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Time After Time

Shada was intended to be the final story of Doctor Who’s seventeenth series. When the serial was cancelled midway through production, few could have imagined the extraordinary afterlife it would go on to enjoy…
Lalla Ward and Tom Baker, on location in Cambridge to film Shada in October 1979.
Photo © Cambridge News.

The day after we finished filming Shada,” Tom Baker once claimed, “it was already mythology to me.”

Baker recorded his final scenes for the ill-fated serial on 5 November 1979. They weren’t supposed to be his final scenes, of course: with work scheduled to run into December, there was still plenty to be done. But when the cast and crew arrived at Television Centre for the next studio session they found the doors locked. Production had been halted by an industrial dispute which, depending on who you believe, may have boiled down to a row about whose job it was to move the hands on the Play School clock.

The Time Lords’ prison on the planet Shada.

The doors were finally unlocked later that month, but BBC bosses decided to prioritise Television Centre for more ‘prestigious’ shows like Fawlty Towers and The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. So, despite several studio sessions and a whole week’s worth of location filming in Cambridge having been completed, Shada was cancelled. And that was seemingly that.

Christopher Neame as the villainous Skagra.

Except this was only the beginning of a long and extraordinary afterlife that has ironically gifted Shada a much richer legacy than many stories that did actually make it into viewers’ living rooms. While there may be many Doctor Who adventures that are better regarded, few can match Shada in terms of its sheer – thanks Tom – mythology.

Douglas Adams’ story concerned the villainous Skagra’s search for Salyavin, a notorious Time Lord criminal. Salyavin had been imprisoned by his people on Shada, their prison planet, but had escaped and was now living in retirement as Professor Chronotis at St Cedd’s College, Cambridge. Approaching the end of his regeneration cycle, Chronotis asked for the Doctor’s help in returning a stolen book called The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey to the Time Lords. Dating back to the early days of Rassilon, the book – which had previously been kept in the Panopticon Archives, and over which time ran backwards – was also the key to the Time Lord prison.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

The Doctor’s own people, and his home planet, were introduced in 1969 as a major chapter in the series’ history came to an end. Five decades later, the Time Lords and their devastating war with the Daleks are still essential parts of Doctor Who’s mythology. This special publication analyses every story set on Gallifrey, reveals previously unseen images from the making of the episodes and interviews key players in the Time Lords’ fascinating story.