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6 July 2014

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

Day 552: Shada, Episode Six

Dear diary,

I couldn’t remember what happened in this final episode, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be happy with the ending or not. Certainly, it seemed as though the story could have been wrapped up during the final stages of yesterday’s episode, so I worried that today would feel like spreading the story a little bit too thin. Actually, there’s a great deal to enjoy: the Doctor having to make his way through the Vortex from one ship to the other is a great idea (and something I can’t believe they’ve never done with the Master’s TARDIS!), the closing scenes with lots of humour to close the season (and the Graham Williams era), and the fact that the Doctor has to do battle with all these creatures purely through using his mind. If anything, this part of the story feels like it could do with one further draft, just to up the tension, but it’s certainly not a bad ending to the story at all.

I’m surprised just how much footage exists for each of the episodes in the tale, including this one, although you do become somewhat accustomed to seeing certain sets over and over again! I’ve been very impressed with the animation that’s used to fill the gaps in between, though. By this final episode, I’d even stopped noticing the discrepancies between the real Tom Baker’s voice and the impersonator used for the new segments - I don’t know if the performance gets better or if I simply got used to it, though I suspect it’s a combination of the two. It’s been nice to see the story completed, at any rate. And now, I’m going to imagine that Professor Chronotis goes off on various adventures with Chris and Clare at his side. I think they’d end up having TV Comic style trips through time and space, in the professor’s TARDIS!

There’s always a big question mark around Shada, and it’s that consideration that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so well loved if it didn’t have that status as the mythical ‘lost’ story of the Tom Baker era. It’s something I’ve long wondered when people bang on about how great this story is, and I’ve always put that partly down to the fact that it’s got such a reputation from being unfinished. I think, though, having now watched it properly in context with everything that came before it, I’m willing to say that there’s a lot in here to really love. It sort of runs out of steam towards the end, but on the whole I’ve really liked it. I think, had the production made it through to the end, it would probably be held up with City of Death as a tent-pole ‘classic’ of Season Seventeen.

With the end of this story, we say goodbye to the Graham Williams era of Doctor Who history. Three years that don’t, perhaps, have the best reputation among fandom, but which certainly seems to have produced some pretty decent stories. Looking back to the end of The Talong of Weng-Chiang, with the Williams era about to begin, I commented:

”I’m really interested to see how my feelings develop as we move forward into the Williams era. From where I stand now, at the end of Season Fourteen, I’m simply expecting it to be ‘cheap’. That’s the only thing that I think I really know about the period to come, and after stories like The Talons of Weng-Chiang*, and* The Robots of Death*, that may come as something of a shock to the system…”*

I think, in places, the series has looked cheap over the last few years, but that’s certainly not as prevalent as I was expecting it to be. Stories like The Androids of Tara, The Ribos Operation, or The Creature from the Pit all feature great settings that are realised as well as anything in the previous few years of the show. As far as the era has gone as a whole… it’s been a bit bumpy. Since Graham Williams took over the producer’s chair 70-something episodes ago, none have received higher than an ‘8/10’ (although there have been 13 of those, more than half of which in this last season, and the rest during Season Fifteen), and the era has attracted three ‘3/10’ (all for The Pirate Planet) and a few ‘4/10’, too.

The overall average score for the Graham Williams era is 6.32/10, which makes it better than a straight average, but it’s far from being the highest-rated era of the programme to date. In fact, it’s a score which makes Seasons Fifteen - Seventeen the lowest rated era of the programme so far (coming in just marginally lower than the Verity Lambert years, which averaged 6.33). That’s not to say that I’ve not enjoyed it, though. There’s a lot I like in Season Fifteen, and a lot I like in Season Seventeen, I think it really is that Key to Time season in the middle that just didn’t quite gel with me.

And now, we move on toe Season Eighteen and the start of the John Nathan-Turner years of the programme. Everything to come is going to be increasingly ‘marmite’, and while I’ve enjoyed it in the past, I’m wondering how much that will hold true now that I’ve seen everything that happened before 

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