“I'm a homeless person myself. It's the first thing I am." A strange “sideways” Doctor comes to DVD this month in animated webcast, Scream of the Shalka.
The Doctor is seemingly directed to a small village, where the inhabitants are afraid to make any noise. Something nasty is lurking beneath the surface, and when the TARDIS is swallowed into the ground, the Doctor and his new friend Alison are forced to act…
The deeper dive:
- In 2003, staff running the BBC Doctor Who website realised that the Corporation was doing nothing official to mark the show’s impending 40th anniversary. With plans to return the Doctor to television seemingly unlikely, they set about creating a full-scale animated webcast to officially continue the series, with a new Ninth Doctor. However, there was a plan to return Doctor Who to TV. In September of 2003 – two months after Shalka had been announced for a November online broadcast – the then-Controller of BBC One, Lorraine Heggessey revealed that Doctor Who would return to television, headed by Russell T Davies and made by BBC Cymru Wales.
- Scream of the Shalka was released online over 6 weeks across the 40th anniversary, in November and December 2003. The “Shalka Doctor”, as played by Richard E Grant, remains a curious appendix in Doctor Who history.
- The Doctor is travelling alone, with him hinting that a previous adventure led to the death of his last companion. His rantings suggest that the Time Lords have had a hand in this landing – or is that just paranoia? The Master is also present, but he’s different this time…
- Catch massive Doctor Who fan and future Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, playing the Second Watchman in Episode Five. Tennant was recording in the neighbouring studio, and asked to have a part in Doctor Who. Little did he know…
See a trailer for Scream of the Shalka:
The Screaming Tapes is a no-holds-barred history of the making of Shalka – from the difficulties financing the project and the oddities around rights to the “best worst news ever” – that Doctor Who was returning to television. Interweb of Fear takes a wry look at the history of Doctor Who online at bbc.co.uk, including a fascinating interview with Ben Lavender, creator of the BBC iPlayer and the 82 presentations he had to make to get iPlayer in front of the Director-General!
Because Shalka sits at an odd angle to the Doctor Who universe, many write it off as whimsy, or too inconvenient to place in their continuity, but as a piece of drama – and indeed Doctor Who - it’s not to be sniffed at. The script is from the pen of Paul (Father’s Day, Human Nature, Family of Blood) Cornell, and as such the dialogue is great fun, and crammed with fantastic ideas – the horrifying image of someone smearing lava over themselves, the Master as the Doctor’s live-in pet, and an utterly acerbic Doctor. And the actors chosen are of the highest calibre: Derek Jacobi (in his first stint as the Master!), Craig Kelly and Jim Norton. Sophie ("Liz Ten") Okonedo plays Alison just a year before she’s nominated for an Academy Award, and her feistiness is more than a match for Richard E Grant’s waspish Doctor. The style chosen by animators Cosgrove Hall – lots of shadow and darkness (much dictated by technical constraints of narrowband internet) – only enhances the spookiness, and stops the piece looking gaudy and cartoonish.
The bottom line:
An interesting “what if” into Doctor Who’s own parallel universe.