Timestamp #109: Shada

Doctor Who: Shada
(6 episodes, s17e21-e26, 1980/1992)



The lost (and reconstructed) episode of the color era.

Before the story begins, Tom Baker takes us on a tour a Doctor Who museum that I would have loved to visit. From this point forward, the episode is split between the filmed portions from 1980 and, where the footage wasn’t shot, narrations by Tom Baker in 1992. Now, given the events of The Day of the Doctor and that the linking narrations are given by Tom Baker as the Doctor, I think it could be reasoned (in fan canon at the very least) that this story is being told by the Curator.

The story begins at a think tank in space. One of the hive’s minds awakens and drains his comrades using the computer that they were all attached to before setting a quarantine message and stealing the hard drive. After he leaves, the rest of the hive wakes up and stumbles around like zombies. Moving to what looks like relative present day, a man named Chris Parsons pedals to Cambridge and arrives at the door of Professor Chronotis, an older gentleman with the TARDIS in his office, and asks for a particular book on carbon dating. He leaves in a hurry with a stack of books as the professor reads The Time Machine.

Not too far away, the Doctor and Romana are punting on a river while (unbeknownst to them) being observed by the man from the think tank. The Time Lords hear a strange babbling of voices as they decide to return to the professor’s office. On the way, they encounter Mr. Wilkin, a man who remembers the Doctor’s previous three visits over the last three decades. The Doctor jokes that he was at Cambridge one other time in a completely different body, and the reaction establishes Wilkin as the comic foil for the duration. The Time Lords arrive in the professor’s office where he discloses to Romana that he is a retired Time Lord and offers them tea. The Doctor tells the professor that they came at his summons, but the professor says that he didn’t send the signal. While the Think Tank Man arrives in Cambridge, demands to know where Chronotis works, and is rebuffed by Wilkin, the professor remembers that he summoned the Time Lords to help find the missing book. The book, now in the possession of Chris Parsons, is written an alien dialect, and when Chris tries to analyze it, the tome smokes and glows, burning the student on contact.

The Think Tank Man, looking ridiculous in his sun hat and flowing silver cape, hitches a ride with a stranger. Thankfully, Tom Baker tells us that the man’s name is Skagra and that he used his sphere to knock out the driver before taking over the car and driving to his cloaked spaceship in a field. Kind of like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but without Spock and whales.

The professor explains that the missing book is The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, dating from the era of Rassilon. The Doctor is beside himself: The book is one of the powerful artifacts, and the professor stole it from the Panopticon Archives upon his retirement. As Time Lords past and present continue to search the professor’s library, Skagra absorbs massive amounts of data about the Doctor, then contacts his superiors on a carrier ship to set plans in motion.

The Doctor and Romana briefly discuss Salyavin, a Gallifreyan criminal, before Chronotis scrounges up Chris Parsons’s identity from his spotty memory. The student has left the book with his girlfriend Claire (who initially looks a lot like Sarah Jane) while he researches the book’s origins. The Doctor sets out to find Chris as Skagra returns to Cambridge. As Romana looks in the TARDIS for some milk for their tea, Skagra arrives in contemporary clothes and asks for the book. When Chronotis refuses to yield the book, Skagra uses the sphere to attack the professor.

The Doctor arrives at the lab and examines the book with Claire, determining that it is 20,000 years old. Meanwhile, Chris returns to the professor’s office as Romana and K9 examine Chronotis. The professor has had part of his mind extracted, resulting in severe mental trauma. Romana sends Chris into the TARDIS for a medical kit while she tends to the professor, placing him on life support with the kit. Sadly, he is in a vegetative state, but he does send a message in Gallifreyan morse code warning them of the spheres, Skagra, and Shada before dying and vanishing. Fortunately for them, the information that Skagra extracted did not show Chris’s identity. Unfortunately, Skagra intercepts the Doctor and the book. The Doctor is pursued through Cambridge by the sphere, losing the book in the chase. Skagra retrieves the book, but the Doctor is captured by the sphere and it starts to drain his mind.

