I seldom enjoy New Year parties, the sense of obligation with which we gather together, counting down the seconds to the critical moment of feeling exactly the same. But in 2016, one proved an eye-opening experience. A married couple who had been pupils of one of my parents were there, along with their toddler, a girl not more than two years old. At the countdown, I was distracted by the sight of them all huddled together, their expressions and gentle touch creating a tenderer scene than any I’ve seen before or since. There seemed a mix of anticipation and growing fear in the parents’ eyes. They were welling up. Then, as Big Ben struck midnight, the little girl vanished. Disappeared completely, in an instant. I was bewildered, until the father, sniffling, told me that their daughter was born on 29th February 2012, so only exists in leap years.

It was here that I learned of nature’s law for all ’29-ers’. The theory is that they are born on borrowed time, and the universe re-asserts itself on them in the cruellest way. Any child born on the ‘Infamous 29th’ exists from the start of every leap year, only to be catapulted forward four years at the end of it. At the end of 2019, that married couple I saw will need to go to the same place where that party was held, to await their child’s reappearance. From then, they will nurture her through her third year. Such a practice proves difficult for many families, not least for the 29-ers themselves as they grow older. Progressing at such a slower rate, they can seldom form lasting connections with those around them, even their parents, and they go through more friends at school than even the most vapidly popular children.

Some argue their condition is a positive boon. A 29-er benefits from the increased experience of their parents each successive year they are united, especially if they have had other children to care for. Yet there are stories of parents who struggle with the emotional strain of keeping an empty room in their home pristine, a shrine to someone of whom they are effectively bereaved three quarters of the time. Every four years, they are required to look after a child with the boundless energy, though they themselves feel increasingly past such things physically. They form closer bonds with their offspring who are there every day, and, try as they might to hide that from their 29-er, the suspicion will always be there, and the resulting unspoken question creates further tension. Sibling relationships can be similarly unfulfilled and alienated when a 29-er enters the fray, a fact seen most starkly in cases of twins where one child is born at 23:59 on 28th February and the other a minute later. A partnership impossible from the start.

The only hope for 29-ers is to make friends with others like them, and there are support groups now running to facilitate this. As they grow up, and grow to understand the annual detachment from all the personal connections they have built up over the previous twelve months, fear can grow in the 29-ers’ mind. They seek companions who can remain with them throughout their journey, and what they dread most is falling in love with someone who doesn’t share the condition – giving into temptation and trying to settle down, only to catapult forwards to a time when they have been forgotten, outgrown or widowed.

Yet, in spite of these burdens, when they have come to terms with their ‘other’ way of life, and established the support network they need, there are many advantages the state of 29-erhood offers. Both to the 29-ers themselves and to wider society. Dipping into our continuum every four years, they can bypass the noise of the moment, and see much more clearly the changes of fashion, manner and thought, for better and for worse. All 29-ers have already shot forward from the EU referendum to a post-Brexit Britain, and will be able to see with greater clarity just what a disaster it has been, or will be. In that clarity may be the key to repairing the worst of the damage. 29-ers can also delight in being able to miss almost the entirety of the Trump presidency.

Their outsider’s perspective may prove invaluable as society yearns for guidance.  29-ers can, in their own way, be just as useful to the advancement of civilisation as their linear siblings. Admittedly, there are exceptions. In the second half of Year 8 and the first of Year 9 (2004), I had an elderly History teacher who had been alive officially since the mid-18th century, and spent most lessons screaming in confusion at the whiteboard. Fourteen years later, I understand why.

But for the most part, the view of the 29-er is much championed, and they are often looked to in the political sphere for advice. Their trouble lies in the limited ability to be elected to parliament, since within a few months of winning a seat they may vanish and trigger a by-election. By-elections are often the easiest way for a 29-er to be elected anyway, since no UK general election has been held in a leap year since 1992, and before then 1964. The avoidance is largely deliberate and serves party political interest. Harold Wilson needed to call a further election two years later to strength his hand, and John Major’s government became increasingly unstable up until Tony Blair’s landslide of 1997. It’s easy to see why Theresa May thought it might be a safer option to dodge the bullet of an election in 2020.

