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Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Apocalypse Element

Starring
Colin Baker as The Doctor with Maggie Stables as Evelyn
and Lalla Ward as Romana

Also featuring

Michael Wade, Nicholas Briggs, Alistair Lock, Karen Henson
Andrea Newland, Andrew Fettes, Toby Longworth
James Campbell, Neil Corry
and Anthony Keetch

Written by Stephen Cole
Directed by Nicholas Briggs

 

All things considered, I found the first outing for the Daleks in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range to be a rather lukewarm affair. However, joining them for their second appearance on audio we also have the Time Lords of Gallifrey, Evelyn Smythe, Colin Baker as The Doctor, and a certain Romanadvoratrelundar, played once again by Lalla Ward. With those ingredients, what could possibly go wrong?

 

“There’s something wrong here, I can feel it.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive on the planet Archetryx, as it plays host to twenty of the most powerful races in the cosmos, all attending a conference designed to discuss imposing limitations to temporal manipulation in light of the still unexplained Etra Prime incident, where the entire planetoid, and all upon it, vanished without trace. The Doctor is shocked to discover that amongst the missing was the newly elected President of the Time Lords, and his former travelling companion, Romana.

Ever since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005 there has been the shadow of the Last Great Time War hanging over The Doctor. An event so momentous that it altered the very fabric of The Doctor himself. And yet also an event that we, as an audience, would seemingly never be destined to witness for ourselves, instead only being allowed small glimpses into the periphery, and indications into what the fallout of this event caused to The Doctor, to the Time Lords, Gallifrey and the Daleks, and to the universe at large. This, of course, only helped to increase the mystique that surrounds the Time War, and made the audience even keener to experience the events that transpired for themselves in some form. Alas, to date, that has not come to pass. So instead all we can do is to take the fragments that we have been given, and imagine the rest.

But if you are anything like me, just visualising what such a Time War could be like is a bit of a daunting task. Until now. Because The Apocalypse Element paints a very clear picture of what such a conflict could be like, and could, if you chose to do so, even be seen as an opening salvo in what would ultimately become the Last Great Time War. It also happens to be the second lead in to the eventual Dalek Empire spinoff series, after the previous Sylvester McCoy era tale The Genocide Machine. And a marked improvement it is on that one, too.

And don’t let the chosen quote above mislead you either, there is in fact very little wrong here at all. Indeed, what writer Stephen Cole and director Nicholas Briggs have delivered this time out is a very strong contender for my favourite Big Finish Doctor Who audio release so far. Or, at the very least, a story that is on par with what was, prior to this, my clear favourite, The Marian Conspiracy. And just like that story, it all comes down to the quality and complexity of the script, and the ensemble of truly first rate performances. Both areas in which this particular adventure absolutely shines.

Speaking of complexity, the job Stephen Cole does in balancing so many disparate elements, while always maintaining forward momentum, and never losing focus on either plot or character, is a masterful one. That he manages to do so, while also re-introducing old characters in a compelling manner, telling an epic, fast moving tale with a large cast of characters, and setting up plot elements that will clearly be used again in the future, all the while being forever mindful of the medium he is working in, and how best to use it, well, it is simply a master-class on how to successfully script for audio. Truly impressive stuff, and one that future writers for Big Finish have hopefully taken note of.

And while I’m handing out plaudits, I also need to point out just how well the Daleks themselves have been used this time around. Unlike the rather perfunctory The Genocide Machine, here we have the Daleks at their evil best, with the true menace and threat they represent superbly and convincingly realised. They are the scourge of the universe, equal parts deadly fanatical threat, and twisted conniving strategist, and few Doctor Who stories, and even fewer Doctor Who writers, manage to fully sell all of that character and motivation which lies festering behind the robotic voices, and their penchant for catch-phrase induced slaughter. But Cole and company have absolutely nailed the Daleks here, and it makes a world of difference to the overall effectiveness of the story.

