Reviews Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka stars Richard E. Grant

Published on October 1st, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

Scream of the Shalka DVD Review

It may not be much of a confession, but I’m a bit obsessed by the idea of animated Doctor Who. Although I consider the fan-produced anime that appeared on YouTube to perhaps be the ultimate cartoon-style adventure, I’ve been particularly thrilled by the recent reconstructions of classic, incomplete serials.

So you shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that I’m also a big fan of Scream of the Shalka, Paul Cornell’s confident online-and-official relaunch of Doctor Who from 2003 that was unceremoniously overlooked by pretty much everyone once that announcement was made in September of that year. Yes, it’s an unusual story, comprising six 15 minute episodes that were squeezed down an old dial up Internet connection in my parent’s house, but it contains some amazing ideas, some of which were picked up on in the TV series that stole its thunder.

But, you’ve probably read all about the presence of the Master (played by Derek Jacobi) as a travelling companion and the Doctor being affected by the loss of a companion and his people. You no doubt know by now that future Doctor David Tennant appears briefly in Shalka, or that Russell T Davies had little regard for Richard E Grant’s performance as the original official Ninth Doctor. Liz 10 actress Sophie Okonedo also co-stars as companion Alison Cheney, a girl with a dead-end job, reliable but uninspiring boyfriend and a spark with the Doctor – not to mention a sense of adventure.

Scream of the Shalka 2

Sounds familiar, doesn’t she? Okonedo would probably be the best thing about Scream of the Shalka - certainly the early episodes – if not for the wonderful Derek Jacobi. How well would we have regarded 1990s Doctor Who with him as an occasional Master, had the show been properly treated by BBC One?

Hopefully you’ve also read our interview with Paul Cornell in which the writer – who apparently won’t be writing any future Doctor Who stories – recalls the genesis of the story.

So why should you buy this DVD, which includes a relatively short Doctor Who story (for a “classic” era release) and some extras?

Well, because it’s really not bad. Certainly more than a curio, the serial is a little more than a footnote in Doctor Who‘s history. Rather, it underlines the show’s ability to transcend media formats, and more importantly its innate ability to survive. Throw in idiosyncratic design and animation from Cosgrove Hall and the fact that watching it on DVD is far superior than trying to suck it up through a straw (which is how the original webcast felt) this is a release that should interest more than just the completists; the animation has also been digitally remastered, along with the soundtrack. While there might have been some other animated adventures prior to this (notably Real Time and the Paul McGann version of Shada), Shalka is notable in that it gets its own DVD release and introduces a new Doctor.

The Ninth Doctor.

For a few days, at least. Here’s the synopsis:

The TARDIS lands in a small English village in 2003, where the population are living in fear from a malevolent alien force. With the help of UNIT and his new friend Alison, the Doctor discovers that a race called the Shalka are residing underground, preparing to strip away the earth’s ozone layer and embark on a full-scale invasion of the planet…

Personally, I can’t agree with Russell T Davies’ assessment. Although Grant sounds subdued in the early episodes, it is clearly due to the recent experiences of his Doctor (or his predecessor). As the episode progresses and the tide turns against the invading Shalka (lead by queen Diana Quick, wife of Vincent and the Doctor‘s Bill Nighy), Grant’s Doctor becomes warmer, and more like the man we’ve always known. In places the adventure can be hard going, and the UNIT troops are needlessly comedic, but on the whole Shalka is there to be enjoyed.

Alison Cheney, Derek Jacobi, Doctor Who, Gareth Kavanagh, Ninth Doctor, Paul Cornell, Richard E. Grant, Scream of the Shalka, Sophie Okonedo, The Lass O'Gowrie, The Master

Extras

Given the relative anonymity of Scream of the Shalka among wider fandom, it is good to see such a selection of extras on the disc, starting with a commentary track featuring writer Paul Cornell, director Wilson Milam and producer James Goss.

Perhaps one of the greatest ever value added material features in Doctor Who’s history on DVD is Carry On Screaming, the behind-the-scenes story of what appears to be a bunch of people working their way through what could have been an abject disaster. The personnel involved discuss the making of Shalka, with contributions and recollections from executive producer Martin Trickey, producers Muirinn Lane Kelly and Jelena Djordjevic, animation director Jon Doyle, writer Paul Cornell and researcher Daniel Judd. James Goss, who did sterling work on the BBC’s Doctor Who website back in the day and was one of the one of the story’s executive producers, presents with memorable aplomb.

Although the not-quite-Ninth Doctor is notable by his absence, The Screaming Sessions is an interesting look at the how the cast and crew viewed the production, recorded during their time in the studio in 2003. Sophie Okonedo (Alison), Jim Norton (Major Kennet), Diana Quick (Prime), Craig Kelly (Joe), Anna Calder-Marshall (Mathilda) and director Wilson Milam chat to the camera.

Following this and concluding the main set of extras is Interweb Of Fear, a brief history of the BBC website and the role Doctor Who has played over the years. Unfortunately this could have been so much more if the remit had been wide enough to include the fascinating roles various mediums (message boards, newsgroups, forums, websites and social media) have played over the years. Among those chatting in this programme are Internet consultant Martin Belam, editor Ian Garrard, producer James Goss, commissioner Martin Trickey, rights expert Ann Kelly, iPlayer inventor Ben Lavender (in a particularly interesting segment) and one-time Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies.