Yes, in spite of all the tragedy that might befall a 29-er, and their families, there is much to be said for their condition and its value to wider humanity. In a few decades, once she is able to speak, communicate and think independently, and cope with her perpetual expectation of loss, my parents’ friends’ daughter will have much to offer the world with her insight – if only she were around long enough to instil any real change herself.

29 February



I have been making lists for years. Since childhood. It was probably instilled in me by Doctor Who. Knowing the very specific demographics the programme appealed to while it was off the air, BBC Books published Doctor Who: The Book of Lists in the late 1990s. It was a bible to me, a compendium of trivia and production notes, and, crucially, a list of every story transmitted up to 1996 (like many fans, I can recite every story ever shown on television in broadcast order, for some reason). The book helped cement my fandom decades before I had seen every existing episode. When I watched things for the first time, I would spot things mentioned in the Doctor Who book of lists, and finally they would make sense.

I loved finding other lists elsewhere, Doctor Who-related and otherwise. Album track lists, chronological discographies of The Beatles, Eels and Radiohead, amongst others. Timelines of historical events. Favourite albums and films and Doctors ranked in order (a practice I now try treat with the disdain it obviously deserves). Eventually my own to do lists too. I started making these obsessively round about 2015. I have drifted away from them and back over time. They’re very useful to me, yet can also be a prison. To demonstrate, I thought I would present two short lists, on the pros and cons of such lists themselves.


  • They’re memory aids: lately I’ve struggled to keep up with what does and doesn’t need doing – I used to pride myself on a good memory, and, since entering full time work, have had to confront the horrific realisation that I’m in some way fallible. Writing everything down keeps it present until it’s done, and then I can let it go.
  • They give order to chaos: on a similar note, to suddenly remember a small thing makes it bigger, and shakes my sense of priority. The sensation of writing down tasks to be done contains them – makes them something I can manage, handle, grapple with. Things are almost consistently bigger in the abstract.
  • They help me bring balance: at the more extreme end of my habitual listing (and this is something that slides into a con below), I note down things to do when I unwind. It’s been pointed out that ideally one wouldn’t feel the need to regiment one’s leisure time, but when I want to get a good mix of cultural intake, it’s useful to see in writing what I have done more and less of lately. Haven’t read enough lately? Read this evening. Become too literate recently? Watch a film. Stressed? Stop listening to Radio 4, Humphrys will be on.
  • They’re therapeutic: as I’ve hinted above, the very act of listing can calm me down, and it isn’t just noting down things to make tasks smaller, it’s also the all-important sensation of crossing things off in a different colour. A nice, neat, clear line. Watching as everything is made into nothing. And that last line going through. A complete set finished.


  • Big or small, all tasks can become equal: They remind me of what I need to do, true, but they also remind me of what I need to do. A task as simple as replying to an email takes up just as many lines as writing an entire blog post. I can compartmentalise and prioritise, but I can also use smaller tasks to procrastinate, give myself a reward – only to find I left everything huge until the end of the evening. I reach a point where I have placed myself under tremendous pressure after all.
  • I over-obsess: as I say, I often regiment my leisure time. When looking at my list, telling me what to do, I can feel pressured to relax – an impressive achievement, to give credit where it’s due.
  • Even with leisure time, I list inconsistently: As well as normal to do lists, I have a Word document of films I have been watched since the autumn of 2015. It gave me a sense of achievement not just to cross things off, but to build up a timeline of what I had done, and taken in. But why just films? I watch just as much television (and good television, normally), I don’t list what books I read (and read far fewer books than I watch films). Surely those are in need of listing too. Every sparse month on my film list, when I have been doing other things, smacks of failure. Would a fuller set of lists redress the balance, or simply distribute my sense of my own shortcomings more evenly?
  • There’s always more to do: to do lists are ultimately temporary aids. They can be incredibly useful, and, as I say, calming. Yet when I finish a day and not all is done, the list is not finished – I leave the uncrossed there, and add more to the same list in the morning. Nothing ever truly finishes. Life doesn’t work like that. Single tasks might be completed, but a real to do list never is.

