CRRRRS 442 Doctor Who: Shada

By Roy Mathur, on 2022-05-27, at 23:19:18--00:12:24 BST, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show, Listen

Journal

I'm worn out again, hence the tardiness. Excuses incoming!

Because my mum has glaucoma, at her behest, I had a thorough eye test on yesterday. I was told something about fluid between the retinal layers---frankly the optician was vague---the result of which was a rush hospital appointment early today. I'm absolutely fine, but at least now I know. I was told, however, to have the full eye health/pressure test thingy once a year from now on.

My aunty died on Monday, something I've already mentioned, so we've been busy with that too. (She was in her 80s, not 70s as I said in 441).

For those reasons, and the fact that my migraines have exponentially increased in frequency, writing up the show notes for this story was a slog, especially since it was a 6-parter. I generally don't like stories that long. They tend to be baggy. This one wasn't, but it was still a wade through treacle recapitulating it.

One final point. I love Doctor Who, but I'm an adult, with adult points of view. So I always try to temper those grown up attitudes to the show with how I imagine a child sees it. I do the same with Star Wars and Star Trek and all genre entertainment aimed at a younger audience. I am a little less merciful with adult media, but no matter who the target audience is, I am largely grateful that geek fare abounds. I remember the drought years of geekdom. I don't want those days to return, which they might if toxic fandom doesn't shut their faces. And yes, I have have an agenda to make the world a better place too. In order to do that, I deliberately support what the right consider SJW fandom. I do not claim to be objective and I never will. That might surprise listeners who know I'm a miserable git, but I'm also a utopian. It always makes me laugh when a right winger sees me go off on one and imagine I might be of the same ilk, until they start looking through my timeline.

Happy Towel Day! (Wednesday 2022-05-25). How appropriate that we are taping this so close to the day dedicated to the memory of Douglas Adams. It would have been better to record it on the actual day, but ill health, etc. To celebrate that day, on the 25th I started rereading The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'm about 6 chapters in and oh, what a relief to be reading instead of staring at the goggle box for a change.

Tangent: what's with all those small, but wiry spiders lately?

Cast, Crew, and Production Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion(s): Romana: Lalla Ward, K9: David Brierley
Notable Cast:
Director: Pennant Roberts
Writer: Douglas Adams
Producer: Graham Williams
Locations: Cambridge, Ealing Film Studios, and BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush in 1979
Broadcast: Story 108.5/serial 6 finale of season 17, but unaired due to delays in production because of industrial action, so The Horns of Nimon, covered in 438, became the actual finale instead, 6 x c. 25 minute episodes with the planned broadcast of first episode on 23 February 1980.

Zeitgeist

France blew the crap out of Mururoa atoll, testing a 2 kt nuke, but to be fair they were blowing the crap out of the little Polynesian island long before and long after that date too. Credit where credit's due.

23 February 1980 was exactly 42 years 3 months and 4 days ago. 42.

What Happens

In a futuristic room of sleeping men (reminiscent of the sleep chamber of Alien), a scar faced man awakes, activates a sphere, causing distress to his sleeping companions. He then leaves in a spaceship.

Chris Parsons mistakenly borrows the wrong book from St Cedd's College, Cambridge's, Professor Chronotis.

The Doctor and Romana, punting nearby on the Cam, are seen by the scar faced man, Skagra, and distracted by voices from the sphere, lose control of the boat in a tunnel.

Parsons, puzzled by the book's indecipherable text, studies it in the lab, whereupon it starts to smoulder.

The Doctor and Romana visit Chronotis, who is revealed to be an elderly Time Lord, retired to a teaching position at Cambridge University, and has been occupying the same room, unnoticed, for centuries. The Doctor asks the absent minded Professor why he called and eventually Chronortis remembers needing help recovering a Gallifreyan book of immense power---The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey---reminding the Doctor of the notorious Time Lord criminal Salyavin.

The Doctor heads for Chris's lab, and while Romana looks for milk in the TARDIS, Skagra, also after the book, uses the sphere on Chronotis, who falls to the floor.

