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Book Review – Shada by Gareth Roberts (and Douglas Adams)

The Lost Doctor Who Adventure by Douglas Adams

The fourth Doctor, Romana, and K-9 answer a call from Chronotis, an aging and befuddled Time Lord, who is living out his retirement as a Cambridge professor. Unfortunately, Chronotis has forgotten why he called, although it soon becomes clear that it is for the Doctor to save the universe (again).

This time, the threat comes from Skagra, an overly ambitious fellow from the vacation planet of Dronid. He wants to be God, or the closest thing possible. To achieve this goal, he needs to absorb the mind of the legendary Gallifreyan criminal Salyavin who had the ability to replace or augment the minds of others with own. Salyavin, though, was reportedly placed in stasis and imprisoned thousands of years ago on the now lost and forgotten prison planet of Shada. The key to finding Shada is the book The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, which Professor Chronotis stole from the Time Lords’ archives and subsequently misplaced.

Got it? Good. Because that’s about as much of the plot as I’m going to try to summarize.

The story was originally written as a TV script by Douglas Adams, the late, great author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galxay, and novelized by Gareth Roberts, a writer of other Doctor Who novels and TV scripts.

To me, the beginning sounds like Adams. See if you don’t agree.

 ‘At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways — with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there’s a situation vacant.’

 Now I don’t know if Adams came up with this opening or if Roberts did, but it has a lot of Douglas Adams’ irreverent wit and whimsy. And so does the rest of the book. Now, I won’t say it reads exactly like a Douglas Adams book because it doesn’t. There are bits that do, probably because Adams wrote them as part of the script, but in other parts, the imagination is noticeably more constrained. It’s still quite good, enjoyable, and it hangs together very well. The melding of Roberts and Adams is virtually seamless.

The portrayal of the Doctor is exceptional, often sounding more like the later Doctors from the new series than the fourth Doctor from the 1970s/1980s. I don’t consider this a bad thing. (Don’t get me wrong, all of the Doctors were fun, but the new series has more polish.)

There was a certain element of nostalgia for me reading a ‘new’ Doctor Who adventure set in the 1980s featuring the Doctor’s campy, robot dog, K-9. I enjoyed it very much. I would recommend this book to all fans of Douglas Adams and Doctor Who. If you are not a fan, what’s wrong with you?

Now, for a bit of background – Douglas Adams wrote the original Shada script for the final six-episode serial of the 1979-80 Doctor Who TV series. Filming was never completed due to a strike at the BBC. The bits that were filmed were eventually combined and released in 1992 as a 111 minute VHS tape, with Tom Baker, the fourth doctor, adding narrative to link it all together. You can see it on YouTube, although I warn you, it’s pretty rough and was never aired on television.

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