Other extras include a soundtrack of specially commissioned music for the Scream of the Shalka, which works in its isolated form (much TV show music fails to do so), the unmissable production information subtitles, the necessary programme subtitles and the usual photo gallery and coming soon trailer.

While it’s never going to be the most fashionable Doctor Who adventure or be accepted into that artificial construct known as “canon” Scream of the Shalka is available now from Amazon for £15.99. The extras alone are worth the cover price.

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About the Author

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




14 Responses to Scream of the Shalka DVD Review

  1. Bob James says:

    Hindsight reveals where RTD got A LOT OF HIS IDEAS, and I wouldn’t be surprised if SOTS also factored in at some point. The whole concept of a destroyed Gallifrey, and an extinct Time Lord race was a pivotal element of the BBC EDA’s as well, although SOTS and RTD handled it far better by not employing the whole amnesiac Doctor trope, and/or the “erased from Time but then I guess not” Gallifrey angle. I too, think RTD is wrong about Richard E. Grant’s performance, but then, RTD did have his own Ninth Doctor to sell. I’ve actually read REG’s biography “With Nails: The film diaries of Richard E. Grant”, and he seems to be much less the snob than the one we got. He seemed ambivalent about the role in his featured interview with DWM at the time though, so perhaps he might have had trouble with the “baggage” of portraying the Doctor over the long term as well. Ah, well, never to know because not to be. I’m glad this is here, though.

    • Gareth Kavanagh says:

      It’s also a staple of sci-fi since Superman – the last son of Krypton with added post 9-11 impetus of a seemingly impregnable empire under attack.

      • BOJAY says:

        That was the rationale, in part at least, I think. Justin Richards saw the mythology of Gallifrey and the Time Lords as a boring dead end, so much so his original intentions were that Gallifrey was “erased” out of time, having never existed, as opposed to simply destroyed. As a result, in my opinion, the Doctor in the EDA’s became almost unrecognizable in many cases. How much Doctor Who can you subtract before it’s not Doctor Who anymore? RTD took a wiser course with it, and I think he saw it as a means of freeing up the narrative in reintroducing the Doctor, while also maintaining continuity with the Classic series.

  2. vortexter says:

    Shalka is a superb slice of Who. Well written and acted and most of all, well thought out. RTD’s condemnation of certain aspects of the production are misplaced as this is supposed to be a subdued incarnation of the Doctor. He’s lost his home and companion and is being pushed around the galaxy by unseen hands against his will.
    Also, RTD thought the idea of the Doctor and the Master travelling together to be an awful idea when really, it’s inspired. They would make an amazing team with the Master scheming and coniving in the background.

    Personally, I would hope they make a 45 minute episode once a year for DVD release with Grant, Jacobi and Sophie reprising their roles. If The Minister of Chance can be expanded upon then maybe the real 9th Doctor could ride again?

    • Gareth Kavanagh says:

      Not according to Paul Cornell. Aside from the fact the idea of a neutered Master held prisoner aboard the Tardis is pure spike from Buffy (RTD’s fave series), in fact my chat with Paul several years ago he said the line where he offers the Master a life aboard the Tardis where they travel together was directly inspired by Shalka.

      • vortexter says:

        I read an interview with RTD published in DWM where Russell says he felt the idea of the Master travelling with the Doctor was nonsense. He felt The Master would have preferred death to travelling with his mortal enemy. Interestingly enough the same fate is offered with the 10th and he commits suicide. More proof needed of the snub to the original idea? I’m glad Paul thinks it was a nice nod to his original (superb) idea but I think RTD’s opinions of the story are a little harsh. Shalka is a gem of a tale and sits proudly on my dvd shelf.
        If I were a showrunner on the series I would have at least one Paul Cornell script per series.

        • Bob James says:

          I’ve been wishing, and hoping and waiting for Paul to write more Doctor Who as well. Now I’ve heard overtures that he might not ever again? He and Rob Shearman would be welcome returns. I’ve spoken with Rob at a convention a few years back about why he hasn’t, either on the show proper, or for Big Finish. He seems to have a pretty sizable anxiety about not being able to match or top his previous contributions. I don’t know specifically what the story is with Cornell though. I’ve always loved SOTS, and can remember thinking at the time, if this is how we’re going to get new Doctor Who, than so be it.

          • vortexter says:

            As a wannabe Who writer myself, it seems strange to walk away from doing something you love especially if your as good at it as Paul Cornell is. Another writer I would like to see return is Marc Platt. He is a natural writer and it seems bizarre he hasn’t written a script yet for new who.

          • Gareth Kavanagh says:

            I think it’s simply that Paul has moved on with his career and is concentrating on novels and comics. He’s noticeably more reticent to talk about Doctor Who than he used to be and, perhaps feels he’s done his time.

  3. Gareth Kavanagh says:

    And it has my alehouse in it. What more would I want from a Doctor Who…


    • I kind of didn’t want to mention that AGAIN… ;)

      • Philip Bates says:

        Hey Christian? Did you know that Shalka features Gareth’s pub?


        • DOES IT?!?!?!

          Drinks are on Gareth!
          ;)

  4. Rob Cline says:

    I really enjoyed Scream of the Shalka. This story had a real feel of the old series, something the new show sorely lacks. The dour demeanor of this Doctor was also much better than Eccleston’s portrayal.

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