[16 September 2013]
This year of 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, and the fanfare and tie-in merchandise are extravagant. Considering the phenomenon Doctor Who has become again in the USA, the UK and, indeed, worldwide, it’s hard to imagine there being anything less than this massive attention paid to such an historic anniversary. However, this year is also the tenth anniversary of another project that marks a time when fanfare was anything but the case.
In fact, virtually no one at the BBC wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who in any way. Thus, the small team that worked to create a little something for the fans were relegated to an internet-only flash animated miniseries of six webisodes. While originally intended to be a valid continuation of the Doctor Who mythos that introduced the ninth incarnation of The Doctor, Scream of the Shalka was soon overwritten and orphaned by the 2005 series, which continued with its own, separate Ninth Doctor. As the content and the extras on this September 2013 DVD release indicate, this was no mere throwaway cartoon to be dismissed.
The (animated) Doctor is voiced by and greatly resembles actor Richard E. Grant. Grant portrays the eccentric Time Lord in a manner befitting his previous incarnations with his odd manner of dress, aloof personality and wry sense of humor, especially surrounding his newest companion Alison (Sophie Okonedo). Also present on the TARDIS is the atypically-for-a-Time-Lord resurrected arch villain of the Doctor’s known as The Master, here played by the great Sir Derek Jacobi.
The plot evolves around a malevolent alien species called the Shalka, bent on invading Earth for their own purposes. The mystery of their “Scream” is revealed in classic Doctor Who style and, like the best of the series itself, the events of this miniseries can be both very funny and very terrifying. Don’t let the animated nature of this story fool you, this is as scary, violent and edgy as Doctor Who had gotten up to 2003. Luckily the comic relief keeps this shadowy story from becoming “too dark” and the ending manages to leave the Whovian viewer wanting more.
The extras in this package illustrate the incredible amount of work that went into this project and the sadness that resulted in its erasure from continuity. The Making-of documentary “Carry on Screaming” is informative and witty history of the entire project from concept to completion with some hilarious dead pan remarks from host (and Shalka executive producer) Martin Trickey.
This is complimented by “The Screaming Sessions”, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, and “Interweb of Fear”, detailing the history of the BBC website that eventually hosted Shalka. A photo gallery, director and writer commentary and the full soundtrack album (with optional production notes) further make this not only a good DVD to watch, but a good history of the evolution of entertainment technology and the strange Doctor Who nadir in which everyone from the BBC and beyond was swearing that the show would never return to television. Incidentally (and ironically) the announcement of the show’s return took place just before the first episode of Shalka streamed.
Unfortunately, but necessarily, Scream of the Shalka must be viewed for what it is from the point of view of the 50th (not the 40th) anniversary. Today Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon and probably a few hundred other streaming video services give us High Definition quality video through wireless broadband signals that the TARDIS itself would envy. However, Scream of the Shalka was created for viewing on largely 56K dial-up modems in an age when flash animation was new and groundbreaking. Sure the figures come off as a little stiff against the throbbing CGI backgrounds and at times the whole program looks a lot more like a “motion comic”.
That said, the story by Paul Cornell and direction by American Wilson Milam is classic Doctor Who that fits the style as perfectly as do the monstrous Shalka. If anything, BBCi’s Scream of the Shalka helped pave the way for streaming online original content to become the behemoth it has.
The only tragedy (or at least, point of confusion) for fans is the altered canonicity of this story. Originally this was the legitimate Ninth Doctor, now he has been relegated to non-canon. This, however, may be subject to change. The cliffhanger Whovians faced at the end of Season 7 (featuring John Hurt as an as-yet-unidentified incarnation of The Doctor) has had the internet abuzz about the possibility that the Ninth Doctor may not have been the Ninth Doctor, but the Tenth (with the real Ninth removed from the timeline).
This is all speculation, but there’s evidence for the theory that Scream of the Shalka might be “forgotten canon”. One of the biggest mysteries of Doctor Who lore involves the Time War and everything that happened between the 1996 TV movie and the eventually resurrected series. When the Master first appeared in the revived series he was played by none other than Derek Jacobi himself. Might this Doctor have also proceeded (in some way) through to the current continuity?
This speculation makes Scream of the Shalka required research for any Doctor Who fan to geek out on before the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special. Luckily, the miniseries itself is also quite a fun (if imperfect) viewing experience with lots of excellent moments (and extras, to boot). If the connection to the new series isn’t enough, listen closely to the voice of the “Caretaker“ character. A young actor and Doctor Who fanatic named David Tennant asked for and was granted the chance for a voice cameo as that character. Tennant, of course, would go on to portray the Tenth Doctor.
Or is that the 11th, now?