In the process of writing the above, I have reminded myself of the other big childhood encounter I had with listing. I still have my childhood copy of the storybook Frog & Toad Together. The first story of that book, The List, features Toad giving himself a list of things to do. He gets ensnared by his routine, and when his list is blown away he feels unable to chase after it, as he hadn’t written it down as a task. He’s left with nothing that he feels able to do. He and Frog finally remember one thing that was on the list; “Go to sleep”. They write it on the ground with a stick, settle down for the night, cross it off, and drift away.

I’ve never felt quite so trapped as that, but it’s an important lesson, and one which I still find myself forgetting. Planning may be a comfort, as well as a practicality, but it can easily be made into a trap if we don’t look out. Always list responsibly.


Phantom Thread (2017)

The magnificent There Will Be Blood was the enviable result of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis’ last collaboration. Phantom Thread is yet another triumph, a less explosive, bombastic film, but no less dazzling, and no less worthy of acclaim.

The whole cast excels, with an especially remarkable central trio. Day-Lewis is typically mesmerising in ostensibly his last role, as couturier Reynolds Woodock, a creative genius and a Freudian wet dream. Lesley Manville is similarly electric as his sister Cyril, echoing Mrs Danvers from Rebecca (1940) early on, mellowing as the film progresses. Lastly, Vicky Krieps gives a beautifully subtle performance as Alma, perhaps the most complex role, by turns an innocent, a muse, a manipulator and a controller. Both she and Manville bring a warped maternalism to their roles in this gorgeously unsettling, sometimes dreamlike tale of creative obsession against emotional voids in need of fulfilment.

Visually, the film embraces Reynolds’ creative fixations, obsessing itself with the ordered perfection of the man-made. It extends beyond the camera greedily following the trails of his tape measure, or the hungry circles it makes around the worktops as his team of seamstresses slaves over a dress. The fixation is there from the establishing shot of his home, as the team arrives for the day’s work. As they travel up the winding spiral staircase, the camera stays grounded, panning up slowly to take in the sight, the bliss of an ordered structure, of a mechanism functioning. It can be seen when Reynolds drives as well – the camera shakes, seemingly attached to the outside of his car – the eye of the viewer is eager to become one with the man-made, something safe and secure in its functional, crafted design.

It’s little surprise that, conversely, scenes of tension and personal strife building are usually home to more crowded shots, be that at a full dinner party, where shoulders and candlesticks obscure the full view of a shot’s subject, or amongst the thriving mob of a colourful New Year’s Eve celebration.

Order in creation is consistently played against the unpredictability of human emotion, particularly of romance. The duel between the two is manifested in sound as well as image. Music, both selected classical pieces and Jonny Greenwood’s majestic score, is used to amplify the two, though often with the dignified veneer of string chamber pieces. Bursts of creative activity are underpinned by frantic pizzicato, noticeably in the extract used from Debussy’s String Quartet, while Greenwood’s swelling romantic theme sweeps over all else whenever it recurs through the film.

The sound mix in general plays a significant role in pitting the man-made against emotion too. Reynolds is infuriated by noises that distract him at various points (it’s a source of some of the best comedic moments in the film). Individual sounds are highlighted to increase the sense of frustration – although not exclusively. At one point, the sound of a needle guiding a thread through cloth is made just as prominent in the mix, but for a scene of calm. It isn’t an intrusion here, but a show of solace in work, in the act of creating. The sounds that cause Reynolds frustration are those of human necessity, to him an unwelcome distraction from the work he gives himself, but more reflective of natural, instinctive human behaviour – most often the sounds of food and drink being served at the breakfast table. Some sounds help instil a sense of dedication in work, some the exact opposite.

