Meanwhile, In an Alternate Universe...

Review of Scream of the Shalka (webcast)

DVD Release Date: 17 Sep 13
Original Air Date: [online webcast] 13 Nov - 18 Dec 2003
Doctor/Companion: Alternate Ninth, Alison, the Master
Stars: Richard E. Grant, Sophie Okonedo, Derek Jacobi
Preceding Story: Shada [webcast] (Eight, Romana II)
Succeeding Story: N/A

In the year or two leading up to the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who, fans knew not to expect much. The Movie had made a brave effort at reviving the flagging franchise, and now everyone just knew it was deader than a proverbial doornail. Nothing official was being done to commemorate the milestone, and the future of the show seemed to be relegated to alternative media.

Enter webcasts. The Web seemed to be where everything was at these days. Naturally, the BBC decided that if it were to continue the Doctor Who storyline at all, it would be online. Thus was born the idea of a series of webcasts, to star an entirely new, Ninth Doctor.

As we know by now, things went wahooney-shaped when it was announced in September 2003 that the show would be returning to television proper. Richard E. Grant's stellar Ninth Doctor became obsolete before he'd even made a proper appearance. But somewhere, in some alternate universe, the show didn't make it back to tellie, and we all know and love Grant as the Ninth Doctor instead of Eccleston.

His debut (and sadly—in our universe—only) story Scream of the Shalka consists of six ~13-minute episodes (or the equivalent of a three-parter in the pre-Hiatus format), that serves as an excellent introduction to both a new Doctor and a new Companion (or two!). As I watched it again on DVD, there were two things that jumped out at me right off the bat. First, it came as a great relief not to be watching it in Flash on a computer screen (like I had to the first time). Second, I love the cranky, snarky personality that the Doctor displays here.

That developing personality shines throughout. Writer Paul Cornell (who wrote, among many other things, the [canon] Ninth Doctor adventure Father's Day and the Tenth Doctor adventure Human Nature / The Family of Blood (originally a Seventh Doctor novel)) has thrown in a panoply of wonderful lines for the Doctor, and a few for Companion Alison. Here are a few of my favorites, because I just can't resist sharing:

Joe: Do you know what it's like to be a doctor and stand by and watch these things and not be able to do anything?
Doctor: ~sighs~ So many answers to that...

Joe: You're not human.
Doctor: Decent of you to say.
Joe: What are you?
Doctor: Mildly annoyed.

Doctor: That's two-one to me in the game of "I thought you were dead, Doctor!"

Doctor: Do you trust me?
Alison: Oh, how needy are you? YES!

More generally, though, the story is believable (or as much as any Who story is), presents a suitably threatening and unique threat in the Shalka, and sets up several intriguing background plot points that will now never come to fruition. Most blatantly, we are teased with hints about what has brought the Doctor to this point—both to this regeneration, and this bleak outlook on life—and are left wondering how exactly he ended up bringing the Master with him.

It's a glorious premise. Maybe someday I'll write my own fanfic to fill in the gaps.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Carry On Screaming
The making of piece follows the chain of events that led up to launching the Shalka webcast project; the many bumps in the road on the way to production; and its ultimate, anticlimactic release.

The Screaming Sessions
When the voice talent was recording for Scream of the Shalka, everyone assumed this was the direction the franchise would be taking for the foreseeable future. Understandably, they wanted to interview the cast for posterity. Some of those 2003 interviews were collected into this extra. I'm a little sad we didn't get anything from the Doctor himself, but everyone else had great things to say about Richard E. Grant.

Interweb of Fear
With titles done in the style of The War Machines, this documentary also sprinkles clips of that First Doctor serial between other pieces covering a brief history of the BBC's web presence. From the first version, Doctor Who was a part of the picture, sometimes even paving the way for other projects. If you have any interest whatsoever in the history of technology, this is an interesting retrospective on the ways Who fit into that evolution.

There are many reasons Scream of the Shalka reminds me of The Movie, in all the best ways. Not least is that it reads like a brilliant pilot for a promising series that never followed. There's also the way that the Shalka Doctor was almost immediately mothballed, though this appearance is even more obscure than The Movie, and Richard E. Grant didn't have the benefit of later Big Finish adventures to expand on his engaging characterization. If you've never seen Shalka before, I strongly recommend you give it a look-see; then you, too, can dream about what great stories might have followed.

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