Shada: the Chadwick question

In issue 439 of Doctor Who Magazine, cover dated 19 October 2011, writer Gareth Roberts – currently working on the novelization of  Shada – comments that he has never seen anyone explain why Owen Chadwick is listed by the Doctor among the great scholars of Cambridge University. I was going to have a stab at doing so in Tides of Time 35 – though I had no idea about Parson’s Court and the Keightley Laboratory. For more of Gareth’s insight into Douglas Adams’s writing practices and sense of humour, buy DWM – but here is an extract from my article on the 1979/80 season of Doctor Who, of which Shada, if completed, would have formed part…

The only living Cambridge scholar named by the Doctor while he punts Romana along the Cam is Owen Chadwick, historian of religion, whose most celebrated book at the time of Shada‘s location filming concerned the rise of secularism in nineteenth-century England. This might be appropriate given that first Salyavin and now Skagra sought powers which would end even the illusion of free will. On the other hand Romana’s ‘Who?’ suggests that this might simply be a Cantabrigian in-joke; Chadwick was vice-chancellor of the university when Adams began his undergraduate studies in Cambridge, and gained a reputation for conservatism and defending the integrity of the dons at the expense of the students. Chronotis, with his wish to have the conversation of students banned, is in part a personification of the way early 1970s undergraduates regarded Chadwick. Chronotis’s public persona is a charade; as one gains experience, one realises that all projections of authority are such.

More relevant is what Shada would have established about Doctor Who‘s concept of natural law. The first part of the story concerns the quest of the villain, Skagra, to locate and possess The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey. This book defies spectrographic analysis; it is a book but it is not a book, and time runs backwards over it. Douglas Adams’s script could be satirising natural law theory while at the same time placing it at the heart of how Doctor Who views the universe. From Shada we learn that Time Lord judges ‘but administer’; convicted criminals are sentenced ‘by the power of the law’. This could be interpreted as another case of Time Lord sententiousness masking their inefficiency; but the contrasting fates of the greatest Time Lord criminal of all, Salyavin, and the man who seeks to eclipse him, Skagra, suggest that the Time Lord invocation is to be taken seriously as a statement of how the Time Lord view of the universe works. This is consistent with the Time Lords’  policy of non-intervention. Some moral claims are shown to be true. Salyavin’s genuine repentance and wish to renounce the use of his powers leads him to escape – be set free – from the Time Lord prison on Shada and retire to Cambridge in the guise of Chronotis. Skagra ends up a prisoner of himself. This is a suitable punishment for a man who does not want to control the universe, but to become it.

For more, see The Tides of Time issue 35, coming soon. EDIT: now available to download.


    • It’s a bit more than that! The joke needs more of a push to it – he was a controversial figure in Adams’s day as far as university administration was concerned, and not someone the wider audience was likely to know about, hence Romana’s ‘Who?’


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