Another thing that helps truly sell the Daleks in this story is just how good the Dalek voices are. Once again I felt that the first Dalek outing, The Genocide Machine, had been just a tiny bit off in some regards, as far as the Dalek voice work went. But here Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock are absolutely spot on, and the degree to which this authenticity adds to the menace of the Daleks here is truly palpable.

So what we have, with this first episode, is an absolute cracker of an opening, equal parts mystery and plot development, that pays off exactly when it needs to, and in often surprising and imaginative ways as well. And it only gets better from here, folks.

 

“Welcome back, Romana.”

Episode 2: On Etra Prime, Romana is forced by the Daleks to work on the construction of a temporal centrifuge, a vital component in their upcoming plans. But could this also present an opportunity for escape after so many years imprisonment?

As we roll into the second episode, we are greeted with the return of Lalla Ward as either Romanadvoratrelundar, Romana, Romana II, The Mistress, or Unit One-One-Seven, depending on your personal point of view. And quite a return it is too. Not only is it a supremely bold move to take the character of Romana as we previously knew her, give her this tortured history, and set her up to go in a surprising new direction into the future, but it also serves to strengthen her, adding additional layers to a character that we previously knew, and giving her an actual purpose within the greater Doctor Who universe, beyond that of simple companion. In short, rather than the usual effort to recapture a companion exactly as they were when we knew them, here they have given us the return of a character who has changed in the years since we, and the Doctor, last saw them. And it works remarkably well. It also affords Lalla Ward some legitimate performance opportunities. One of the best, and most effective, being that of her introductory monologue, where she details her current state of mind and body, after having been so long imprisoned by the Daleks. It is genuinely captivating work, perfectly delivered by Lalla Ward, and gives Romana one Hell of an entrance into the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And, better yet, it is a performance quality that she maintains for the entirety of this story, approaching each opportunity with equal gusto. There’s no first audio anxieties on display here whatsoever.

This adventure also marks the return of Michael Wade’s Lord President and Anthony Keetch’s Celestial Intervention Agency Coordinator Vansell, whose last appearance, in debut Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure The Sirens of Time, had them allowing Gallifrey to be invaded by the Knights of Velyshaa. Here they allow the Daleks to invade Gallifrey, so at least they are setting their invasion standards a little higher this time around. Still, with that kind of managerial track record is it any wonder that everybody on Gallifrey was apparently perfectly willing to wait twenty years for Romana to return and reclaim the top job? Besides which, it’s not like they are anywhere near the worst that Gallifreyan politics has had to offer over the years, so the locals probably thank Rassilon for small mercies, I suppose. Either way, both performers do their jobs here admirably.

Speaking of performances, this is another triumph for Colin Baker, who is once again absolutely superb as The Doctor. He also gets some great lines along the way, both dramatic and pithy. The Mexican Standoff bit, which I won’t spoil here, actually made me laugh out loud. A perfect example of a performance elevating what was a good line, and turning it into something great. A talent for which Colin Baker seems to posses in abundance, based on his work for Big Finish thus far. His Doctor here also fully possesses that fiery quality that I always so enjoy, even if some of the rougher edges are, again, smoothed down just a little too much for my taste. Also notable of mention is just how well the chemistry between Colin Baker’s Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana works here, and you truly do believe instantly in the shared history that exists between these two characters.

The main guest cast is strong right across the board this time out as well, with Anthony Keetch’s afore mentioned Vansell in particular making a great foil for The Doctor, while Andrea Newland and Andrew Fettes (as Raldeth, also previously featured in The Sires on Time) were both, for me, standouts amongst a very fine supporting cast. And then we come to one Evelyn Smythe…

