The Sphere of Skagra

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Despite Shada being the only uncompleted story in Doctor Who history it`s one that you can end up being more familiar with than some of those missing Hartnell & Troughton stories. You can see what footage there is on the upgraded DVD reissue of the original VHS release, and read the accompanying book of the scripts, or you can read Gareth Roberts` novelisation or listen to the audiobook of that novelisation or watch the webcast version or, if you know someone who was involved in its production, watch [as I have] the Ian Levine animated version. So why not add one more version to the list – The Fan Edit!

This is one of the few Fan Edits that I have redone from the original release two years ago, the inspiration behind which was the news that, at the time, Dame Levine had completed her animated version of the story. That led me to think about seeing if anything could be done with just the existing footage. At the time the story wasn’t out on DVD so I had to work from the VHS release and see what, if anything, could be done with it and how far you could get into the story before it no longer made sense. In the end, I decided that the only viable solution was to stick to the original episode one as I felt there was simply too much stuff missing from the later episodes.

That original 2011 edit ran just under 25 minutes and the answer to making sense of it all back then was very simple – when the Doctor gets chased by the sphere, he doesn`t drop the book! Of course, that means they never actually get to Shada, but then they don’t anyway as none of that stuff got filmed before the strike that shut everything down and left it as the only Unfinished Story in the show’s history. A big deal at the time, though I was blissfully unaware there was a missing story until DWW came along years later. Nowadays, it’s just the Tom Baker equivalent of all those partially recovered Billy & Pat stories.

Fast forward two years from my original VHS edit and the story has come out on DVD, and it`s a very disappointing release as it’s just a reissue of the VHS original – no Levine animation, no studio footage, no updated effects, no bugger all really, so zero out of ten for that one, Dan Hall!

And so I decided that, with this being Anniversary Year, the time was right to revisit Shada as I knew I could do a much better job than last time.

The first updated sequence is when Skagra’s ship leaves Thinktank. I never liked the original and had the idea of using Servalan’s space station from the Blake’s Seven episode Seek-Locate-Destroy instead. I also improved the planet in the corner. Here’s a comparison:

Whoflix Shada Thinktank Comparison

In order to mask the original ship I had to rotate the B7 model shot and CSO out the black background. Then I Googled for a red planet and used that to mask the original so the final composite shot required several layers and a fair bit of ingenuity to achieve.

The next section to get an upgrade was the punting sequence, one I dropped from the first version. But it suddenly struck me that here was an opportunity to give a nod to the story’s inclusion as part of The Five Doctors, so that seemed as good a reason as any to reinstate the sequence in this version. The other thing I wanted to do was to change the music playing under the scene.

I’ve always thought that the gramophone on the punt should be playing something sort of Twenties Swing so I found a tune I liked and added it to the scene, having played about with the equalizer to make it sound as if it was an old 78 playing on the gramophone in the punt. I really like the scene now and if you listen closely you can still here the originals underneath but I`ve masked them as best as I can. If the film inserts had been on their own section of the DVD then this part of the edit would have been a helluva lot easier to do. And if you’re wondering, the tune is “Skirts” by The Pasadena Roof Orchestra.

Inserting The Five Doctors sequence where they get Timescooped meant I had to do something for them getting returned so I simply reversed the scooping sequence with some added motion blur. This way you get both versions of the same sequence and continuity with The Five Doctors is maintained. Of course, that begs the question of whether the Paul McGann version of the story happens in the same universe as the Tom Baker one, but let’s leave that particular can of continuity worms well alone and move on…

The next thing to do was to go back and find a point in the long scene with Chronotis and Chris where I could cut away to a brand new shot of Skagra’s ship landing, something I think we ought to have seen in the original. Okay I know it’s still a shock reveal when we see Skagra on the bridge above the punt, but you’ve still got that “what the hell is he doing here?” thing going on so I added in the landing shot, as it still felt like an Obligatory Shot that had been missed.

In order to achieve that shot I used the clean background from when the ship lifts off later in the story and screen grabbed the ship from the cloud background. I then went back and animated the ship taking off and added a bit of motion blur. So now I had a clip of the ship becoming visible and ascending out of the top of the frame, so all I had to do then was to reverse the clip so it enters from the top of the frame, lands and goes invisible.

Shada by Tea Lady DesignSo the order of scenes is now Skagra nobbles his Thinktank mates and legs it, Young Parsons comes to borrow a book from Prof C, Skagra’s ship lands, Parsons borrows the book and buggers off, the Dr and Romana get timescooped and un-timescooped and head off to see the Prof, watched by that naughty Skagra from the bridge.

The rest of the edit followed the template of my 2011 original up to the point where Romana rescues the Doctor from the sphere. This was where that original edit ended but I really wanted to see if I could get further into the story this time and I’ve succeeded. Essentially after this we alternate between Claire and Chronotis and the Doctor and Parsons. It’s about as far as I reckon you can go with the original footage before it no longer makes sense, meaning this edit runs about double the length of my previous effort, which just goes to show what an additional two years of experience will do for you!

The next additional shot was the very end where the policeman asks where the Police Box went. The original ending always confused me somewhat as I wondered why old Salyavin/Chronotis didn’t just use a bit of the old “Gallifreyan Ooja” on him! So the last shot has Chonotis’ eyes glowing in as similar a way as I could manage to when he put the `fluence on Claire earlier [see what I did there?]. I also updated that sequence too.

But the thing that really makes this edit different is the simple idea of making the sphere itself a character in the story. There’s so little of Christopher Neame’s Skagra that it’s hard to justify the second half of the story since there are no scenes with him in for us to cut to. And he can’t take off with Romana in the Tardis as the scenes resolving that plotline don’t exist. So I suddenly hit on the idea of making the sphere the one that’s really behind all this and that Skagra is being used, he’s not really the main villain at all.