I mention the sounds of food in particular because food is the most crucial embodiment of the relationship between Reynolds and Alma, next to the dresses themselves. When they first meet, before Reynolds invites Alma home (we later realise to measure her), she is a waitress at the hotel he visits. His greeting to her is a gargantuan breakfast order. She serves him his food. He invites her out to dinner that evening, and watches her eat without having any food himself. Food is the key to their romance: when Alma tries surprising Reynolds with a meal, frustrating the routine of his work, he reacts badly. Love and work, for Reynolds, seem incompatible. Yet it is in food that Alma then finds ways to exercise her own creative power, and through cooking, she develops a greater influence over Reynolds by stealth, as the film takes a more surprising, unsettling turn.

It is as this development arises that not only the power balance between Reynolds and Alma shifts, but also the nature of their relationship. Alma begins to change from lover and muse to take on a more maternal role in addition, yet apparently by design. This has admittedly been seeded from the start of their relationship, with her first act being to provide food for ‘the hungry boy’, as she calls him. The treatment of Reynolds’ relationships with women is striking in the maternal void he seeks to fill.

Even dressmaking is a skill passed down from his late mother – Cyril helped him make their mother’s wedding dress, and since her death has aided him in his profession, but has also protected him personally. In the early portion of the film she has a sinister influence over his relationships with other women, in some cases actively encouraging their end. She is also initially suspicious of Alma, and they compete for the same role in his life. Reynolds seeks a mother figure, a role which both women try voluntarily to assume, better to exercise their own power.

In retrospect, it is inevitable that authority ultimately rests with Alma. Even from the viewer’s perspective, she has held power from the very beginning: the film opens with her speaking about Reynolds to someone unseen – only she knows who she is talking to, and we are at once on the back foot. While Reynolds, and to an extent Cyril, might seem to shape Alma, by the end we can see that she has gained the stronger footing, and now holds the greatest power.

As I left the cinema, I heard a young couple discussing the film, one of them saying that ‘nothing had happened’ in it. But how then can they explain the change in Alma we see as the film progresses, from the clumsy, childlike thrill of her first scene, to the possessive manipulator she has become by the end. As I have acknowledged above, there is a maternal streak that remains constant, but there is no denying that, by the final scene, a see-saw has tipped, and power has changed from one pair of hands to the other, seemingly irrevocably. Change occurs with less bombast than in a film like There Will Be Blood, true, but it is no less palpable. Unlike the volcanic violence of There Will Be Blood, the power struggle of Phantom Thread is stealthy and creeping, as subtle as a message sewn into the lining of a coat. A truly masterful piece of work.

I can’t see myself enjoying another film more this year.


Peter Fleming at Leicester Comedy Festival 2018

Hi everyone, Tom here. I’m away at the Leicester Comedy Festival, so I’ve been too busy to write anything this week. Instead, I’ve handed writing duties over once again to Peter Fleming – an architect of the golden age of children’s TV in the 1960s and 1970s.He’s followed me here and is doing a show of his own this afternoon. Take it away, Peter!

Hello there, my friends!

Well, well, well, it’s quite an experience to be back in Leicester once again. I’ve felt a strong personal connection to the city ever since my 1966 series, The Foxes and the Football, set and partially filmed here. Cashed in on the World Cup fever of the time, and it all hinged around a group of foxes who wanted to play football. The trouble was, making it as we did, filming a pen full of live foxes we had captured and hurling a football into their midst, we found it would take them an awfully long time to grasp the rules of the game – and far less time for blind, ugly panic to set in. Luckily, it still made for exciting television.

Since my talk isn’t due to begin until this afternoon, I spent yesterday wandering about the place, taking in the sights. Most excitingly of all, I visited Leicester Cathedral, and the grave of King Richard III – or, as viewers of my largely inaccurate 1972 series would know him, Rotten Richard! Eventually, I was asked to leave, as it transpired I’d been absent-mindedly talking to him for several hours, having mistaken him for someone else. Fortunately for me, the door was left unlocked in the evening, and so I was able to sneak back in and finish my conversation with him before dozing off on a pew. A welcome refuge from the revellers outside!