Now I have actually quite enjoyed Maggie Stable’s Evelyn in the two previous outings that she shared with Colin Baker’s Doctor, but here I felt that the character just made for a bit of an ill fit with the story being told. Given the stakes involved and the way that the drama unfolds, she is entirely too flippant for the entirety of the story. Nothing seems to faze her, worry her, or frighten her, in fact she shows basically zero emotion whatsoever, nor any empathy to the gravity of the events unfolding around her, instead she just basically walks about like a bemused tourist, replete with a string of pithy one liners, which soon becomes rather tiresome. It just serves to make the character seem entirely detached from all that is going on around her, and as a result, the story itself, and one can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have actually been better without her in it, and with someone a little more emotional in her place. Maggie Stables performance is fine for what it is, but, for me, it just doesn’t fit very well into the overall tone of the tale being told, and as such is one of the very few weaknesses in what is otherwise a pretty flawless audio adventure. That said, it does allow The Doctor a great dramatic outburst near the end of the story, when even he seems to have had enough of her apparent apathy towards the unfolding of events. Honestly, I couldn’t help but sympathise.

That lone, and relatively minor, complaint aside, this episode takes the story from mystery to outright thriller, and the pacing barely lets up for a moment, despite somehow still allowing the story and characters time enough to breathe, and the story to twist and turn in admirable fashion. And things aren’t slowing down any as we storm into episode three.

 

“Gallifrey must fall to the Daleks!”

Episode 3: After the disaster on Archetryx, The Doctor and his companions retreat to Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords. However, they may already be too late, as the Dalek invasion has begun…

The third episode shows us that this story is very much one of two halves, however luckily for us both are equally enjoyable and interesting. There is fan service aplenty here, particularly now that we are on Gallifrey, however it all fits neatly within the bounds of the story being told, and thankfully never feels like it is only present as a form of writer posturing, as can so often be the case when the continuity well is delved into. As a result, such instances actually tend to add to the story, rather than work against it, and manage to confidently avoid the risk of alienating the listener under a sea of continuity minutiae.

If I had any nitpicks at this point, it would be that very occasionally the sound mix is a little too cacophonous during the requisite battle scenes, and when that happens the lack of aural focus can detract from the overall effectiveness of the scene in question to a small degree, as it all tends to become a clash of noise. But this only happens a couple of times along the way, and never for very long, so it really is being tremendously nitpicky of me to even mention. And while on the subject, I must also take the opportunity to say that the soundscape itself is actually incredibly impressive and immersive here, and is itself worthy of the highest of commendations. You really can’t undersell the value and importance of achieving a sense of atmosphere for audio, and here they have managed to do exactly that, and then some.

I do, however, have one other audio complaint, and that is in the wisdom of using a high pitched tone as a mind-control plot device early on in the story, as it is just such an unpleasant sound to hear, particularly through earphones. Thankfully it’s usage is limited to only a couple of brief instances in the first episode, but even so, perhaps it was not the wisest of choices purely from a listener comfort point of view.

As we power towards the final episode now, I should also say that this is one of those rare stories where each episode grips so hard that it left me genuinely thirsty to jump right in to the next episode as soon as possible. And for an episodic story format, there are few compliments as great as that. It has also managed to provide some ripping good cliff-hangers along the way, as well. And as I have said before, I do love me a good cliff-hanger.

 

“The sacred heart of the Time Lords.”

Episode 4: As the true scale of the Dalek plan becomes horrifically clear, The Doctor and his companions are faced with an impossible choice. Surrender Gallifrey to the Daleks, or watch the entire universe burn. Could this finally be victory for the Daleks?

Often I find that the final episode is so focussed on trying to wrap everything up neatly that it forgets that it still has to be entertaining along the way. However, we have no such worries here, as they manage to not just stick the landing, and in highly entertaining and satisfying fashion, but also deliver a neat little twist in the tail to boot. Once again, a glowing example of how it should be done.

So, it seems that with The Apocalypse Element we have yet another high water mark for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. A multi-layered, tremendously engaging, and perfectly paced story that more than lives up to any raised expectations formed by the return of Romana, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and the Daleks. Every element of this audio release comes together to help deliver what is, for me, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite releases from this first timer’s journey through Big Finish thus far, and it is this degree of quality Doctor Who audio story that drives me to keep coming back for more, searching for the next Big Finish Doctor Who audio release of similar excellence.

