WHO 50: 2003:
Scream of the Shalka.

Animation Of all the false dawns during the wilderness years, Scream of the Shalka is perhaps the cruellest. Having been announced by the BBC as the official continuation of the series, treated as such by Doctor Who Magazine with a customary “Richard E Grant is the Doctor” cover and given much fanfare in the media on announcement, the overall impression being that since it was never coming back to television, someone had to do something, by a cruel irony in that very same issue of DWM there was a stop press news announcement on the cover that the show would be returning to television so the whole exercise was obsolete even before it began streaming.

But nevertheless, for all that, it did spawn one of the best articles about the making of some Doctor Who in the franchise’s history, in which Benjamin Cook who (apparently as a result) would later be treated like a king when visiting the set of the revived series (even to the point of eventually co-authoring a book with Russell T Davies) documents a morning spent trying to get interviews with the participants, some warier than others, and particular with Richard E Grant. Much of his time is spent in broom cupboards and car parks and the overall impression is of a man stuck in the same position as the journalist in ABBA: The Movie and trying to make the best of it.

You can read it yourself here, but the whole thing’s dripping with irony. Look, there’s David Tennant, at the BBC to record something else but having talked himself into appearing in Shalka as Caretaker 2 says, “It’s very hard not to get excited. I would kill to do more of these. […] My granny even knitted me a long Tom Baker scarf. And a cricket jumper. I used to jump around the back garden making up my own stories. As I got older, I’d make up my own seasons” just as REG is denying that he is the Doctor, distancing himself from the role even as he’s recording it (though not ruling himself out of more episodes).

There’s also the novelisation of the story, produced by writer Paul Cornell himself, in what was originally proposed to be a line of new BBC books slotted in with the past Doctor releases, which includes a thirty page section about the making of the adventure (and has a synopsis of Ben Cook’s day from the other side) and the original outline with interjections from James Goss, the BBC online producer whose idea it was to create a new continuation online and himself one of the best writers in subsequent, slightly more canonical spin-off projects, as well as the other creatives behind the series.

Plus, because no version of Doctor Who seems to be able to exist without some kind of extension, there’s Shalka’s own spin-off story, published to tie-in with one of BBC Cult website’s attempts to create original content, the Vampire Magazine, which is remarkably still available here. In the tradition of “unbound” spin-off stories, The Feast of Stone by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright doesn’t so much continue Shalka’s story, as present an idea of what this status quo might be like in an ongoing sense and it’s perhaps to the webcast and the author’s credit that it remains credible, especially in relation to how the robot Master and companion Alison might interact.

Now, very soon, we have the prospect of Shalka itself receiving a dvd release with all the bells and whistles and in a watchable format, since the webcast’s delivery now feels antiquated with its stop/start downloading gaps, destroying any sense of momentum. Despite the omnirumours, 2Entertain, BBC Worldwide or whatever they’re called now, are clearly sensing that the end of releasable Doctor Who is nigh and they’re looking for something to fill the gaps. While more of the Shalka Doctor seems unlikely, perhaps this dvd release will the vanguard of whole stories being animated. Perhaps that’ll be its final legacy.  Perhaps.

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