Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Recap: Doctor Who: "Shada" Episode 1

As I prepare for this Recap, I have to wonder. Is it entirely fair to recap "Shada"? After all, it was never completed. Surely, judging it with the same standards of a regular Doctor Who story would be incredibly unfair. But is it even fair to judge it at all?

Then again, the completed portions were deemed suitable to be broadcast. And the whole thing was deemed suitable for a 1992 VHS release and an eventual DVD release. So at any rate, it's probably better than "Aliens of London." I'd call that good enough.

Though, to be fair, most things are better than "Aliens of London."
The episode begins with a man entering through an emergency exit. The man is Tom Baker, the actor who portrayed the Fourth Doctor. He seems to be a bit confused as to where he is, because he keeps calling out to see if anybody's there.

Tom, if you’re finally showing up for “The Five Doctors,” you’re a tad late.
But he soon realizes that he's in a museum filled with exhibits of the old Doctor Who monsters.

Tom Baker: "I've always felt at home in museums."

Well, maybe you should be a curator someday.

He said, knowingly.
Tom starts reminiscing about his old foes, starting with the giant robot from the first Fourth Doctor story, "Robot."

Tom Baker: "Beat you, cock."

Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd hear during Doctor Who. And that's not even me "hilariously" mishearing what Tom's saying.

The subtitles are backing me up on this one.
After looking at the Oxford dictionary online, the only conclusion that I can draw is that he's using the term as slang for "nonsense," essentially calling the robot ridiculous. Which, quite frankly, it is. Still, keep in mind, this introduction was partially ad-libbed by Tom Baker, and he usually knows exactly what he's doing.

Anyway, Tom takes a second to list his beaten enemies one by one before moving on to the enemies that he never personally faced as the Fourth Doctor. A Yeti, a Gundan Robot, a Sea Devil, and even a Vervoid, which he passes by without further comment.

Because anything Tom could, and would, have said about them would not have made the final cut.
After passing by the Ice Warrior and the Krarg, he stops and takes note of that last one before randomly screaming out "Shada!" and shushing himself.

Tom Baker: "The untransmitted story. Why wasn't it transmitted?"

Many reasons.

Tom Baker: "Of course, we didn't finish it."

That was probably the biggest reason.

Tom Baker: "I thought it was a very good script and there was an invisible spaceship. Douglas said, 'Anyone can design a visible spaceship, but to design an invisible spaceship, that needs imagination.' I think he said that, or did he say... I think he said 'genius.' Yes, he said 'genius.'"

Pshaw. The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine billion, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a trillion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. Douglas should have known that, since he's the one who wrote it.

Tom Baker: "Poor old Douglas. I wonder what became of him?"

Well, when this was released, he was doing fine. Successful author, working on a film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Disney. Not so much anymore, sadly.

Anyway, Tom reminisces fondly over those unseen events, but still remembers exactly how hard everyone took it when the serial was canceled. Especially one of the actresses, Victoria Burgoyne. But she ended up with a fairly successful career anyway, so at least there's a happy ending.

After Tom's laughter fades into the Doctor Who intro, the episode truly begins with some kind of spaceship around a distant sun. Onboard, six men sit around... well, this thing.

Yep. I'd call that a thing.
That’s the problem with opening up in media res sometimes. Until the pieces are put together a few episodes from now, all we have to go on are people we don’t know and some kind of thing we can’t identify further than being a thing.

Doctor Who is full of things.
A nearby monitor counts down in Roman numerals. Once it reaches the end, the man in the shiniest suit (Christopher Neame) opens his eyes, and the monitor starts counting upwards. The shiny-suited man gets up from the thing while the other actors each interpret the stage directions differently. Each person (except Shiny-suit) is trying to portray some kind of seizure, but I guess they each had their own idea of how to go about it. One of them is slowly wiggling his shoulders, another one seems to be getting tickled, the two in the back are content to lazily move their legs from side to side, and the last one seems to be receiving some orgasmic, if invisible, oral sex.

