Graduate rescues Doctor Who - again

Rob Ritchie prepares for another adventure through time

Published on 30 November 2017

As Doctor Who prepares for his latest, and most controversial regeneration, into the show’s first female Doctor, fans of the BBC show can see an earlier version of the Time Lord next Monday (4 December) when Tom Baker returns to the iconic role – thanks to a Sunderland graduate.

Rob Ritchie, from Doxford Park in Sunderland, has given Doctor Who fans an early Christmas present as next week sees the release of ‘lost’ 1979 episode Shada – a episode it was considered would never be seen.

Shada was meant to be broadcast on the BBC from 1979-80, and more than half of the final show was recorded in and around Cambridge, with fourth Doctor Tom Baker. However, a strike by technical staff at the BBC meant that the majority of the studio shoot didn’t go ahead, and the serial was abandoned.

The serial was written by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams, and was considered by many fans to be a lost classic. Many attempts were made over the intervening decades to rescue the show, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that Shada was finally brought back to life – thanks to the return of Tom Baker to the iconic role, and the creative skills of University of Sunderland graduate Rob Ritchie.

“Whereas there are a lot episodes that are still missing, Shada is significant as it is the only Doctor Who story that was never completed,” says Rob. “This story was never finished, due to industrial action at the BBC the cast and crew were not allowed back into the studio one day and this carried on until the production had to be abandoned.”

Bringing Shada to the small screen was no small feat. Up until recently it was considered too expensive to recreate an entire serial in animated form, but the pioneering work of freelance animator Rob Ritchie changed that. Last year saw Rob’s hard work and dedication bring lost classic The Power of the Daleks back – significant because it was the first appearance of second Doctor Patrick Troughton – and (in the twisted timeline of the show) follows on directly from this year’s Christmas special, which tells the story of the first Doctor meeting the most recent incarnation, twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi.

Shada too enjoyed some major star power, when forth Doctor Tom Baker agreed to make a return to the part – and even dressed in his iconic scarf and stepped inside his Tardis for the final scenes of Shada.

“Tom recorded new lines for this I had the chance to meet him on one of his recording days,” says Rob. “It was an absolute delight.

“Even at the age of 83 he’s still able to walk in and own the room, always entertaining from start to finish and still able to perform the character of the Doctor perfectly.”

Tom Baker said: “Shada was one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. I have many fond memories of shooting the location scenes in Cambridge, and it was disappointing not to finish the story in studio. I’m so glad that BBC Worldwide have found a way to bring fans a complete visual version.”

Rob’s involvement in the project was originally sparked by his studies at the University of Sunderland. As part of his Media Production degree he studied The Science Fiction & Fantasy TV module. The module has been running for nine years, and covers science fiction, horror and fantasy from the 1930s up to the present day.

Doctor Who: Shada is available on DVD from Monday (4 December) and digital download via the BBC Store.

Parker Trust

Thanks to Parker Trust Sunderland for allowing the access to a replica Dr Who Police Box. The first ever Police box was made in Sunderland and installed at the corner of Kayll Road, the replica was originally created by Learning Curve at Pallion for a West Area Committee heritage event.

Based in Pallion in Sunderland, the Parker Trust charity provides resources advice, assistance and access to programmes of physical, educational and social activities for young people up to the age of 25. Its mission is to help young people to develop their skills, advance in education and relieve unemployment - ultimately enabling them to be independent, mature and responsible individuals with an active role in society.