And today, I shall be heading to the stage to discuss my treasured, lost BBC children’s programmes once again, in the hope that a private film collector may have found an old episode of Where Did My Chair Go? (1969) or Millie the Steam-Powered Elephant (1968). If nothing else, it’s a wonderful opportunity to educate younger people on the wonderful pieces of television that were being made all before they were born. I’m looking forward to it immensely!

After that, I shall have a few more hours to spare, so perhaps I shall visit the National Space Centre and revive the spirit of The Wrong Way (1967), my programme about two children aspiring to become astronauts, only to become irrevocably lost in outer space after lift-off. I’m very excited to spend another evening toying with all the machines once again. That actually got me thrown out the last time I visited, when I nearly launched myself and a small child in a pushchair into the stratosphere. But I’m sure it’s all inactive now. Watch this space!

Best wishes,


Peter Fleming: Have You Seen?  is today, Sunday 18th February, 15:30, Heroes@The Criterion (44 Milestone Lane, LE1 5JN), £5/PWYW.



Where They Are Now

As someone nostalgic and fanciful by temperament, obsessed with cult TV aimed at children, particularly Doctor Who, it’s only natural that one of my pet projects is an ongoing quest to find out where people who featured in archive programmes have ended up now. Some of my most recent finds have been by turns delightful and tragic.

  • Caron, interviewed at her school with several classmates for the 1977 BBC Lively Arts documentary, Whose Doctor Who, started up her own small business in 1990, which closed 11 years later amid reports of financial irregularities.
  • Casper, the well-spoken, big-suited boy with bushy hair and a high-pitched voice who featured in the same programme, became a quantity surveyor in accordance with his father’s wishes, before suffering a nervous breakdown in the early nineties and taking up music instead. He worked as a session drummer for the next ten years, notably contributing to five tracks on the 1996 Supergrass album In It for the Money (production paperwork reveals that he most certainly wasn’t).
  • Phillip, who in the same documentary suggested Doctor Who would end with the TARDIS going through a time barrier and running out of petrol, designed the £2 coin.
  • Matthew, a small boy who was a guest in a 1973 edition of Pebble Mill at One when the BBC Visual Effects department demonstrated a number of their achievements, was shocked when a Cyberman singularly failed to break through a specially designed glass window. Endeavouring to make windows that leant themselves better to drama, he set to work developing newer, thinner, more fragile windows as soon as he was old enough to leave school. The products were highly successful, and set the cause of home security in this country back 15 years.
  • A further Matthew, interviewed by Peter Purves for Blue Peter as an eyewitness to the theft of two Daleks from BBC Television Centre in 1973, was jailed in 1988 after being found out as the mystery man of the South East who had been hurling dogs into the sea. By the time he was caught he had despatched an estimated 25,000 animals, refusing ever to disclose his reasons.
  • 1989’s seminal Look and Read series, Through the Dragon’s Eye, featured three young actors playing protagonists Scott, Jenny and Amanda. Marlaine Gordon (Amanda) went mountaineering in 1991 to try and find the fictionalised land of Pelamar that had so ignited her imagination during filming, and was mysteriously never found. Simon Fenton (Scott), similarly obsessed by the storyline, tragicallly flattened himself running at over 90mph into the mural used in the programme – his crazed mind telling him that he could somehow get back that way; Nicola Stewart (Jenny) still acts, and occasionally moonlights as an English teacher.

These children leave remarkable legacies, with many more to discover. Personally, I can’t wait to make further exciting finds.


Exchange Quay

I work in Salford and commute there by tram, as most readers over the last few weeks will have no doubt gleaned. Boarding my connecting tram to MediaCityUK at Cornbrook, I am often swept up in a wash of agitated TV producers, cramming desperately into the already packed vehicle, eager to get their own seat. Thinking while standing is notoriously difficult in the world of television production, and with challenging meetings ahead, the final twelve minutes of the journey are crucial for finalising and refining ideas to pitch and develop over the coming days.

