Monday, September 9, 2013

DVD REVIEW: Scream of the Shalka

 
SCREAM OF THE SHALKA
Starring Richard E Grant

1 disc DVD - details HERE

UK: Sep 16
North America: Sep 17
Australia: Sep 18


Some readers might be looking (with a very frowny face) at this DVD release, wondering what Scream Of The Shalka is, and where Richard E. Grant's 'Ninth Doctor' fits into the 'canon' of Doctor Who. So then... imagine if, in 2003, there had been no Russell T Davies, no Julie Gardner and no Jane Tranter - the key players who all came together to resurrect the series for television. Now, we'd have a world where Saturday nights are without the good Doctor, blazing his way across our TV screens. It's almost impossible to imagine, and life in that world seems a little bit sadder. No-one anywhere, making new Doctor Who for the world to enjoy. 

Except..., that wouldn't have quite been the case and that's because of Scream Of The Shalka. Before RTD was asked to accept "mission impossible" in taking the series back to TV, BBCi had been experimenting with pushing digital entertainment boundaries, specifically with animated audio Doctor Who adventures, each project becoming more ambitious than the previous one. Initially featuring past Doctors - Sylvester McCoy (with Death Comes To Time), Colin Baker (in Real Time) and Paul McGann (taking on a resurrection of the aborted Tom Baker serial, Shada) - that by 2003, with no new series in sight, the BBC online team took it upon themselves to move The Doctor onto his (first official) ninth incarnation and off the TV and into online broadcasting.

The result was Paul Cornell's Scream Of The Shalka, designed to give the fans a new era, launching in time to celebrate the 40th Anniversary. However, as Richard E. Grant, cast as the new Doctor, took the helm of the TARDIS in what was to be Doctor Who's new digital future, BBC One made the move to bring back the series for television, leaving Shalka as something of a forgotten oddity in the show's history.

Never before released on DVD and digitally remastered, Doctor Who's first ever official animated adventure - handled by cartoon legends Cosgrove Hall no less - aimed to act as launch pad for a new era of the Time Lord that never was. Scream Of The Shalka attempts to shake up the format of the Classic Series, last left hanging with the Paul McGann TV Movie, and does so in very different ways to the RTD revival in 2005. Here, Richard E. Grant's Doctor is a colder, weary and haunted figure accompanied by The Master, played with vocal relish by Sir Derek Jacobi (Yana from Utopia), now the Doctor's TARDIS-bound companion trapped in a cyborg body. Added into the mix amongst the cast are the exceptional vocal talents of Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten in The Beast Below) as Alison taking the more traditional companion role (and there's one Mr. David Tennant in the cast too!), as this alternative Ninth Doctor, somehow under the influence of an unseen, powerful force controlling his travels, encounters the village of Lannet. 

Living in silent fear of a mysterious, deadly force known as the Shalka. Living beneath the streets, they plan to destroy the Earth's Ozone Layer in this tale which has darker, maturer shades than the current TV series. Cornell also plays with various fan-pleasing elements - a natural thing to do, given that its designed to court the show's then-smaller fanbase - using elements such as the previously mentioned Master, as well as UNIT. These further establish Shalka was most definitely treating itself as a genuine continuation of the TV series with gusto. 

Scream Of The Shalka, if placed alongside the revived series, feels like a more insular, fan-pleasing experience rather than the mainstream blockbuster experience we're more used to today. Also, with the animations designed for internet use in 2003, it's all too easy (and unfair) to criticise it for having a static look and feel in comparison to what can be done today. However, the big issue is, Grant's performance as the Doctor. Sadly, something of a weak link at the heart of the story and the other vocal performances around him, with it feeling distracted and distant. However, beautiful animation visuals, several fun in-jokes (see if you can spot the Cosgrove Hall logo in there), and, with a nice air of mystery scattered through the script more make up for Grant, making it an enjoyable one-off. I found that Shalka will be best viewed and enjoyed by those prepared to see beyond the current series' continuity.

Scream of the Shalka will no doubt be seen as something of an oddity for newer or more casual fans to the series who have come on-board since 2005, given its brief, official status as "new" Doctor Who, with its alternative and unfamiliar continuity.