There was some really good situational humor during the chase – The Doctor asks the No Cycling sign to pardon him for cycling in its vicinity – as well as good production as the sphere actually knocks over a pedestrian in the hunt.

Romana arrives in the TARDIS and rescues the Doctor. They return to the professor’s offices just after the man disappears – presumably because he was on his last regeneration – and the Doctor vows vengeance. K9 begins scanning for the sphere as the Time Lords and Chris wait in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, the sphere consumes a fisherman for no particular reason.

Claire heads to the professor’s offices with a printout just as the TARDIS dematerializes in pursuit of the sphere. They arrive in the field where Skagra’s ship is located, and Skagra welcomes the group aboard before taking them prisoner. Skagra reveals that he was only interested in the professor’s mind, not in killing him. He demands that the Doctor decode the book, but when the Doctor refuses the sphere attacks him. In their cell, Romana, K9, and Chris look for a way out. They can find nothing, and even K9 cannot blast out. The robotic dog does detect the voices, including a new addition in the Doctor’s voice. Romana is transmatted from the cell and forced by the once more fantastically dressed Skagra to pilot the TARDIS.

Claire runs from the office, revealing to Wilkin that the book is absorbing energy before returning to the office to wait. While searching the rooms, she inadvertently sets off an explosion that results in a time vortex filling the space.

The Doctor awakens on the ship and reveals to the vessel’s computer that since he was playing dumb, the sphere only copied his mind. He convinces the ship that he is dead to secure freedom for him and his companions, and it replies by shutting off the air supply. Chris and K9 are pacing in their cell when they are transmatted into the corridor, prompting the ship to restore the oxygen supply. Meanwhile, the TARDIS arrives on the Krarg carrier ship. She watches as one of the crystalline beings is born, listening as Skagra tells her that he needs a Time Lord to decipher the book. The Doctor pilots Skagra’s ship into space and it dematerializes like a TARDIS as he boosts the power. Unbeknownst to our heroes, a hidden Krarg forms in the shadows.

Claire awakens inside the offices to discover Professor Chronotis. The office is a TARDIS, Claire has activated it, and the capsule restored him in the accidental temporal convergence. The book is revealed to be the key to Shada, a Time Lord prison.

Back on the carrier, Skagra plows through the Doctor’s memories but is unable to crack the code. As the Doctor’s ship arrives at the Think Tank, he and Chris board the ship, and (on the carrier) Skagra and Romana retreat to the Doctor’s TARDIS. As Skagra turns the pages and continues his study, the TARDIS operates, and he deduces that turning the last page will unlock the code.

The Doctor and Chris discover the aged members of the Think Tank, and the Doctor connects Chris to the machine. This restores the Think Tank members, and the lead scientist, Caldera, explains the group’s history with Skagra. Skagra intends to use his intellect to dominate humanity by merging everything into himself, but needs Salyavin to do so. After the Doctor learns this, he is interrupted by K9, who has been holding back the fully formed Krarg. The crystalline creature attacks the group, but in the process it destroys the central computer column. In the smoke, the Doctor, K9, and Chris escape to the Skagra’s ship and escape just in time. Sadly, the Think Tank members die as their ship explodes.

The professor’s TARDIS is wedged between two irrational time interfaces, and Chronotis and Claire attempt to fix the capsule. The retired Time Lord telepathically focuses on Claire’s mind and transfers his knowledge into her. Meanwhile, Skagra’s ship arrives at the carrier, and in the attempt to rescue Romana, the Doctor and Chris end up inside the professor’s TARDIS. In the ensuing discussion, the seeds are sown to reveal Salyavin’s true identity. As they talk, Skagra pilots the Doctor’s TARDIS to Shada using the book and start searching for Salyavin. The Doctor and Chronotis fix the professor’s TARDIS and follow to Shada.

