Doctor Who/Recap/S17/E06 Shada

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
< Doctor Who‎ | Recap‎ | S17


The Doctor: When I was on the river, I heard a strange babble of inhuman voices. Didn't you, Romana?
Romana: Yes.
Professor Chronotis: Oh, undergraduates talking to each other, I expect. I've tried to have it banned.

Filming on Shada ("SHAH-duh"), which was interrupted by the 1979 BBC strike, was never completed. It remains the only story of Classic Who that has never aired. But Douglas Adams scripts aren't so common that they can be discarded so easily, and eventually four official versions saw the light of day: a 1992 filmed version cobbled together out of the existing bits, with linking narration provided by Tom Baker; a 2003 Big Finish-produced audio/web-animation version with Eighth Doctor Paul McGann as the story's Doctor; a 2012 novelisation by Gareth Roberts, based on the final versions of the scripts; and at last a 2017 direct-to-video release of the original story with animation filling in the missing pieces and a bonus scene at the very end. Clips from this episode were also used in "The Five Doctors".

For extra credit, spot the plot elements that Adams recycled into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.


The Doctor and Romana drop by St. Cedd's College, Cambridge, in 1979, to visit Professor Chronotis, a retired Time Lord posing as an eccentric old Cambridge don. Chronotis is extremely old, even for a Time Lord, which makes his memory spotty and unreliable... but after some gentle prompting, he eventually remembers that he'd wanted the Doctor to take a certain book back to Gallifrey. No ordinary book, this, but an ancient relic from the days of Rassilon, the founder of Time Lord society, and possibly (read: almost certainly) full of uncertain and dangerous powers. The three Time Lords begin to search Chronotis' flat for it.

Unfortunately, Chronotis has already forgotten that he'd just that morning lent it out to physics student Chris Parsons—who's taken his new toy over to the lab to examine it, with baffled fascination, and even asked his girlfriend Claire to come have a look.

Even more unfortunately, someone else is after the book, too: a guy named Skagra, and with a name like that he's got to be evil. Skagra's putting the finishing touches on a brain-inna-jar—actually, a collection of great minds, whom he'd lured into working with him under false pretenses and then mind-napped—and just needs one more mind. Specifically, he wants the mind of legendary Time Lord criminal Salyavin, who was said to have the power to project his own mind into other minds; with this power in Skagra's brain jar, he'd be able to control the rest of the universe. Salyavin is imprisoned on the prison planet of Shada, whose location has been lost for centuries, but Skagra is convinced that the directions are in Chronotis' book.

By the time Chronotis remembers Chris Parsons' name, Skagra has parked his spaceship outside town and gotten a lift to St Cedd's. The Doctor's just left, though—he's borrowed a bike and gone off to fetch Chris from the physics lab, little realizing that the guy he nearly crashed into on the way was Chris himself, on his way to see Chronotis to ask about the book.

The Doctor does meet Claire at the lab; with her in tow, and in possession of the book, they return to Chronotis' flat—to find the old professor dead, killed by Skagra while Romana was in the TARDIS looking for milk for the tea.

Tropes used in "Shada" include:

The Doctor: What? Do you understand Einstein?
Parsons: Yes.
The Doctor: What? And quantum theory?
Parsons: Yes.
The Doctor: What? And Planck?
Parsons: Yes.
The Doctor: What? And Newton?
Parsons: Yes.
The Doctor: What? And Schoenberg?

Parsons: Of course.

The Doctor: You've got a lot to unlearn.