There are a couple of small issues I had along the way, but by any measure, this is classic Doctor Who, and yet another feather in the cap of Colin Baker’s Doctor, who truly has proven now beyond a shadow of a doubt that despite the ups and downs of his television tenure, his Doctor was never the problem. Something that, hopefully, conventional fan wisdom will one day see fit to finally acknowledge.

Now, if only I could finally get an audio adventure somewhere near this good for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. A task which has thus far proven itself to be surprisingly elusive, despite best efforts to the contrary. Will his next outing finally break the drought?

 

Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Fires of Vulcan

Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release Shada.

Would Shada be held in quite so high a regard if it were stripped of the trappings of beingĀ the famously incomplete Douglas Adams Doctor Who story, and was instead just another story from that era?

 

The DVD release of Shada was always going to be a difficult one.

We are, after all, talking about a story that was never originally completed due to industrial action that struck the BBC during the production of the story. And despite attempts to later remount the story, ultimately it was abandoned after having only been partially filmed. Everyone moved on, and Shada was left on the shelf, incomplete. The televisual embodiment of what might have been.

And unlike the traditional lost stories from the Hartnell and Troughton years, this isn’t a case of whole episodes being lost, but instead it is a case of assorted scenes from throughout the story, across multiple episodes, simply never having been shot. So the process of animating that lost footage would face hurdles that animating complete missing episodes would not. Namely it would mean that individual episodes of the story, in order to be complete, would have to continually switch between the live action footage that was shot, and newly made animated insert footage, and back again, and do so frequently, at the risk of such changes in visual content jarring the viewer. And unlike other lost stories, there would be no audio to work from to act as a backbone in order to create new content around either, instead there would be a need to create brand new audio for all of the missing, never originally filmed, scenes, requiring the participation of members of the original cast, or sound-alikes where that wasn’t possible. Additionally, anything that had not yet been visualised in the existing footage would have to be designed and created from the ground up, prior to animation, presumably based on script notes and whatever else could be scraped up in relation to the ill-fated production. And it would need to do all of this within a relatively minuscule BBC Doctor Who DVD release budget, while still allowing space enough in the budget for all of the other necessities that are a natural part of every Doctor Who DVD release.

Assessing all that would be required then, from an objective point of view, it is frankly little surprise that it didn’t happen. As even putting aside the aesthetic and creative challenges, on a purely budgetary and resource management side of things, it appears nigh on impossible to achieve all of that with such limitations in place. And with an end result that would likely be extremely divisive amongst fans and customers, given the way in which animation and live action would have to be forcibly blended and continually alternate throughout the story, as well as taking into account the limitations on the type and quality of animation that can even be achieved on such low budgets to begin with, it was perhaps wise to play it safe and try to make the best Shada release package as they could, short of actually creating the new animated linking scenes within each of the six episodes that would be required. Add to which, it is also important to note that, at best, only about half of the six episode serial of Shada exists, so that would mean the equivalent of three episodes worth of animation would be required in order to cover the missing footage throughout the story. And given that it has recently been said that producing two episodes of animated material for a release is stretching the budget of a DVD release to it’s limits, expecting three episodes worth, plus all new audio and design work, all edited as seamlessly as possible into existing live action footage, was always going to be a hill too far for the Doctor Who DVD range, given current budgetary limitations. They even appear to have intentionally left Shada’s release as late as they could in the hope that some miracle might come along. But when it didn’t, one can hardly blame them for releasing what they had in as best a manner as they could reasonably do.

“Was it to do with the voices?”

Which brings us to Ian Levine.