Quite where the idea came from I’m not sure, but it was probably a combination of needing a way of smoothing over the joins in the plot and the fact that Babelcolour was updating his progress on colourising episode one of The Mind of Evil at the time I was doing the edit. I think that’s what sparked the idea of something else being inside the sphere, besides just the mind of Skagra and all the other ones he’s nicked.

I was thinking along the lines of some sort of Keller Machine-ish Mind Parasite or Great Intelligence type thing, and suddenly realised that would give me the perfect way to smooth over some of the plot holes left by the absence of so much material. And since they never actually get to Shada in this version, or at all since it never got filmed, that meant I could get away with re-titling the story as The Sphere of Skagra instead.

My next piece of inspiration came from using the space station footage from B7. In order fix what’s left of the plot on video and explain the absence of Skagra I came up with the idea that the Sphere abandons him on earth and high tails it back to the ship. The Dr & Romana see the ship take off and follow it. The ship makes its rendezvous with the Krarg carrier ship and that ship then travels back to the Thinktank, where the Sphere has set a trap – the Kraargs are waiting for the Doctor! That made sense of the footage but I still needed additional shots for the sphere to explain all this to the audience. The solution I came up with was, I think, quite ingenious and all I will say is that it involves more Blake’s Seven footage. To find out what footage I used and how it’s been incorporated, well you’ll just have to download the edit!

Of course, giving the sphere a part in the show meant that either I would have to play him myself, or I could use Andrew Sachs` performance as Skagra in the Paul McGann version but have him playing the “Voice of the Sphere” instead. And that then gave me the idea of possibly replacing David Brierly`s K9 with John Leeson`s, since he returned to voice the character in the following season anyway.

Shada Tom Baker DWMBut before I made a final decision about any of that, the next thing to do was to go through the story and patch up the music. This was for two reasons – one, some of the material had been re-ordered, and two, a lot of sections cut away to Tom`s narration. The way the edit was put together meant that there were several gaps [nearly two dozen of `em!] that had to be plugged with additional music cues. It seemed to me that the simplest solution was to use other cues by the same composer, Keff McCullough, so they stood a chance of matching up with the existing ones.

Most of the cues I ended up using came from Battlefield as that was the one that seemed to fit best. As for the amount of work involved, well let`s just say that the music alone took as long as the editing of the video, some sections were easier than others and some required some real ingenuity to fix!

In the end it proved impossible to match the webcast audio to the original pictures so I ended up playing the part of the sphere myself, which if nothing else meant I could be sure the dialogue would fit the gaps! Recording the dialogue was almost the last thing to be done for this show, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was a bit of a challenge as the sphere has no lines in the original!

As an actor I’m used to improvising so I did a couple of takes for each section, trying to think of what the sphere might say if the thing inside it could speak. In terms of performance, I was aiming for something halfway between Christopher Neame and Andrew Sachs, with a bit more emphasis on the latter. Then it was simply a case of matching that dialogue to the action.

That meant the opening section had to be cut back a bit to match the dialogue, something I think it does rather well. I also replaced the countdown with a rather more dramatic set of captions which, together with the sphere dialogue, combines into a nice little scene setter which helps makes the plot rather clearer than it would be without it. The only other problematic section was when the Krarg buggers up the whole plan at the end, literally sending things up in smoke. It’s a very confusing sequence but I’ve tried as best as I can to make sense of it with the sphere’s lines added to the footage.

Of course there are still a lot of unanswered questions in this version but I’ve tried to make sense of it all as best I can given how much material is missing. If only they’d recorded one more studio session before the strike!

As an alternate version of the story, with the sphere as the real villain, I think it stands up well enough on it’s own merits. And you all know the intended version well enough to fill in the backstory for yourselves. Given how little footage there is to work with, I reckon this version makes as much sense of the story as it’s possible to do without resorting to Tom’s narration.

I didn’t have access to the Levine version (I know it’s out there online but I don’t do torrents) so given what I had to work with this turned out to be a very satisfying edit to work on and I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed editing it!

 

SHADA CD BACK

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13 thoughts on “The Sphere of Skagra

  1. Now THAT was flippin’ clever! Never even occurred to me that the sphere could be the bad guy! Excellent work!

    BTW, what did you think of the Gareth Roberts novelization? I thought it was a nice blend of past and present Who, and it actually improved on some of the plot holes in the original version.

    1. Haven’t actually but if it’s as good as his stuff for the Missing Adventures I’m sure it’s great. As will be his take on City of Death.

  2. Brilliant, you’ve managed to turn this into a coherent narrative, you should be proud of this one.
    I remember Downloading your first attempt at fan editing the five doctors years ago on fanedit.org, you’ve come along way from that patchwork of scenes to this.

  3. I just caught this edit on Dailymotion…it is a masterpeice, the footage from B7 works seemlessly, and I loved the personal touches in making the Sphere a well-rounded character in it’s own right full of precision maliciousness, you have created probably the best interpretation of Shada yet, proof if any needed you can make a complete experiance even out of scrapes of footage.

      1. I thought you’d uploaded it there, obviously not, must have been someone who got it from here. Sheer cheek if they did that without permission.

      2. Found it. Whoever “MRBOSSMAN” is he’s a very naughty boy. However, it’s not as if he’s trying to pass it off as his own, and he has included a link to the site.

  4. Pingback: Shada 2017 |
    1. Well, I’ll certainly be fan editing the new animated Shada. But the Sphere won’t be a character in the complete version of the story as he was in my “surviving footage” version.

      I’m not sure a version of all six eps with the Sphere as a character would work. It might, but for the moment I think editing one version of the animation will be enough.

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