Brawls often ensue. In just one journey in December, I witnessed tie strangulations, phone-to-mouth stuffings, and a pregnant news editor viciously battering an elderly man with her own bulge. It’s admittedly a welcome distraction for when we arrive at Pomona (which, as I’ve previously discussed, is haunted), and pauses only momentarily when we pass through Exchange Quay, the only other stop on the line where people generally get on and off. By the end, they’re all too exhausted by battle to think of any new programmes by the time we reach our destination, and once again resort to resurrecting formats from previous decades. They hope no one will notice, They know everyone will.

They feel a great deal of anxiety, as admittedly all the passengers on the tram do. But those passengers aren’t simply wary of a walloping. The first tram of my journey, the one taking me to Cornbrook, is rarely host to displays of sickening, guttural violence. But a palpable anxiety exists. There’s a nervousness of even eye contact, amongst a group of strangers so large that friendships between some would be inevitable in most other contexts. Instead, people look at phones, or out of windows, or in more panic-stricken cases deliberately blind themselves. The general feeling is that eyesight simply isn’t worth the risk of absent-mindedly looking at someone who then glances back by chance at the exact same moment.

We do not engage deliberately. Sometimes not even with people we know who we spot boarding, if we’re not ready to start our day’s conversations. That seal can be broken exactly two minutes before the official start time of work and not a second sooner. We certainly don’t break that seal with strangers. We must not intrude, and we resign ourselves to the fact that, even if we share a tram often enough to the point of recognition, that bond will only be momentary. A lasting friendship seems unlikely, and we will never know each other’s stories. We must go our separate ways, get off at our own stops – them usually at Exchange Quay.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge that the elderly are exempt from all rules and norms discussed in this post. They fought the war for us, or, if they were slightly too young for that, have certainly watched Dad’s Army a lot.

Yet the seal may be broken by accident. Chance circumstances will allow for it. A universal mentality consumes a quiet tram. Think of the wave of tension when somebody misbehaves loudly. Perhaps the volume is too high on their headphones, perhaps a group of children is running from one end of the tram to the other, they’re just ‘generally being a bit weird’, as Greater Manchester Police terms the offence. But that wave of tension will be just the same, and sweep over us all. The miscreants know that none of us is strong enough to break the seal of silence, as they have, and power is theirs absolutely. We all know this, and, for a moment, we remember, and all know that we know.

Better, though, is when something less directly harmful than a social deviant breaks the silence, and turns us from a disconnected collection of individuals into a short-lived, moving community. A tram stops along the route, unexplained. We look around for answers. For once, we are allowed to look into each other’s eyes, searching for the truth. We shrug, and are met with one back, then a smile.  Some are even brave enough to speak. An exchange begins. It’s only a short exchange, and one that will fade back down – usually when we hear from the driver, the voice of authority, being the only person on the tram who’s at work already.

This happened during an executive brawl last month, between Salford Quays and Anchorage. Two sports researchers paused from attempting to gouge out each other’s eyes. Instead, they used their own to look out of the window, then rolled them, as if to say, “Typical”. Smiling, raising his eyebrows, exasperated, one suggested, “I could’ve got off at the last stop and walked, it’s only an extra few minutes. Chuckling, the other replied, “Yes, indeed, sir!” With an awkward smile, they mopped their blood from each other’s suits with tissues provided by an understanding pensioner, who was going to change to an Eccles service at Harbour City.

Having remembered they were all people after all, everyone calmed down from the fight, and the final few minutes of that journey were surprisingly productive. The tram was alive with the sounds of notes being scribbled, phone alerts pinging back and forth, and occasional muttered conversations about exciting new projects. We disembarked, and I went into work feeling buoyed by one of the most distinctly optimistic atmospheres I can recall.


Doctor Who: Shada (1979/2017)

Shada, Douglas Adams’ legendary, unfinished Doctor Who story, abandoned midway through production following industrial action, has finally been completed. Again. We’ve had 1992’s VHS release of the completed footage with linking narration by Tom Baker and accompanying scriptbook, 2003’s webcast and subsequent CD release starring Paul McGann, 2012’s novelisation and subsequent audiobook by Gareth Roberts, and years’ worth of fan-made versions and accompanying online arguments. In December, a new, likely definitive attempt at completion, was released by BBC Worldwide. This feature-length version combines the original 1979 material with new animation and dialogue recorded by the original cast (when available). Perhaps the quest to finish Shada has finally come to an end.