Levine has long been a divisive personality amongst Doctor Who fandom. So perhaps expectedly, when it was reported that he was undertaking his own Shada animation project before the DVD release had even been announced, it was bound to make a few waves. Not to mention raise a few expectations, perhaps even outright assumptions, in relation to just why it was being made, and where it would end up. And to his credit, he did complete his part animated Shada project, even managing to hire many of the key cast to record brand new audio for the animated scenes, Lalla Ward and John Leeson (replacing the late David Brierley) amongst them. Though arguably the most important voice, that belonging to Tom Baker, chose not to take part, and would be replaced in the animated sequences by someone doing a Tom Baker impersonation.

How good is Ian Levine’s Shada? Well, unless you are on the short-list of those that have seen it personally, that is rather impossible to judge at this point. The only review that we have is from an ardent and long-time Ian Levine supporter, so while interesting, said ‘review’ can hardly be called a credible or objective source by which to make any kind of informed or rational judgement by. Those in the pro camp tend to say it is great, those in the con camp tend to say it is a bit of a mess, and most of the rest of us will likely never know. But why won’t we know, I hear you ask. Didn’t Ian Levine offer the Shada animation for free to the producers of the Doctor Who DVD range? So he tells us, yes. And that is where the Shada DVD outrage and controversy amongst fandom truly kicked in.

As best as us mere mortals on the outside looking in can tell, it basically went down like this. Ian Levine met with the key stakeholders in charge of the classic Doctor Who DVD range in regards to them possibly using the animated Shada scenes that he had created, with the intention of adding them into the eventual Shada DVD release. They ultimately declined, for reasons we haven’t been made privy to. Ian Levine came out and publicly said he offered it for free, and inferred that they basically passed on his Shada animation out of nothing but sheer spite. Fandom went into standard meltdown mode, with a great many acting as if they had been robbed of something, without even having any idea of the actual worth of what it was that they had been apparently denied. And the Shada release, no matter what form it now took, was never going to be able to please a large proportion of now outraged classic Doctor Who fans, due to missing something it was unlikely to have ever had to begin with.

“If you will not give me the information voluntarily, I will deduct it from you. I am sure there is much else in your mind that will interest me.”

But why didn’t they use Levine’s Shada? After all, he apparently offered it for free!

Well, I doubt we’ll ever have an absolute and definitive, unbiased answer on that one. However I will say that Ian Levine’s claims that he offered it for free, and so it wouldn’t have cost them anything to include, and thus intimating that they only chose not to do so out of some kind of petty personal spite, is all a bit of a fan-baiting smoke and mirrors act, really. I mean let’s run down just a few points to consider, shall we?

Tom Baker would only record his voice for Ian Levine’s Shada project for an eight grand up front fee, and that was at the time when this was still being advertised to all involved parties as a strictly personal non commercial project. Levine passed, and got a sound-alike, who even most in the pro-Levine camp admit isn’t altogether convincing. One would imagine that Tom Baker’s fee to BBC Worldwide in order to record dialogue for a worldwide commercial DVD release of Shada would be considerably higher than the fee requested of Levine for what had been billed to him as a personal pet project. Plus, even if they didn’t get Baker to loop the missing dialogue – which could potentially raise its own share of legal and rights issues – they would still, at the very least, have to get Baker’s permission and pay Baker an agreed upon fee for using his likeness in the animation, and possibly also for the rights to even use a sound-alike, due to the complicated ins and outs of how BBC licensing works in regards to Doctor Who. In the case of the latter they could potentially also open themselves up to possible legal action on the grounds of misrepresentation as well, unless the Shada DVD clearly and explicitly stated that the animated sections were being voiced by another party that was not Tom Baker. And that’s just Baker’s voice. There are all sorts of little legal mines all over doing partial audio reconstruction that would need to be addressed and taken care of legally and contractually, and usually before such a project was even attempted, rather than after the fact.