EXTRAS
The DVD commentary includes the key production team - director Wilson Milam, producer James Goss and writer Paul Cornell, who chat enthusiastically about their time when they thought they were shaping Doctor Who's future and their personal thoughts on the TV revival that ended BBCi's plans, looking back on what might have been; all-in-all, a great, enjoyable commentary worth listening to.

Of fan interest, historically, is The Screaming Sessions, taken from various talking head sessions recorded at the time, with Sophie Okonedo (just one year away at the time for her Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda), Jim Norton (Major Kennet), Diana Quick (Prime), Craig Kelly (Joe), Anna Calder-Marshall (Mathilda) and Wilson Milam. Placed alongside this is Carry On Screaming which acts as a lovely, polished retrospective documentary complementing The Screaming Sessions ten years on. Between these two features and the commentary, they fully explore the behind-the-scenes aspects of Shalka.

Looking in fantastic detail at its production, Carry On Screaming - with Paul Cornell, executive producer Martin Trickey, producers Muirinn Lane Kelly and Jelena Djordjevic, animation director Jon Doyle, and researcher Daniel Judd - explores how this production was designed to give the series a fresh start on the show's 40th Anniversary; as well as the ramifications of the revived series on the plans for future sequels to Shalka, which never materialised. Placing these two features together, under the careful touch of James Goss, they give a wonderful now-and-then feel to proceedings.

Fun revelations in the extras include the production team considered and pursued Robbie Williams, of Take That fame, for the role of the Doctor before casting Grant, and the tale of how an unknown but respected radio and theatre actor called David Tennant, recording nearby, talked Milam into giving him the role of the Caretaker, as he was a fan of the series. It's also interesting, with this in mind, to consider how many of the core cast have gone to play regular roles in the revived series - Grant, Okonedo and Jacobi have all appeared on our TV screens since 2005; the latter is especially of note, given he played same role in the revived TV series continuity.

It's also mind-bending to think that this release reminds us that Grant also has the bizarre position of first playing an unofficial Comic Relief Doctor in The Curse Of Fatal Death (in 1999), before becoming the first official Ninth Doctor in Shalka, only to being relegated back to being an unofficial holder of the role once Eccleston was cast in 2004, before returning to our TV screens as a regular antagonist in Series 7 as The Great Intelligence.

Rounding off the extras is the splendid Interweb Of Fear, a look at the development of the BBC's online presence and the relationship it has with Doctor Who. Featuring many from the BBC Online team and, most wonderfully, BBC iPlayer inventor Ben Lavender, they talk clearly about the importance of the series to BBCi. It also takes the viewer briefly through the history of the iPlayer, which seems to have become today the way Doctor Who finds its audience, and vice versa. This one feels incredibly satisfying as it turns the spotlight on a team rarely acknowledged in the world of Who, working around the clock to create and release online material for the fans. For those who've always wondered how much effort goes into the series website, this is well worth a look. It's wonderful that Shalka's release has been used as such.

By also including the soundtrack, it shows care from the DVD in making sure all possible material is included and Shalka's release stands up alongside the regular Classic Who releases, along with the now trademark Photo Gallery and Production Subtitles.

This release will appeal to those who have a natural curiosity about a Doctor Who era that might have been, or those who have a massive interest in the unsung heroes of BBCi who work tirelessly to support and promote the show in an ever-growing, competitive digital landscape. It won't be a release that will sit comfortably with casual buyers more familiar with Eccleston, Tennant and Smith; however it's definitely one for those who want to explore a fascinating, behind-the-scenes 'what if' of a Doctor Who that could have been, and to celebrate the BBC's Online team who support the show with such gusto.

BLOGTOR RATING 8/10
Thanks to BBC Worldwide


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing the review doesn't mention is that there was supposed to be a DVD release of this way back in 2004 but it was scuttled due to the new TV series, so it's been a long wait. I am disappointed that they didn't use this release to also put Death Comes to Time and Real Time back into circulation - even if only as DVD-ROM extras like they did with Shada, especially given Death Comes to Time's relationship with the Minister of Chance project that's getting a lot of attention these days. They could also perhaps have even squeezed in Curse of Fatal Death.