It’s not really disputed that the story enjoys a much higher status than it might have had if it had been finished at the time. Douglas Adams had said later that he didn’t rate his script highly, salvaging choice elements for his first Dirk Gently book, and there are some points where it’s clear that ideas were running low at the end of a highly stressful year of script-editing a troubled series. That’s especially true of Skagra, one of the least interesting villains ever written for the programme. One could excuse his lack of any real backstory and motivation as tongue-in-cheek, but that would, I fear, be immensely charitable.

So Shada’s misfortune has over the years turned into a blessing. We can see from the short completed scenes in Skagra’s spaceship and the Think Tank space station that much of the story would have looked a very typical low budget Doctor Who story of the period. Uninspiring sets and tedious lighting all over the shop. As it is, what was completed at the time mostly comprised the location filming in Douglas Adams’ beloved Cambridge, the relish of the production team palpable, and the scenes in Professor Chronontis’ (Denis Carey) college rooms. This set is a thing of beauty, evoking a sense of style that seemed such an anomaly in City of Death earlier in this season of Doctor Who. Not to mention the unadulterated joy of seeing Dennis Carey pottering about, a supposedly senile man who knows far more than he lets on. It’s no wonder the story gained such a reputation with just this as its foundation – now, decades on, a new production team is freer to make the best of what’s left of the script.

And they have done a fantastic job. The animation itself has a sense of character all its own, while staying sympathetic to the live footage around it and, obviously, capturing a good likeness of everyone populating the story. There’s a delicious level of intricacy and detail given to set and spaceship designs as well, living up to the excellent newly filmed model work that also crops up through this new edition. Special mention also to the first transition from live action to animation, the camera rising up to one blue sky and descending from quite another. A skilful, well-judged piece of work.

The animation never feels intrusive, helped by the decision to do away with the episodic format that would have been used for television. This introduces some drawbacks: the pacing of the scripted action for six half-hours, each broadcast a week apart, can feel a little plodding in one go, and we also lose, in episode three, what would have been one of the most imaginative cliffhangers of the 1970s.  But it’s a justifiable choice to help animation and live action feel more comfortable bedfellows.

I must also take a moment to acknowledge the excellent new turns by the original cast – a seamless blend between 1979’s performances and 2017’s. It’s a delight that we now have a version of the story that both Lalla Ward and Tom Baker have worked to complete. Just another aspect that lets this version take on a ‘definitive’ status, as well as preventing the mixed format from jarring.

Also invaluable is Mark Ayres’ brilliant score. Evoking the spirit of the late Dudley Simpson, it feels tailor-made to a Doctor Who story of this era, persistent echoes of City of Death in particular. There’s more music than might have been used at the time, and it risk overpowering on occasion in the first two episodes’ worth of material, but it’s a sterling achievement, and for my money the most effective element binding the whole undertaking together. And what a joy to hear real instruments being used. An extra expense, of time at the very least, that shows the level of care being given to this project. This is a team treating their task with genuine reverence.

But it’s pleasingly knowing too, as it stakes its claim to be seen as the ‘final’ version of Shada. There’s a very celebratory feel to the whole project, most of all in its final scene. I knew from the 1992 version what the final recorded scene from 1979 was, and I did experience just a little deflation to know the story was going to finish off with one last short animated scene. I should have stopped to think that, of course, there had been something much more special prepared. What better way to commemorate the end of such a long production, harking back to the best loved decade of the programme?

Each new version of Shada has been met with some level of enjoyment by Doctor Who fans, ever enticed by a seemingly irreversible gap in the archives. It’s been a fun journey to get to this definitive version in any case, but to see a full-length version put together so well and with such affection is a very satisfying watch. Well worth the wait.