The Doctor meets Chris's friend, Clare, and examines the book.

Romana and K9 meet Chris and try to help Chronortis, but he dies.

Skagra catches the Doctor and sets the sphere on him, but the Doctor is rescued at the last moment by Romana in the TARDIS.

At St. Cedd's, Chronotis disappears in front of Chris.

K9 tracks the sphere to Skagra's invisible ship, manned by Skagra and his coal-based Krarg henchmen. Romana, K9 and Chris are taken prisoner, the Doctor tortured, and his TARDIS stolen.

Meanwhile Clare fiddles with a control panel in Chronortis's room and causes an explosion. Chronotis appears and says the room is a TARDIS.

The Doctor pursues the TARDIS in the ship, arrives at the Think Tank space station, where they find the elderly, zombie-like geniuses. Using Chris's mind to salvage what he can from the others, he learns that Skagra set up the Think Tank and stole their minds in his bid to become an omnipotent intelligence.

Chronotis and Clare TARDIS rescue the Doctor and Chris on Skagra's ship.

Skagra is looking for Salyavin and realises that the books turning pages will take him to the secret Time Lord prison, Shada, where he will find him.

They arrive at Shada just as Skagra releases the prisoners and Chronotis is revealed as Salyavin. The Doctor telepathically fights with Skagra, who is finally taken prisoner, and the Doctor and Romana say goodbye to Chronotis and agree not to reveal his secret.

What I Thought

I saw the reconstructed 1992 VHS version, with Tom Baker (humourously?) putting down his fellow thesps and mispronouncing words in the stentoriously delivered fills for the missing film. There is also another version released in 2017, where the missing scenes are replaced with animation and newly recorded dialogue by Tom Baker.

I love crazy twists and the one that reveals kindly Professor Chronotis to be a master criminal is great.

I love that Chronortis's TARDIS is his room/office. In the excellent Crime Traveller (1997), the time machine is similarly a scientist's apartment. There's an great comedic line of dialogue in Crime Traveller, when the protagonist, experiencing the flashing lights that accompany time travel, says that he feels like he has been photocopied. Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, I refer to my office/studio as the TARDIS.

The shenanigans with Chronotis's TARDIS disguised as his room, the room disappearing from St. Cedd's, and it's incongruous wooden door appearing in a futuristic setting, are all time and space Time Lord weirdness I really enjoy.

The seemingly revived Chronotis says, "I am, I was, I will be." It's a time travel-type paradox common to Doctor Who. For example in NewWho, Clara the "impossible girl" tangles with the Doctor's past from her future in The Name of the Doctor and, paradoxically, survives her own death, Chronotis -style, thanks to the Doctor extracting her from her own timeline in Hell Bent.

Douglas Adams puts himself into the action, as he usually does in his creations, in the form of the usual tall, hapless, but also clever, brave, and good-natured Englishman, played by Daniel Hill. Though I am a fan of Douglas Adams' work, it's a lazy, inaccurate, over-flattering, and humble-bragging stereotype, that I only somewhat manage to avoid in my own fiction. (I am not Horis in my novel, The Horus Box, though there are aspects of me in him).

The harmonising group of posh male students doing the Chattanooga Choo Choo were incredibly annoying.

Much as I love the cavalier look, Skagra's outift is exceedingly silly. It is more prog rock Liberace than musketeer.

I really wanted to see more of Shada. We get a shot of a model of the exterior of the Time Lord prison perched on the side of a misshapen planetoid, but what would a Time Lord black prison be like? The thought is terrifying.

In summation, I thought the plot and the dialogue were intriguing and complex enough to merit six episodes on this rare occasion.

Trivia

If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, you'll recognise Chronortis as a character from the Dirk Gently series.

Inspired by Chronortis, Seinfeld's George, and Cube, in several of the more anonymous jobs I had in the past, especially in the UK civil service with it's stultifying beaurocracy, I speculated on the ease with which a creatively minded person might, through clever use of the inter-office mailing system, create a completely fictitious department, then simply work in that fictional department for years without discovery. Personally, I didn't have the patience and left those abysmal jobs as soon as I could.