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Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams

Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams
4.5
Book Name: Doctor Who: Shada
Author: Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams
Publisher(s): BBC Books (UK) Ace Hardcover (US)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Release Date: January 31, 2013 (UK) June 26, 2012 (US)

If you’re wondering how a book published less than two years ago qualifies for Classics Corner, let me explain.

Shada was originally a script written in the late 1970s by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, but never completely filmed due to industrial action at the BBC. It has existed in written form for over thirty years, with only a few scenes committed to film, leaving Doctor Who fans wondering for years what could have been. With Adams being the writer of City of Death, a fan favourite, hopes were high, as was the disappointment that Shada was never completed. So, in essence, I’ve cheated – although I’d like to think I’ve manipulated time in a way the Doctor would approve of – simply because I have to write about this book.

As a boy in those late 1970s, there were only three channels on TV; video recorders were a few years into the future, so the only way to experience my favourite show between those Saturday night episodes was to read the Target novelisations. Books of earlier adventures were also available, many from before I was born, which meant I could read stories that hadn’t been broadcast for years; sadly, when those older episodes were shown, my imagination often proved better than the BBC special effects, created by a team working on the tightest of budgets, effectively improvising as they went along. Yet, the stories were the same, solid and consistent, entertaining and – above all – fun.

So I opened Shada with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Memories of this story consisted of a photograph of an old man with a black sphere stuck to his forehead (in my mind, it’s yellow with age, like the newsprint pages of the magazine I first saw it in), along with a scene of the Doctor and the Time Lady Romana punting along the river Cam – one of those few that were filmed, later lifted for The Five Doctors anniversary special. The Doctor Who books have been something I’ve enjoyed for decades now, but reading a more recent one by a much-respected science-fiction author had left me feeling cold; add to that the fact Shada has a reputation that gives it much to live up to, especially given my mixed feelings about the current series on TV, my expectations were – I hoped – not too high.

The back cover blurb tells us: “Inside this book is another book – the strangest, most important and most dangerous book in the entire galaxy. The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey wields enormous power. It must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.” Which of course it does, and within the first twenty-five pages. Fortunately it’s not the villain Skagra who gets his hands on it, but a Cambridge student Chris Parsons, who has no idea what manner of danger and adventure approaches. Next we find the Doctor and Romana in the same city, punting along the river Cam. Yes, it’s that very scene from The Five Doctors, one I’ve seen so many times I’ve lost count and know it word for word, yet somehow it’s brought even more to life by being written on the pages of a book, and this feeling makes me realise that I’m in safe hands; two pairs of them, in fact, although it’s difficult to see where one starts and the other ends.

Anyone who’s ever read any Douglas Adams will recognise his hand in this from the outset. From the Cambridge setting to the eccentric banter between characters, spaceships with personalities and young men confounded by the hugeness of their situation, it contains all his trademarks. Some scenes and dialogue have spilled into his other works, notably the Dirk Gently novels, but this doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of this book. Like the Doctor Who stories of old, it’s great fun and has that combination of intelligence and wit that allows the book to be read on multiple levels. Is it a simple adventure story, or a profound discourse on the use and misuse of power? It’s both, or it’s either, depending on how you want to look at it. What it certainly is, though, is an absolute pleasure to read – and I’m sure that’s down to the combination of both authors.

Gareth Roberts has combined his writing with the notes and scripts of Douglas Adams to create something incredibly special. I’m gushing – after all, I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for as long as I can remember, and Shada was always one of those ‘what if?’ episodes – but Roberts really has done a remarkable job here. The essence of late 1970’s Doctor Who has been captured perfectly; Roberts doesn’t mimic Adams, but blends in seamlessly with him, the result making it hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. In his afterword, Roberts states that he ‘owed it to Douglas to get it right’, which he certainly has. He’s retained all the charm; from the dialogue that, when read out loud, sounds exactly like something Tom Baker would say, to the seemingly chaotic plotting that, when you look back at it, actually makes complete sense. Characters leap from the pages, their voices echoing in the reader’s head long after the book has been finished.

When I was that young boy in the late 70s, there was a special place in my heart for the Doctor Who novels, and Shada has brought that feeling back to me over three decades later. No longer do I wonder what Shada the TV episodes would have been like, because this book has told me, captured my imagination as well as my heart. I’ve read many Doctor Who novelisations over the years, but this is by far the best – a superb tribute to the late Douglas Adams. Well done, Gareth Roberts. I’m sure Douglas would have been proud of what you’ve accomplished here, as will all the other fans of the show for who Shada has, until now, remained an enigma. Bravo.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)
Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    I think one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books was originally written to be a Doctor Who episode, but again the BBC couldn’t afford to film it. I believe it was Life, the Universe and Everything. The one with the party and award for the “most gratuitous use of the word Belgium.”

    Adams died so young. If he were still with us, I’m sure he would have been asked to write a few episodes of Doctor Who and they would no doubt have been hilarious.

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