Shiny-suit stands up and adjusts some controls, and the others stop wiggling. After adjusting some more controls, he activates a quarantine broadcast. With that, Shiny-suit summons some kind of spherical device to him and saunters off to escape in his personal shuttlecraft as the others wake up. Whatever was just done to them, it left them in bad shape, as they seem to be barely able to walk.

This guy fainted so hard that it undid his space-comb-over.
Over on Earth, a young man (Daniel Hill) bikes to the on-campus residence of Professor Chronotis. Before he arrives, we cut to Chronotis (Denis Carey) in his study, moving some books around, apparently ignoring the TARDIS parked in the corner. The young man enters and introduces himself as Chris Parsons. Chronotis makes some pleasant, rambling chit-chat about how immensely old he is, topped off by the fact that he can't remember much about what he was trying to say in the first place.

Parsons reminds Chronotis that he offered to lend Parsons some books on carbon dating, and Chronotis says to take whatever he likes because he can't remember where the books are. As Parsons looks over some books, Chronotis makes a spot of tea in the other room.

Professor Chronotis: "Milk?"
Parsons: "Oh, yes, please."
Professor Chronotis: "One lump or two?"
Parsons: "Two, please."
Professor Chronotis: "Sugar?"

A fairly funny gag, but one that you can see coming a mile away if you're familiar with Adams's non-Hitchhiker's work. I'll explain in the Review.

Chronotis brings out the tea after Parsons gets his books, but Parsons conveniently remembers a prior engagement and has to dash before he can even drink his lumpy tea. But before he goes, he asks about the weird blue box in the corner.

Professor Chronotis: "I think someone must have left it there when I was out."

And with that, Chronotis sits down to read The Time Machine as we fade out to the Fourth Doctor and his companion, the Time Lady Romana (Lalla Ward). As the Doctor punts down the river Cam, he names a few famed Cambridge graduates, ending with the relatively obscure Owen Chadwick, who was the Master of Selwyn College while Douglas Adams was a Cambridge student.

Romana: "Newton, of course."

Yes?

Oh, Newton. Sorry, my bad.

Romana: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Except when he and Bill Nye both start rapping.
Romana: "So Newton invented punting."

For my fellow Americans in the audience, punting is pushing against a riverbed with a stick to move a boat, which is what the Doctor's doing. Newton did not invent football.

Doctor: "There was no limit to Isaac's genius."

"Well, except perhaps for that alchemy business with all the mercury. But he did invent the cat flap, so there's that."
Romana takes a moment to marvel at the simplicity of punting.

Romana: "You just push in one direction and the boat goes in the other."

Tell that to Tom Baker; he kept losing control of the boat as they were filming this.

Romana, apparently in a very good mood, then mentions how much she loves springtime on Earth.

Romana: "All the leaves, the colors...."
Doctor: "It's October."
Romana: "I thought you said we were coming here for May Week?"

Which is, ironically, in June, as the Doctor notes. It seems that the TARDIS took them a bit later in the year than the Doctor expected.

Romana: "Oh, I do love the autumn. All the leaves, the colors...."
Doctor: "Yes, well, at least with something as simple as a punt, nothing can go wrong."

But right after he says that, art imitates life as the Doctor drops the pole into the water. And it seems that a bit of timey-wimeyness is afoot, as in the space of three shots, the boat goes under the same bridge twice. Or perhaps no one was checking the continuity between takes.

While the Doctor quickly makes use of an oar he had for just such an emergency, it seems as though Shiny-suit is on the bridge above him, smiling enigmatically with a bag that emits odd noises that Romana overhears for a brief moment.

Now, you might be wondering to yourself exactly how this episode remained "unfinished." Well, the ghostly whispers emanating from Shiny-suit's bag? The effect was added in 1992, along with all the music. But the very next scene in the script doesn't exist at all. It was never filmed.

So how did they get around this? Well, do you remember that weird bit at the beginning with Tom Baker?

