Doctor Who

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 84435 039 8
Available now

Reunited with his former companions Romana and K9, the Doctor answers a summons from Professor Chronotis, a retired Time Lord now living in a Cambridge college. But someone else is also looking for the Professor: a sinister alien called Skagra...

I have to admit that I wasn't too keen on the notion of recasting and restaging Shada, the famous unfinished story from the Tom Baker era. I had always considered this a Fourth Doctor story, and I didn't like the idea of invalidating the footage that had already been released on BBC Video.

But you may have noticed my use of the past tense. The Big Finish team (I'm not sure who exactly performed the necessary rewrites) have found an ingenious way to imply that, although the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) experiences this adventure, the Fourth Doctor would have fulfilled the role had he not been distracted when he was taken out of time in The Five Doctors. Therefore, what we saw on video could represent what would have happened had Tom Baker's Doctor not been so rudely interrupted.

I have to say that Douglas Adams' script works surprisingly well with relatively few modifications to accommodate Paul McGann's incarnation. The Eighth Doctor's flippancy had been turning fairly "Bakeresque" over recent Big Finish dramas anyway, and Adams' witticisms trip off his tongue quite easily.

Meanwhile Lalla Ward (as Romana) and John Leeson (as K9) step back into their roles as if they had never left them. It makes sense to temporarily write these characters back into the Doctor's life rather than to try and shoehorn some other companions into their roles. (OK, pedants might argue that the actor originally intended to play K9 in Shada was David Brierley, but you know what I'm getting at!)

Most of the rest of the cast are at least as good as the actors who appeared in the partially recorded original. Andrew Sachs is actually better as Skagra than the rather bored-sounding Christopher Neame was, injecting an appropriately OTT degree of villainy into the role, not unlike John Sessions' portrayal of Tannis in Death Comes to Time. Hannah Gordon is also excellent as the voice of Skagra's ship, whose dialogue gets rather lascivious towards the end. The only slight disappointment is Professor Chronotis. James Fox is OK in the role (though he does sound a bit like Victor Meldrew at times), but no one can replace Denis Carey.

Inevitably, some of the story doesn't translate too well to the audio-only medium. The opening sequence on board the Think Tank research station necessitates the addition of some dialogue, and the Doctor's lengthy bicycle race through the streets of Cambridge is understandably truncated.

However, the main strength of Adams' tale was and is his witty dialogue, and it's great to hear the whole thing performed in full at last.

Richard McGinlay

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