Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shada: the Douglas Adams script for Doctor Who finally feels complete

Before writing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who. But he's only credited with having written a few episodes -- one of them was never broadcast.

That's because production of Shada was interrupted by a BBC strike and parts of the episode were never filmed. In the 90s Shada was released on video with actor Tom Baker (the 4th doctor) filling in the blanks through narrative. But it didn't quite do justice to the story.

And as writer Gareth Roberts suggests, even the original script by Douglas Adams might not have really done justice to the story. It was hastily written and Adams later expressed relief that the episode was never completed.

But Adams was apparently fond of some of the ideas in the story, which were later recycled and used in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Roberts has retold the story in this novel by working from the original script but fleshing out many scenes and details, letting us get further inside the character's heads than would have been possible on screen, and working in a medium without a special effects budget.

He's also done a pretty decent job of borrowing Adams's style of combining humor and suspense in a rapid-paced adventure.

More than 30 years after Shada was originally written and not-quite-finished, the novelization of the story tells the tale in a way that's not only more satisfying than the incomplete video that was eventually released... but which is actually more enjoyable to read than many Doctor Who stories are to watch on screen.

For anyone who's spent time watching Doctor Who during the Tom Baker era, it's also hard not to picture Baker and co-stars Lalla Ward (Romana), and John Leeson (K-9) thanks to the pitch-perfect dialog in the story.

Interestingly, I just noticed that Shada has also recently been released on DVD, along with bonus materials including documentaries, behind-the-scenes videos, and a 2003 audio production of the story.

Doctor Who - Shada by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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