Ah, ‘Shada’. Few stories hold quite the same standing in the collective imaginations of ‘Doctor Who’ fans as this one. And it’s not hard to see why. Written by Douglas Adams (yes, that one) as the concluding serial of the show’s seventeenth season, ‘Shada’ was meant to have aired during January and February 1980. But it was not to be. Ultimately, the serial’s production was disrupted by a strike at the BBC, leaving it roughly half filmed. Production was formally cancelled in June 1980 and some of the unused footage was incorporated into the twentieth anniversary special, ‘The Five Doctors’, when Tom Baker declined to participate.
Ordinarily, that might have been the end of it. But this is a lost ‘Doctor Who’ story written by Douglas Adams. There’s no way something like that stays lost forever. And indeed, it didn’t, though the story’s notoriety has also given it an unusually complicated release history. The most widely circulated version is similar to some of the officially released reconstructions of partially missing stories from the 1960s, in which the extant footage is supplemented by linking narration from Tom Baker. This is the version that was released on VHS in 1992 and which later made its way to DVD. Some years later, Big Finish produced their own version, this time starring Eighth Doctor Paul McGann in place of Baker. The Big Finish version was released both in an audio only form and as a slightly abbreviated webcast, set to Flash animation and originally made available via the BBCi’s Red Button platform.
Following the success of the fully animated reconstruction of ‘The Power of the Daleks’ in 2016, work commenced on a similar version of ‘Shada’, this time with animation (complete with newly recorded dialogue from the original cast) filling the gaps in the original studio footage. Of course, as befits any new version of ‘Shada’, the animated version’s release history hasn’t been without its own tumult. Though it was released in the UK in late 2017, the American release has suffered repeated delays, seeing the planned January release of the DVD pushed back, first to September and then to its current November date. But that hasn’t stopped the newly completed serial from making its American debut.
The latest version of ‘Shada’ arrived Stateside with hardly any fanfare on July 19, when BBC America aired it as ‘The Lost Episode’. But while there have been a handful of repeat broadcasts since, that still stops short of a proper release. Or it did. The episode has at last arrived – with a similar lack of fanfare, it should be noted – on digital storefronts in the United States. This includes iTunes and Amazon, where it can be had for $6.99. With any luck, this may be a sign that the DVD will actually make its release this November.