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3 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 549: Shada, Episode Three

Dear diary,

We’ve hit the tipping point with this episode, and suddenly a lot more of the story is being represented through animation rather than live action. I’ve been worrying about this a little bit, if I’m honest. Not because I’ve a problem with the animation, but because my over-riding memory of watching Shada for the first time on the BBC VHS was just how quickly it all zipped along. It wasn’t until starting out on the story this time around that I suddenly realised - it ‘zipped along’ because so much was being boiled down to some linking lines from Tom Baker! I’ve been worrying a bit that I’d not find it quite as fast-moving or exciting when having to watch it at the regular speed.

The bonus to having a higher proportion of the story in animated form is that I can really start to enjoy watching it this way. My biggest concern about the way the tale is presented for this version is that it intercuts between the live action footage and the animated sequences. When I was first told that, I really thought that it would be an odd experience, and perhaps not an entirely pleasant one, having to adjust every few scenes to something new. In actual fact, you don’t really notice it at all!

In this episode, for example, the TARDIS appears in an alleyway, and the Doctor hurries inside, slamming the door so fast behind him that his scarf gets caught in it. The next scene - in the TARDIS console room - is all animation, but it doesn’t feel out of place to be so. The only time I did sit up and take a moment to process events was when we cut to Romana and Chris trapped in a cell aboard Skagra’s ship. It only felt so out of place, though, because up to that point, every scene aboard the ship had been rendered as animation, and I assumed they’d never managed to build any of those sets!

I think it also helps that I’m just too busy enjoying the story to worry too much about the chopping and changing of formats. Today’s episode contains the only scene that I can remember fully from a previous watch (although I actually remember the version from the Big Finish audio), in which the Doctor manages to confuse a computer into thinking that he’s dead, and can therefore operate it despite an order to the contrary. It leads in to the cliffhanger for this episode, with the computer deciding that if the Doctor is dead, then he won’t need any oxygen, and so it’s been switched off to preserve power. I wonder, though, why that hadn’t happened before this point, since the computer was expecting the Doctor to be dead anyway…

The scariest bit of this episode, though, isn’t to do with the Doctor suffocating: it’s actually Skagra heading to the TARDIS with Romana. Not to worry, our favourite Time Lady has promised that she’ll never give Skagra the key, so he can’t get in to the ship anyway. That doesn’t matter, though, because he’s already taken the Doctor’s copy from his ‘lifeless’ body. Still, Romana and the Doctor are the only people around here who can even fly the TARDIS, so we’ve still got the upper hand. Ah, but Skagra has a copy of the Doctor’s mind - so if the Doctor could fly the TARDIS, then so can he… The ship is usually a place of safety, so when something like this happens (and through such a sinister character, too), it feels genuinely unsettling.

While I’m here, I need to take a moment just to sing the praises of K9. John Leeson is providing the voice for this animation, and it’s so nice to have him back. I’ve really missed K9 having this particular ‘personality’. There’s a sketch from a BBC Christmas Tape, made at the end of Season Sixteen, in which K9 cannot provide the Doctor with the information that he requires, and the Doctor responds… less than positively to the metal mutt. This episode seems to be hinged around the same joke - with K9 shooting at walls when Romana exclaims ‘blast it!’ in exasperation, and repeatedly telling Chris Parsons that he has ‘insufficient data’ to answer the man’s rhetorical questions! I’ve missed K9 being such an annoying little thing, and it’s good to have him back like this again!


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