Ian Levine didn’t pay for all of this out of his own pocket, as it is often made to sound like, but instead he took money and other contributions from other Doctor Who fans in order to create and complete his Shada animation project. Even more critically, he sought absolutely no rights for doing any of this ahead of time, from either the BBC or from Douglas Adams estate, but instead produced it by himself on the grounds of it being a purely non-profit, non commercial and private fan project.

Levine did not have the contracted clearances from all those involved in order to sell and distribute the work as part of a commercial entity and on a worldwide, or even domestic UK, basis. Therefore
every single person involved who were initially hired on a work-for-hire, or even voluntary basis, and again, for what they likely believed to have been a private, non commercial fan project, would now need to sign brand new clearances and be officially re-contracted. A rather expensive process, even in the unlikely event that no one actually wanted additional money for the use of the fruits of their individual participation. And if a single person couldn’t be contracted for any reason whatsoever then all of their work would be rendered legally unable to be used in said project. The after the fact fees associated with tracking down everyone involved, attaining all of the required rights, clearance issues, contracts, and so forth would hardly be anywhere approaching cheap, again, even if all the people involved didn’t want any (extra) money. And if you think that the likes of
John Leeson and Lalla Ward wouldn’t want to be properly paid for their part in a (now suddenly) commercial for-profit official release, well, you’re a far more optimistic person than I am.

Ian Levine reportedly made the creative decision to match certain things to the original script, rather than what was actually shot, as confirmed by certain people who have seen the Shada animation. Therefore there are parts of the animation that would likely be needed to be (slightly?) reworked to limit such discrepancies, as well as in order to make the apparently already somewhat jarring transitions between live action and animation more fluid, and attempt to have them better sit into the live action material in general. From all accounts, Levine allegedly refused to allow any such changes when the viability of using the animated Shada footage was under discussion, taking his usual my-way-or-the-highway bull in a china-shop approach. Plus, unlike traditional animated reconstructions, where each episode presented has an overall sense of consistency, here, as mentioned previously, you have individual episodes that would switch frequently between live action and animation and back again, which even in the absolute best case scenario, has to be at least somewhat jarring to the viewing experience.

And then we come to the real crux of the matter, the overall quality of the animation that has been produced. I’m not just talking about does it look good enough, though there is always that question, I’m talking more along the lines of has it been created in such a way as to allow for it to be transferred in optimum quality at appropriate size and ratio to the DVD format. Because fixing animation content after the fact to release quality standards and requirements can be a very tricky and expensive thing to do, sometimes even nigh on impossible. As a quick aside, I was once tangentially involved in a low budget animation project that screwed that up, and it was going to cost so much to fix it that the entire project was ultimately shelved instead, as that was the only truly viable option. Now in regards to Ian Levine’s Shada, I don’t know the answer to this one, having not seen the footage myself, and I don’t mean to cast aspersions here, but it is yet another consideration that could, once again, add considerable cost to the project.

Let us also consider the fact that each DVD release has a set, and rather tight, budget, and that any money that was spent on the animation in order to address any of the above mentioned, or any other such issues, would have to come from somewhere, and that is before even taking into account just how difficult a person Ian Levine is to work with, and how many bridges he has burnt in regards to the BBC, BBC Worldwide, Big Finish, Theta Sigma, and the Restoration Team, to name but a few current or potential stakeholders. And I also mention that because things tend to get more costly, and budgets tend to blow out even wider, when working stakeholder relationships are so difficult, and potentially even adversarial in nature.

So my main point is that implying that Ian Levine’s Shada animation would cost the producers of the classic Doctor Who DVD range nothing, or even very little, and so they have no real or legitimate excuse for not including it on the DVD release, other than the personal, is, frankly, at best extremely misleading, and at worst, a blatant miss-truth on Ian Levine’s part. Fact is, even with what Levine created provided for free, because of the way that he did things, the cost to try and use any of that on a commercial worldwide release now would likely be a pretty huge chunk of the budget, or conceivably, still potentially price it outside of the budgetary range altogether, and that is even before giving due consideration and budget allocations to other extant and/or newly created material for the release in question.