He's back.
Tom Baker: "Chris Parsons went to the lab and discovered that one of the books he'd borrowed was written in a totally unknown alphabet."

Throughout this serial, cutaways of Tom Baker are going to explain what happens in the missing portions. This was really the best option they had on a budget, with Doctor Who having been cancelled and actors who were largely unavailable. Still, it means that for large chunks of plot, the story is simply being told to the audience without much in the way of visual accompaniment, aside from the odd picture or two. And that's less than ideal. I mean, what kind of person puts up with a mere recap of a TV show instead of watching it for themselves? A darn fool, I'd say. A darn fool!

Anyway, Romana and the Doctor soon arrive at the fictional St. Cedd's College, based on Adams's own alma mater of St. John's, and the Doctor puts that encyclopedic brain of his to work.

Doctor: "Founded in the year something or other by someone someone in honour of someone someone someone. In honor of someone whose name escapes me completely."
Romana: "St. Cedd?"
Doctor: "Do you know, I think you're very probably right? You should have been an historian."
Romana: "I am an historian."

Then keep up the good work, I guess.

The Doctor speaks with a man named Wilkin (Gerald Campion) who remembers the Doctor quite well, and doesn't seem put off by the fact that the Doctor has barely aged since he showed up in 1964, 1960, and 1955.

Doctor: "I was here in 1958."
Wilkin: "Were you, sir?"
Doctor: "Yes, but in a different body."

"Do you remember? White hair, styled in a skullet? Bald in front, party in back?"
Wilkin correctly assumed that, like all those other times, the Doctor has come to see Professor Chronotis, and informs him that the Professor is in. The Doctor and Romana make their way there and are welcomed in by Chronotis’ voice, emanating from the kitchen.

Doctor: "Shhh, he'll ask us if we want tea."

Uh, you don't have to give her a play-by-play of the script, Doctor.

Professor Chronotis: "Tea?"
Doctor: "Yes, please. Two cups."
Professor Chronotis: "Milk?"
Doctor: "Yes, please."
Professor Chronotis: "One lump or two?"
Doctor: "Two, please, and two sugars."

The reply lets Chronotis know right away that his old friend the Doctor is here for a visit. They shake hands, and Chronotis is introduced to Romana.

Professor Chronotis: "Oh, delighted, delighted, I've heard so much about you."
Doctor: "Have you really?"
Professor Chronotis: "Well, not yet, but I will have done. When Time Lords get to my age, they tend to get their tenses muddled up."

Wait, this guy's a Time Lord? Away from Gallifrey? This rarely happens. I mean, apart from the Doctor and two of his companions, the only Time Lords who we've seen regularly hanging out outside of Gallifrey up to this point are the Monk and the Master. Surely, this will be followed up with something dramatic.

Professor Chronotis: "Would you like some biscuits, too?"
Doctor: "Well, I wouldn't have said no."
Professor Chronotis: "Crackers?"
Doctor: "Oh, sometimes."

Or maybe a punchline to end the scene.

Elsewhere on campus, Shiny-suit struts along, looking for all the world as though Flash Gordon has become a pimp.

No jokes in the caption this time; I believe the image speaks for itself.
Back with Chronotis, he explains that he's actually spent 300 years teaching at St. Cedd's.

Professor Chronotis: "Ever since I retired from Gallifrey."

So when you retire from a life of neutral non-interference, you live out the rest of your days on a planet where smeg goes down almost weekly?

And lucky for him, the staff is discreet enough to not mention his 300-year tenure to anyone. As the Doctor has a snack to go with that lumpy tea, he asks what Chronotis brought them here for. Except the Professor doesn't remember sending for the Doctor's TARDIS. As the Doctor wonders who really sent them the signal, Shiny-suit heads to Wilkin and demands to know where Chronotis is. Wilkin refuses to divulge that information, since Chronotis is meeting with a friend, so Shiny-suit simply walks away. Man, that's one easily-defeated villain.

Chronotis suddenly remembers that he did send a signal to the Doctor, but it must have been a very long time ago.

