So we have available the ‘lost’ Douglas Adams story Shada. We all know the story – part filmed for the Fourth Doctor and not finished due to strikes. The BBC and Big Finished produced an animated update for the Eighth Doctor and Romana which Big Finish then tweaked and released in its own right (and jolly decent it is too!).
Meanwhile in the interest stirred up by the success of the show in general and the celebrations of what would have been Douglas Adams’s 60th birthday we now see Gareth Roberts take on the challenge of turning the script into a novel.
How well did he do?
The core Douglas Adams story
Clearly the plot (super-genius alien the Skagra, Shada itself, Cambridge, Salyavan, Chronitis &c.) is Adams. The dialogue is taken from his script (with obvious tweaks) and I believe the essential Adams story is plain to see. It roars along at a great pace, has the trademark almost haphazard jump from scene to scene and also plenty of cliff hangers. Great lines from the Doctor to the physicists ‘You’ve got a lot to unlearn’ shine through.
This is the work of a genius at or near the peak of his creativity.
Gareth Roberts influence
Whilst appearing to keep the faith (and we have the Big Finish version to compare, never mind the Dirk Gently novel) Gareth Roberts in my view has rounded out the minor characters for example the relationship between the two physics researchers (Chris Parsons and Claire Keightly). The St Cedds college porter as well rings familiar and little details here and there give the story a roundedness.
Meanwhile the arc is unaffected
Is Shada any good?
It is a heck of a romp but for my mind Adams tried too much with this story. Much as in other big stories things are introduced from nowhere – until now the Doctor had never mentioned St. Cedds, Chronotis or Salyavan for example.
On the other hand the whole true story of Salyavan does paint a picture of Gallifrey with which we can identify, and for some reason Shada as a place rings true. I am minded of the line where Chris bemoans how many aliens being with the letter S. It is a great tale and could have taken the canon in some new directions but for me it is too much of a good thing and there is enough here for several adventures.
This would have made an interesting arc in the style of Key to Time for example.
Anyway you will no doubt read it yourselves – please let me know what you think!