Also, let us not forget that part of the reason why BBC Worldwide can now potentially stretch to include animation for a couple of missing episodes is because not only do they already have all of the audio owned and available to them to use, but everyone involved and anything newly created is paid for and contracted appropriately before the project kicks off. So they know the exact cost breakdowns and can analyse what can be done and what can’t ahead of time. Ian Levine on the other hand tried to do everything backwards and very much his way, and in turn ended up doing it in, unfortunately, about the least commercially friendly and viable way humanly possible. And if you have the intention of ever trying to turn that kind of fan produced material into a commercial project, then sadly that just wasn’t a very smart way to go about such things. So, regardless of the quality or lack thereof that the Shada animation may itself represent, the fact that it all kind of blew up and wasn’t viable to use as part of the official Shada DVD release is really no one’s fault but Levine’s own due to just how he went about things. And that will remain true regardless of what spin he tries to put on it all, or how much fan outrage he tries to spark.

“I told you you’d got the time wrong, Doctor.”

Now with all that said, sure, I still would have liked to see it, despite the fact that the constant switch between animation and live action during episodes I still believe would be pretty jarring to watch. And even though I think he goes about things the wrong way far too often, I do give props to Ian Levine for actually being passionate enough to try stuff like this. I just think it is a great shame that his own nature, and certain extreme personality traits, as well as a refusal to work co-operatively with other people, so often gets in the way and messes such things up. It often seems to me that he’d be a great ally to Who fandom if only he could take his ego out of the equation a little bit, and stop blaming everyone else for his own mistakes.

Thing is, I suppose I just have enough faith to believe that if it was in any way viable to include the animation on the Shada DVD, then it would have been included. And I simply don’t buy into Ian Levine’s conspiracy theories as to why it wasn’t, especially as there are a great many legitimate reasons as to why it may not have been practical, or even possible, to do so. And as far as the actual Shada DVD release we did get, I sincerely believe that the producers of the classic Doctor Who DVD range have done themselves pretty proud all in all. It is not a perfect release, but it’s Shada, so no matter what they did it was never going to be a perfect release.

However for the price of a standard Doctor Who DVD we got the entire Legacy boxed set, which is three discs worth of material, with two of those discs dedicated to Shada itself. We received the 90’s VHS version of Shada with linking Tom Baker narration cleaned up to the usual Restoration Team standards, and which, pre-Levine animation, is all that most fans would have reasonably expected for us to get. We also got some pretty comprehensive extras detailing the tortured history of Shada. Plus the More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary on it’s own disc, and a fair smattering of other assorted extras to boot. And while this release will certainly appeal more to hardcore fans, rather than casual viewers, just by it’s very nature, it’s still nothing to sneeze at.

Because Shada itself is always going to be an incomplete story, it may not feel like the most satisfying release, but I still contend that it has been done about as well as we could reasonably expect, and actually represents quite good value for money on a pure content basis, even if some of that content may seem a touch random. If I had one bugbear it’s that I would have liked the flash animated McGann Shada to be DVD playable, rather than merely being a DVD-Rom extra on the disc, but given the limited nature of the animation itself that may not have been possible to achieve to DVD quality standards. After all, as we have discussed, animations not specifically designed for TV/DVD standards can be tricky beasts at times. Oh, and a commentary track would have been nice, too.

Still, call me crazy, but rather than bemoaning a version of Shada of indeterminate quality that, for whatever reasons, we seemed destined never to have anyway, I instead choose to enjoy the version of Shada that we did actually receive on DVD, in all it’s imperfections. And while Levine’s animation enhanced Shada might have been a nice curiosity, it is this version of Shada that reflects most accurately the history of Douglas Adams ill-fated script and it’s abortive journey towards our screens. Which, to me, is surely the whole point in having the original production of Shada on DVD to begin with.

No, it isn’t perfect. But then, that’s Shada for you.