Shada, the lost Doctor Who adventure by Douglas Adams

When Shada Was Lost… Again!

Kasterborous contributor Joe Siegler casts his mind back over 25 years to recall the moment he was one of the lucky few to see the only recorded scenes from Shada at an American Doctor Who convention…

Shada, the lost Doctor Who adventure by Douglas Adams

I used to attend conventions in the Philadelphia area quite frequently in the 80’s. Back then, it would take upwards of two years to get new episodes on local television, so for many fans, some of these conventions were a popular attraction – not just for the reason cons are popular, but because there were frequently new Doctor Who stories aired as part of the programming.

Anyway, I forget what year this was, but one of the frequent guests then was John Nathan-Turner. He had been talking about various aspects of the show’s past, part of which was Shada.

As he was the new producer at the time it was cancelled, he had some insight into the steps taken to remount it. Of course, if you’re reading this site, you know what happened. It didn’t get remounted. It was lost. However, the footage still exists, and outside of the short clip used in the Five Doctors, I’d say pretty much nobody had seen the stuff outside of the BBC itself.

You have to remember this was the mid 80’s. There was no YouTube, no Bittorrent, you can’t just call up virtually anything you want on your computer, and there it is. This was the first public showing of Shada anywhere. We didn’t have the Paul McGann webcast, we didn’t have the Tom Baker narrated cleaned up version, and we certainly didn’t have the novel that’s out now.

John Nathan-Turner, Doctor Who producer from 1980-1989So it was quite the bombshell that JNT laid on the crowd when he said that he had the tape with him and was going to show it in the main theatre room, but just the first two episodes.

He explained a bit about the state the footage was in. He said there were no special effects/visual effects, and no music, or sound effects. He was quite insistent that the footage was quite raw, and we should hold our reservations.

It didn’t seem to phase anyone, we were about to see bloody Shada – in whatever form it was, it was a treat like no other. He did explain that he had all six episodes with him, but was only planning on showing the first two, because once you got into Episode 3, the bits that weren’t filmed outnumbered the footage that existed by rather a lot, and it got a whole lot worse once you got into Episode 6.

So we watched the episodes. It was really awesome to see it, even in the raw state. He wasn’t kidding about raw. If you’ve ever seen Shada, that first scene where Skagra wakes up the sleepers… In this version there’s no nothing – so much so you can hear the actors rattling around in their seats as they act being woken up. It was QUITE raw.

Then we got to the text. It was, however, a great moment, especially as it was shared with a bunch of people. Then the two episodes ended. JNT got back up there and said that was it, much to the chagrin and protests of everyone in the audience. After some discussion, JNT got back up there and asked people if they really wanted to see the rest of the episodes, which garnered much applause.

He did, however say that they couldn’t show it in the main ballroom, as there were other events for the convention that needed to happen there. So they said they’d show Shada in the alternate video room, which ran all the time. But the alternate video room held something like 1/20th the number of people as the main ballroom, so it was a mad rush to get there.

Fortunately, I was close enough to said video room that I got in there right away, and sat. At that point, I have no idea what else JNT said about Shada, as I had beelined to the video room. After a delay, someone (no idea who, but not JNT) showed up with the tape, and proceeded to show Episodes 3-6 to those of us in there. If memory serves, they repeated Shada a few more times during the con so others could see it. But the whole event was quite cool, given the atmosphere of seeing what was essentially a “lost story”.

As the convention went on, Shada was the talk of the event. As it went on, another story got out, that someone stole the VHS tape it was on. Turns out it ended up being true, someone said that the VHS tape that JNT brought with him was stolen, so it couldn’t be shown any more. It was simultaneously something that made fans mad, and excited at the same time (due to a possible release of it in uh, “traders circles”.).

The whole con ended up being a lot about Shada due to all of this, it’s all I remember people talking about. I don’t even remember who the guests were outside of JNT, as I went to several cons back around that time, it’s a blur almost 30 years later. 🙂 If you’ve ever seen the original Shada with the text you had to read, and no sfx/whatnot.. It came from this copy. As far as I’m aware, all known bootlegs of Shada that weren’t “processed” came from this original release.

What I’d personally love to see happen is the modern show remount it and do a complete redo of Shada . They could use the same trick the McGann Webcast used some years ago by framing it around events of the Eighth Doctor and Romana as Lord President of Gallifrey. I thought that was bloody brilliant. Either way, this is a lost classic. Looking forward to it’s eventual release on DVD some day.


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