“The universe, Doctor, shall not, as you so crudely put it, be mine. The universe shall be me.” – Skagra
*This is a bit of a special episode because it was never actually aired as part of the original run of Doctor Who. It was in the middle of filming and production as the last episode of the season when a work strike interrupted and caused it to never be completed and broadcast. This left the story in an unusual no-man’s-land over the years as to whether to include it as story of the Tom Baker era or not. Parts of it were used later as though it were; other aspects of the story line were re-used as though not. In 2018, Shada was released as a story in its own right with the original footage where available and missing scenes replaced with animation and audio by the original actors according to the original scripts. It thus comes across like the re-animated versions of earlier missing stories. Unfortunately, the release adds a silly ending scene that breaks the fourth-wall with an elderly Tom Baker. Though this might seem a nice gesture to some people, for me it takes us out of the story and makes it clear that it is more a fun release for the fans than a serious entry into canon. So, in light of my marathon of watching the show in order, this one comes with a big asterisk
While we have an idea of how the show would have looked, it’s still hard to say how the program would have been regarded if it had been completed and aired. The location settings are a big plus. There are nice shots all around Cambridge (including the famous punting scene) and some wonderfully filmed moments of Chris Parson on his bicycle. But I am not sure that the original 1970s story would have pulled off the flying sphere and other effects so well. (The existing footage makes it seem like it would have been rather poor.) The flamboyant outfit of Skagra seems almost made for a laugh and is definitely dated by today’s standards. The Krarg monsters introduced as his servants halfway through seem a bit mismatched to the feel of the episode over all.
Douglas Adams was famous for a brand of humor that played off logic taken to an absurd extreme and this is put into play throughout the story, especially in the Doctor’s interplay with the computer thinking he is dead. It’s also a very Doctorish moment when the Doctor survives the mind drain because he basically convinces the machine he is stupid and it thus doesn’t try too hard. There are some good dramatic moments as well, however, most especially the shock when the Doctor and Chris explore the spaceship now abandoned and worn with age and the camera suddenly pans to the same group of men whom we had seen there earlier—huddled and dirty with unkempt beards and scraggly long fingernails obviously having survived pitifully and mindlessly after all these years.
There are a lot of other little bits I like such as Romana realizing that if she can free up the Professor’s autonomic nervous system he can convert it over to use for conscious though (a Time Lord ability) or how disturbing it is when Skagra accepts a lift from a driver only for us to see the car stop short a minute later, telling us something fairly nasty must have happened to the poor man.
Overall, however, the story itself is honestly a bit of a muddle because it tries to do so much. There are too many new characters introduced, some unnecessary other than for a tongue-in-cheek laugh, and the numerous twists and surprises regarding Professor Chronotis become a bit silly. (The explanation for how he seemingly comes back to life is not very satisfying. Plus I am not a big fan of yet another Time Lord somehow ending up on Earth for a stay anyway.) It also takes forever for the basic plans and motivations of the villain Skagra to become clear. While the story definitely fills up six episodes, it becomes too convoluted in the process.