Romana: "I told you you'd got the time wrong, Doctor."
Doctor: "Yes, but you're always saying that."
Romana: "You're always getting the time wrong."

The next problem is getting Chronotis to remember why he sent the message. The Doctor thinks it might have something to do with the strange, inhuman babbling on the river.

Professor Chronotis: "Oh, undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I've tried to have it banned."

Chronotis then suddenly remembers that he sent the signal about some kind of book.

Tom Baker: "And no sooner had Chris switched on the spectrographic analyzer to examine the book, than smoke started to pour out of it. And then he tried to x-ray the book, which immediately started to glow. Chris switched off the machine, touched the book, and burnt his hand."

Well, after all the times humans have held book burnings, it was only a matter of time before the books would attempt revenge.

Back with Shiny-suit, he gets in a car with a stranger. Tom's narration tells us that Shiny-suit uses the metal sphere in his bag to make the driver pass out, allowing him to take over driving duties. As the Doctor, Romana, and Chronotis pore over some books, they suddenly hear disembodied voices that were never actually added into the episode. Meaning that they all start reacting to nothing. The Doctor asks if the voices have to do with the book, but he denies it. After all, the book in question is just something he took with him from Gallifrey.

Romana: "You've brought a book from Gallifrey to Cambridge?"

Which is bad news, since the Time Lords have knowledge that was never meant for 1970's Earth. The Doctor surmises that Chronotis called him there to take the book back to Gallifrey, since retired Time Lords aren't allowed to have a TARDIS.

Doctor: "Professor, I don't want to be critical, but I will."

I'm totally going to start using that phrase.

Doctor: "It's very risky bringing books back from Gallifrey."

Yeah, the overdue fees alone could probably bankrupt a planet.

Shiny-suit drives along as the Doctor and Romana begin going through the Professor's books. Eventually, he finds a Gallifreyan book which he and Romana know well, since it was a very common nursery book back on Gallifrey.

Romana: "I had it when I was a Time Tot."

You know, "Time Tot" is a turn of phrase that sounds so stupid... that I hope it gets used in a new episode because that would crack me up.

Of course, this book begs the question....

Doctor: "How many books did you bring back, for heaven's sake?"
Professor Chronotis: "Just the odd two or seven. But there was only one that was in any way..."
Doctor: "Dangerous?"

"The Monster Book of Monsters. They taught from it at Hogwarts for a while."
Elsewhere, Shiny-suit arrives in what appears to be an empty field, before entering an invisible spaceship, less than a decade before James T. Kirk would do the same thing in San Francisco. This comes as a surprise to nobody because Tom Baker spoiled it for us in his ad-libbed intro.

Thanks a lot, Tom.
Chronotis remembers that the book in question was a little red book, about five by seven, called The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, which alarms the Doctor, since it's supposed to be in the Panopticon Archives.

Professor Chronotis: "Well, what I did, you see, was I... I just took it."

He says that he took it because there's no one left on Gallifrey with an interest in ancient history. Which seems odd for a group known as Time Lords, but I’ll get to that in the Review as well.

The Doctor reminds Chronotis that that particular book dates back to the time of the first Time Lord, Rassilon, and could have powerful secrets within its pages. They have to find it. And fast.

Doctor: "Little red book."
Romana: "Five by seven."
Doctor: "Good, good."
Professor Chronotis: "Could be green."

We then cut away again to Tom Baker, who explains that Shiny-suit, in his invisible ship, absorbs massive amounts of information about... well, Tom Baker says "me," which raises some questions as to whether or not Tom is playing himself, the Doctor with Deadpool-esque fourth wall-breaking abilities, or some combination thereof. Either way, Tom Baker explains that Shiny-suit tells his computer that he would be joining the Doctor soon, and that the universe should prepare itself. As a picture of Shiny-suit's Krarg commander appears on screen, the episode ends.

Coming up in Episode 2! Brain drains, bike chases, and tea.

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