Shada: The Lost Douglas Adams Doctor Who Episode is Novelized


Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts © BBC Books

During the filming of the 1979–80 season of Doctor Who, the BBC production workers went on strike, shutting down all work. At the time, the cast and crew were a less than halfway through the recording of Shada, an episode by an up-and-coming writer by the name of Douglas Adams. This was during the reign of the 4th Doctor, played by Tom Baker, at the height of his power, having become one of the most popular Doctors of all time.

Shada is the story of megalomaniac Skagra’s search for the lost prison planet of the Time Lords where they imprisoned other would-be galactic overlords. But only one, very elderly, Time Lord knows the location. Professor Chronotis, a tea loving Time Lord at the end of his final regeneration, is retired to (you guessed it) Earth as a Cambridge professor. And it just so happens the Doctor is paying a visit when Skagra comes calling.

Although eventually the strike would be resolved, it would come too late for Shada. By the time the cast and crew returned to the stage they would be starting a new season. Shada would remain unfinished, but not forgotten.

Last month, Ace Books released a novelization in the U.S. (it was released in the UK in March by BBC Books) of Douglas Adams’ original screenplay, written by Gareth Roberts. However, this is not the first time the story has been recycled:

  • Scenes were from Shada were used in The Five Doctors — the 20th anniversary episode of Doctor Who produced in 1982 — when Tom Baker was unwilling to reprise his role. Although cleverly worked in, the scenes felt out of place.
  • I have a video tape from 1992 of Shada, where the BBC had edited together the recorded bits — mostly from the first two episodes — and then had Tom Baker narrate the rest of the story as if he were in a Doctor Who museum. Although it was great to learn the rest of the story and Baker could read the phone book and have it sound important, the story lacks most of Douglas Adams’ dialogue.
  • Then, in 2003, Big finish Productions, renowned for their Doctor Who audio adventures, recorded a version of Shada, remained as a memoir of the Eight Doctor voiced by Paul McGann. Lalla Ward reprised her role as Romana II. The drama was initially released as a series of Webcasts with simple Flash animations to accompany them. Although interesting, the story was considerably re-written by Gary Russell and it’s debatable whether this story should be considered part of the Doctor Who canon. However, it does give us an interesting insight into one possible fate for Romana when she is referred to as “Madame President.”
  • Douglas Adams himself recycled parts of Shada — as well as parts of one of his other Doctor Who stories — City of Death — in his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, most notably the character of Professor Chronotis.

Now we have a novelization of the story by Gareth Roberts, one that uses the almost complete script written by the much missed Douglas Adams. Make no mistake, this is not simply the screenplay rehashed. Roberts is no stranger to Doctor Who or humor, having written recent popular scripts for the new series, including The Lodger and Closing Time.

Skagra: Galactic Conquerer or Galactic Pimp? ©BBCSkagra: Galactic Conquerer or Galactic Pimp? ©BBC

Skagra: Galactic Conquerer or Galactic Pimp? ©BBC

If you are a fan of Douglas Adams or Doctor Who, Shada is a must-read. Roberts plays Adams’ dialog back and forth with his own narrative and, if you squint just right you can even believe that some of that prose sprung from Adams’ own pen (or word processor). Roberts has a lot of fun within the margins of the script, poking fun at some of the campiness of the original series. For example, Skagra’s original costume on the TV show was meant to be futuristic and alien, but really made him look like a reject from an Earth, Wind, and Fire audition. Yet Roberts, rather than changing the costume, has Skagra wandering around thinking that platform shoes and a silver cape are a really great way to blend in with the locals. I have little doubt that, looking back, Douglas Adams would no doubt have also been thinking, “what the hell where we wearing!”

The one weakness of the narrative, though, is Roberts’ decision to follow the pacing of the television script. Rather than allowing scenes to work themselves out, he quickly jumps back and forth with each cut in the script being a chapter, leading to some very short chapters. This works in television where visual cues allow the viewer to quickly integrate action as two scenes are interlaced. However, in a book the constant cutting back and forth is difficult to follow and makes following conversations problematic.

That weakness aside, reading Shada is as close as we will get to reading a (mostly) new book by Douglas Adams. Savor the moment.

Get Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams for $15.48 on Amazon.

Get Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams Audio CD narrated by Lalla Ward and John Leeson for $20.42 from Amazon.

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