BBC, out now
The Fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9 receive a mysterious summons to Cambridge.
It’s often been said – not least by its author, Douglas Adams – that Shada gained a much greater reputation than it deserved because of the circumstances surrounding its creation. Partly filmed, but not completed because of a BBC strike, it’s been the subject of various reconstructions over the years – including a Big Finish/BBCi joint venture starring Paul McGann that, for some reason, is completely overlooked in Gareth Roberts’ author’s notes at the end.
Now, over 30 years since it should have finished Tom Baker’s final season under Graham Williams’ producership, there is what might become the definitive version of the story. But, of course, since it’s a work by Douglas Adams, the word definitive has a slightly looser meaning than in usual parlance, but it’s certainly safe to say that we now have a version that makes sense. Pretty much.
Roberts captured the era’s sense of eccentric Englishness in his contributions to Virgin’s New and Missing Adventures (two decades ago!) and has become a well-regarded scripter, not just in the Who-niverse on the parent series and The Sarah Jane Adventures, but on shows like Coronation Street and Emmerdale. He brings the tone and that discipline to the sometimes contradictory versions of the scripts, and it comes as a pleasant surprise to find that all of the “this doesn’t make sense” points about the story raised in the unofficial analysis series About Time are dealt with unobtrusively, in a way that does make perfect sense. (There are also numerous Easter eggs referring to the new series, one of which quotes from The Impossible Astronaut to clear one plothole!)
Recently reading some contemporarily written Sherlock Holmes novels has made me realise that one of the gifts that any writer can bring to such a tale is an emulation of Conan Doyle’s writing so that the narrative voice of John Watson doesn’t feel wrong or forced. Roberts has the same problem to face here: how much to be Douglas Adams, and how much to be Gareth Roberts. The balance works pretty much perfectly: there are new scenes inserted that feel like Adams (and at least one of them, we know from the epilogue, is genuine Douglas), and the overall tone and style are “school of Adams” if not, sadly, by the master himself.
An interesting coincidence means that this book is published at the same time as the BBC’s continuation of the Dirk Gently saga. In Shada Roberts achieves what Overman does with the TV series: he gives us more of Douglas Adams’ great creations in a way that both honours them and moves them forward.
Verdict: At long last, a definitive version. Highly recommended. 9/10