Skagra starts the revival process in the prison, but cannot find Salyavin. The two Time Lords arrive and Chronotis reveals that he is Salyavin. Skagra attempts to drain Salyavin’s mind, but K9 slows him down by blasting the sphere. The fragments of the sphere latched onto the prisoners and the newly arrived Chris, and the brainwashed horde advanced on the Doctor. K9 attempts to slow them down, but is deflected by a Krarg. The Doctor uses the distraction to escort Romana, Claire, and K9 to the professor’s TARDIS. As the Doctor attempts to find a solution, Romana reminds him that all of the captured minds are in the melting pot, including the Doctor’s.

Skagra dispatches his legion throughout the universe to advance the revolution. The Doctor, Romana, and Claire use the professor’s TARDIS to generate a force field as they pursue Skagra in the Doctor’s TARDIS, capturing the phone box in the time vortex. The Doctor attempts to pass through to his TARDIS, but an accident deactivates the force field and throws the Doctor into the vortex. He ends up in a closet inside his TARDIS and formulates a plan.

The professor’s TARDIS arrives on the carrier ship as the Doctor struggles for control of the joint mind. Romana destroys the Krarg generator, defeating the crystalline creatures. Seeing that he has lost, Skagra retreats his ship, but the computer incarcerates him after deciding to serve the Doctor. The group restore the stolen minds and returns the prisoners to Shada. After calling the Time Lords on Gallifrey, it is discovered that Salyavin covered his escape by erasing the memory of Shada from the collective Time Lord memory, including stealing the key.

The TARDISes return to Earth, where Salyavin will supposedly continue to live in his absent-minded persona of Chronotis. The return of the professor’s offices stumps Wilkin, who has summoned a policeman to report the “stolen room,” as the professor entertains his guests to tea.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable romp. I appreciated the linking narrations as a reconstruction (of sorts) of this lost episode, but they did lack a bit when it came to the action and battle sequences. I was a bit confused about the Salyavin being allowed to remain in retirement instead of being imprisoned once more. I mean, yes, he did help set things right, but he’s still a convicted criminal who escaped and set this entire course of events into motion. Perhaps it’s a measure to keep him out of the reach of Skagra, who is still trapped on his starship?


Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Seventeenth Series Summary


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.




13 thoughts on “Timestamp #109: Shada

  1. This made me want to re-watch this serial. I think Tom Baker’s narration was the biggest special effect of this story. The tale exists as a Kubla Kahn of sorts, a “Firefly” to the BBC in so far as the beauty and mystery is what could have been. This is only helped by Tom Baker piecing together the mysterious missing pieces. If you get the DVD, there’s a wonderful animated version of it set to Big Finish’s redo that is worth the purchase to the DVD (and the actual movie becomes the bonus). Thank you for blogging!

  2. Seeing the post above, I think that I’m the only person who didn’t like Big Finish’s redo of Shada. McGann for whatever reason didn’t seem to latch on to Adams’ comic timing. Baker talks a lot about the production, actors, and strikes, so I don’t think that strictly speaking the narration can be considered to be in the Doctor’s universe.

    One thing that I was curious about, you mention that the Doctor calls the Time Lords about the Professor. That isn’t in the narration. Did you get that from somewhere else? I always thought that it was the Doctor who just chose not to reveal to anyone that the Professor was Salyavin being a fellow renegade and all and being harmless as long as no one else stumbled upon his identity.

    • It was in the wiki entry. If it wasn’t in the narration, it may have been implied since the 1992 Doctor talked about not being the judge/jury/executioner for each of the prisoners. The only ones who could reasonably do so for a Time Lord prison would be the Time Lords.

      That said, it is entirely possible that something got inferred or transferred in from the 2012 novelization. Like I mentioned, the narrations were a bit quick in spots and took some shortcuts with the plot.

      • Yeah, I wondered if it came from the novelization. Novelizations regularly take liberties with the plots and in some cases directly contradict what happened onscreen, though, so I never consider them canonical.

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