Well, another month is nearly over and as my next birthday makes me reach for the razor blades I find myself watching Shada - specifically, Ian Levine's homemade animation of it. Now, I'm not going to be nice to Big Blubberguts Levine, a man who makes Larry Miles seem like a positive, friendly chap. Levine has done twice as much damage to Doctor Who as he ever did good for it, and doesn't even make a good villain when RTD is feeling pissed off with a bloke who publically insisted there was a completely different episode called Bad Wolf to the one that was shown, released on DVD and discussed at length by the author. His latest stunt - to accuse Phillip "I'm the bloke who found more Troughton episodes in a week than you did in thirty years, boy" Morris of hoarding episodes before offering up a mouldy, unwatchable copy of Enemy of the World Part Six - is enough to get people to throw live lobsters at him. His heckling and buying of JNT on his deathbed is beyond the pale, but when he did the same to Nick Courtney, it's no wonder Tom Baker wants nothing to do with him.
Now that vitriol is out of the way, onto this animation. Unsurprisingly, the CGI-artwork (in the Cosgrove Hall style of Scream of the Shalka and The Infinite Quest) is interspersed with the original material which is as understandable as it is exasperating. I mean, you can't really expect anything other than a jarring jolt when the Pugwash-esque Doctor and Chris disco-groove across a corridor before cutting to two actors flinging them across a set with more energy than a nervous Rowan Atkinson on speed. But it still clashes, as do a few other things. Chief of all the music, as Ian Levine shows the same criminal genius that got him repeatedly turned down as a composer - dubbing on creepy stock music from the 1960s without rhyme or reason. Now, your mileage might vary on whether prowling a Time Lord prison planet to the howls and drums of 1960s Vortis is a good thing, but it clashes terribly not only with the Dick-Mills-Dudley-Simpson impressions and also the other strings of Bartok as well.
Then there are the voices. Now, to be fair, the Tom Baker impersonator is quite good. Better than Jon Culshaw, certainly, and with more variety than the one-note Colin Baker and Paul McGann impressionists I've encountered but just because he really, really sounds like Tom Baker doesn't make him Tom Baker. The Fourth Doctor has never been more bored, glum and wooden than he is now. Douglas Adams' script, of course, takes the edge off. You could even roll with it... until the genuine article turns up.
As for the others, Levine's found a tame strangled cat to do Professor Chronotis - gargling squawks that are even worse than the concussed Spike Milligan character of the PMG version. Lalla Ward is professional, but clearly not enjoying herself or having to do Shada YET AGAIN (having done the original, the remake, the talking book and now this...), while John Leeson somehow phones in a performance as K9. Why Blubberguts didn't simply redub all the lines from the PMG remake, I dunno. Hill and Bergoine are adequate, but much is lost as they are no longer the excited newbie actors trying to make the most of television. The old lady who voices the ship voices the ship. Meh.
Most significant of all is Christopher Neame as Skagra. Now, Skagra was fascinating as a nearly voiceless protagonist who stalked Cambridge much like another mysterious whiteclad being would the next season finale. The original idea is for you not even to know who Skagra is, or even his name, for most of the story - with Romana's assumption he is, in fact, Salyavin himself supposed to be the running mystery for the first half of the story. He hardly speaks, he has his own empire waiting, he is not afraid or even interested in the Doctor. He's drawn in contrast with the other baddies of Season 17 by not rising to any bait, or even bothering to waste time giving bon mots. Until the final episode, everything he plans is achieved and even the spontaneous plot devices of Chronotis coming back from the dead, the Doctor being able to survive the sphere and a handy second TARDIS don't even slow Skagra down.
Animation does Skagra justice, with only a few cruel smirks to give him facial expression which is what the genuine actor did. Unfortunately, giving the bland insolent tone of his TV performance in the dull animation would achieve a zen level of tedium.
So, Christopher Neame decides to go fucking apeshit. He screams and yodels and spits every syllable, giving the impression he recorded the dialogue while in a straightjacket without his meds. Graham Crowden would run away screaming from this guy, while even Roger Lloyd Pack and Richard Briers (thankfully, both reduced to compost to match their respective acting skills) would boggle. Skara IS Iggy Pop off his face. It's like all these years of waiting to finish the story have driven him insane. Jim Moriarty wouldn't match his performance for more than a few seconds. Richard E Grant wouldn't even try.
Still, now Big Finish have got Tom Baker and Lalla Ward together - an act which by it's very definition earns Eternal Man of Fist - maybe they'll finally finish this all together.
But if - in the unlikely, laughable event this stolen, plagiarised, unauthorized, unofficial and morally dubious animation was inflicted on, er, released to the general public, then by my reckoning that this would join The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet, The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Ice Warriors and The Invasion. Which means that there would only be eight Hartnell and nine point five Troughton stories missing.
Which, when you think about it, is a much more managable number of lost stories.
In the meantime, don't tell them you're a pacifist...