Paul Cornell Exclusive: Scream of the Shalka

In 2007, shortly after Human Nature/ The Family of Blood aired, Paul Cornell admitted that he’d love to see Scream of the Shalka on DVD. “I don’t know what’s going on there,” he said. “I noted the BBFC Clearances a couple of years back, but no release at all. Maybe it was all cleared so they could use clips of it on the Invasion stuff?”

But finally, Scream of the Shalka, Cornell’s 2003 webcast purported to be the official continuation of Doctor Who before you-know-what happened, is being released on DVD – this very month! The story starred Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor, Sophie Okonedo (she’s the bloody queen), a little known actor called David Tennant… Oh, and Derek Jacobi as the Master.

Gareth Kavanagh caught up with Paul to discuss the writer’s plans for the alternative Ninth Doctor, its links and influence on ‘nuWho,’ and how one pub was immortalised by the animators…

Scream of the Shalka

GARETH: Does it surprise you how people remain interested in Scream of the Shalka and how that might have panned out? I was struck, in particular by the idea of Derek Jacobi’s robot Master being onboard the TARDIS, well before he returned at the end of Series 3 and before the Doctor had the idea of imprisoning him and rehabilitating him at the close of Last of the Time Lords

PAUL: Well, Russell said that he did actually think about Shalka when he plotted that line about the Doctor and the Master exploring together. That’s the thing I really miss most about Shalka. I would have loved to see more of that dynamic: The Master wanting to do evil things, but being incapable of doing them and having to be fairly friendly with his arch enemy because he has no other choice. I think that would be a wonderful thing to watch.

I would have loved that: for me, it’s the Blackblood in 2000AD’s ABC Warriors, its Spike in Buffy.  It’s that brilliant dynamic and all that fantastic internal turmoil generated.

But I suppose you couldn’t get John Simm to hang around for thirteen episodes as a companion.  Having said that, I think it would have been wonderful to do on the show!

So that’s where you would have gone with it. Was it just the essence of the Master in Shalka then? There’s so much mystery around it.

I had it all written down: Gallifrey had been destroyed; the planet was still there but all the Time Lords were in the Matrix. And I think the Master had been downloaded into the robot. We had one more story commissioned, which was from Simon Clark who wrote Night of the Triffids. It was such a wonderful time. We were briefly making Doctor Who! And I think it was our existence that made the BBC think, do they really want Doctor Who from now on to be a downloadable online-thing in flash animation? I think it was a tipping point. I think it was a little stone in an avalanche that eventually became the return of ‘real’ Who.

Scream of the Shalka 2

It was a hell of an experience watching Scream of the Shalka online. Shalka was pre-broadband for me, so I had to watch it in work after everyone had gone home! I’d sit there in work, turn all the lights off hunched over my flickering monitor and watch a new episode of Doctor Who again!

It took a lot of getting used to: the lighting of it, how little the animation could do. This was partially because, one of the demands of it was that people had to be able to watch it there and then, and not wait for it to download and then watch it, which limited what the animators could do a lot. But I’m very, very proud of it. It’s interesting to see the choices. The nature of the companion is very Rose [Tyler], because that’s simply the geography – if you’re bringing back Doctor Who in this day and age, that’s what she would be like.

A bored student barmaid?

Yeah, but with a family, a series of relatable figures around her. No more orphans, you know! I think I went in entirely the opposite direction with the Doctor, all aristocratic and isolated and alienating, and no; you don’t want that on Saturday night on BBC 1. You want Christopher Eccleston, who is also a bit alienating and distant, but the character and the acting tell you that he’s relatable. You feel his pain, you look straight at him and you think, ‘I know what that’s like, I know who he is.’ And with Richard E Grant’s Doctor, he was very much saying to everybody around him ‘Go away’.

Yes, it’s the same lonely traveller, but it’s less warm and approachable isn’t it?

Oh, absolutely.  I’m very proud of what we did, but very pleased that live action Who returned.

Lass O'Gowrie

You actually made my pub famous because that’s in Shalka as well. It’s my pub that the Doctor goes into! I own a pub in the centre of Manchester, the Lass O’Gowrie, by the BBC and they pinched the image of it.

Of course, the way things are today, nothing is canonical. But then everything is canonical in a way.  If the Time War has changed everything and left continuity up in the air, then Shalka might once have happened…!

Scream of the Shalka DVD is released on 16th September and you can pre-order your copy from Amazon UK for just £13.97

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