March 5, 2013

Lost Tale of a Time Lord: DOCTOR WHO - SHADA

(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing a complimentary copy for review. My opinions are my own)

With the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, many fans (like me) assumed that BBC Home Entertainment would pull out the stops in reissuing classic episodes on DVD. So it was surprising that they led off 2013 with a rerelease of Shada, a story that was never completed - or released - in a three DVD set. But it really shouldn't be, because for Who fans, Shada provides a treasure trove of delights

Since the story was never completed, the first DVD is a remastering of the 1992 VHS release, where Tom Baker provided narration and links for unrecorded footage. The story itself - written by Douglas Adams - is really not that solid, but does contain some great footage of Cambridge as well as some extremely well-written moments. (Adams later disavowed the story, and integrated several story elements into his Dirk Gently series). Reconstructions (both fan-made and past BBC releases) can be a bit of a difficult watch, and Shada is one of the easier episodes to watch....but the best way to experience the story is, ironically, to read Gareth Roberts' recent novelization. (Thankfully, one of the benefits of Shada is that when the first disc is inserted into your computer, you get to see a later version of the same story - done in Flash animation - featuring Paul McGann and Lalla Ward.)

What lifts Shada beyond the usual release is that it provides a great deal of information - much like other Who releases, there is a strong sense of value for the money. Disc Two features several featurettes, including one about the "making and breaking" of the story; the other about how strikes and "industrial action" have frequently influenced how Who was made during the classic era. An exploration about how Verity Lambert - Doctor Who's first female producer - may have influenced perceptions of gender on the show rounds out Disc 2.

Disc Three contains several really good Who-related items, including 1993's More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS, the 30th anniversary "special" which does more than narrate the history of the show; it creates a child's eye view of how (and why) the series has had such an impact. The highlight (for me, at least) is Remembering Nicholas Courtney, a half hour biography of the Who actor containing his last interview from 2010, as well as a general career overview. (Much like Paul Newman in The Road to Perdition, there's an incredible amount of pathos in the work). Combined with some other featurettes (including a really good short about female villians in Who), this disc really lifts Shada from being simply "another reissue" to "a really critical DVD to own".

Lost stories often get short shrift, and Shada is no exception. One might think that three DVDs for an unreleased story from the 1970s might be a bit overkill.....but BBC Home Entertainment proves with its Shada release that three DVDs just isn't enough.

Essential viewing.

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