When Scream of the Shalka was announced (which, it has to be said, was done very quietly just in case anybody who was interested might get to hear about it), it looked as if this might be the future of Doctor Who, but as even its creators note in the various intriguing documentaries that accompany this release, it’s a good thing that the series moved down a different path, under the aegis of Russell T Davies.
This is the animated adventure by Paul Cornell which appeared on BBCi in 2003 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the show, which of course was immediately overshadowed by the news that Doctor Who was coming back to telly. It makes this something of a curio: an animated equivalent to Big Finish’s Doctor Who Unbound line, with Richard E. Grant trying on the mantle of the Doctor for the second time (the first was in The Curse of Fatal Death). Watching it through as one story, you can see/hear Grant feeling more comfortable in the role, perhaps, as Cornell suggests, matching the way in which the Doctor increasingly engages with events. The interaction between the Doctor and Alison, and between him and the Master (in a surprising form), drive the story forward, and it’s a shame we only got one official continuation of this team.
The animation is straightforward, and obviously not designed to be watched on a 42” HD screen, but it still works in its primary purpose. We’ve got used to more detailed Doctor Who animations in recent years (sometimes too detailed, as The Reign of Terror proved) but they are recreating or matching scenes that we know well; Shalka has to start from scratch, and does a fine job.
The Special Edition releases have featured a strand that looks at the world of Doctor Who between the cancellation of the classic show in 1989 and the return in 2005. The added material on this disc adds to that, with a fascinating look at both the creation of Shalka and the progress of Doctor Who’s web presence at the BBC, bringing back memories of painful attempts to listen to Death Comes to Time. James Goss narrates the former, wandering around empty offices and occasionally coming out of the darkness – although I was worried for a moment when the story recounted some of the obstacles faced by the team, and he was perched on the windowsill, that things were about to take a more dramatic turn!
Verdict: An interesting sidestep in Doctor Who’s history given fine treatment at last. 7/10