvyn Hayes (Wilkin), Hannah Gordon (The Ship), with Barnaby Edwards, Stuart Crossman and Nicholas Pegg himself playing various minor roles. The audio recording took place 12-14 November 2002, and the six episodes were released on the official BBC Doctor Who website at weekly intervals from 2 May to 6 June 2003. A CD of the audio recording (without the animation) was released by Big Finish Productions in December 2003.

Written Adaptations

The Pirate Planet and City of Death - both written by Douglas Adams - remain absent from the series of Doctor Who novelisations, and as Shada is at least partly complete and now a video release, it should perhaps account for another gap in the book series. The reason for these omissions was Adams himself. "I will never write Shada," Adams stated, "I just don't think it's up to much."

Believing however that Shada contained some good ideas - notably those involving Professor Chronotis and St Cedd's College - Douglas Adams used elements of the script in his first non-Hitchhiker novel, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, first published in 1986. Adams defended this re-use of his own material saying "There's no point in wasting stuff."

There is another less obvious Shada connection in the third Hitchhiker novel. In the rehearsal script for Part Six, Chronotis' sofa accidentally vanishes into the time vortex - and emerges on prehistoric Earth in Life, the Universe and Everything. On screen however, it is not a sofa but a tea trolley which falls into the vortex.

Douglas Adams granted permission for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's fiction fanzine Cosmic Masque to publish an adaptation of Shada. The novelisation was a condensed version of the script, written by the zine's editor Jonathan Vaughan Way, and was published in six parts, spread over issues 13-18.

The New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club has published unofficial adaptations of all three of Douglas Adams' stories. The first was Shada, in early 1989. The novelisation was written by Paul Scoones using the video compilation put together by Ian Levine, and in October 1991 a new and extensively revised version was published which incorporated material from the BBC rehearsal scripts. The novelisation was again reissued with some changes in 2001 and then made available online as an e-book in 2006.

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, 1986
Neil Gaiman, Don't Panic, 1988
Shada rehearsal scripts
Proteus 3, 1991
DWM 81, 189, 267
DWM: The Complete Fourth Doctor Volume Two
Cosmic Masque 13-18
InVision 44

This item appeared in TSV 26 (December 1991).

Related: Shada eBook
Index nodes: Shada
Reprinted in: TSV: The Best of Issues 21-26