on 20 March 2012
Having not seen any other versions of this Doctor Who story, I was able to come to Shada with fresh eyes and no overblown expectations. Thankfully, that let me see it for exactly what it is: a really great Doctor Who adventure.
It is of course based on the scripts and some of the filmed material for Shada by Douglas Adams, and the dialogue is therefore as funny and quirky as you would expect, while the story is suitably mad and slightly ridiculous. But it would be foolish to ignore Gareth Robert's contribution to the story. He makes the descriptions (that are his obviously own and not Adams') sing and sparkle and entertain, while still writing with great respect for Adams and mirroring his (almost) unique storytelling style.
On top of this great story, there are also nice little continuity references for the fans, including a delightfully surprising mention of fellow rogue Time Lord the Corsair, only created by Neil Gaiman in his 2011 TV episode. While I expect that many people will come to this book with knowledge of its troubled history and production problems, I urge you to out all that to one side, and see it simply as a brilliant and brand new adventure for the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9.
on 17 March 2012
(Crossposted from my blog)
It's difficult to know how much information to give in a review of Shada, the latest in the BBC's line of Doctor Who prestige hardbacks, because it's aimed at at least three different, though overlapping, audiences - Doctor Who fans, Douglas Adams fans, and people who would, when in a bookshop, be interested in a book about Doctor Who if it's got the name of someone they recognise on the cover but wouldn't otherwise consider themselves a fan. I am, of course, a member of both the first two groups.
In the late 1970s, Douglas Adams (who almost everyone reading this will know was to become the best-selling author of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and Dirk Gently series before dying too young) wrote three scripts for Doctor Who, as well as script-editing the TV series for a year. The first of these, The Pirate Planet, is a passable romp, while the second, City Of Death, is often regarded as the single best story the TV show ever did. Shada was the third, and was meant to be broadcast at the end of the series Adams script-edited, but filming was stopped two-thirds of the way through because of strike action, and the story was never completed.
It's not quite as lost as the publicity material around this book suggests - a VHS release about twenty years ago, now long-deleted, with Tom Baker doing linking narration, and a remake as a cartoon for the BBC website featuring eighth Doctor Paul McGann (the soundtrack CD of which is available from Big Finish for five pounds, and is well worth getting) mean that many of us have experienced this story in a relatively complete form already. However, it is true that it was never completed in the way Adams intended - and it's also true that Adams was unhappy with his scripts and thought they needed more polishing - so it's a perfect candidate for novelisation.
Gareth Roberts, the author of the book, will be less familiar than Adams by a long way, but is a reasonable choice for the job. I'm not a huge fan of Roberts' work, but he's what is generally called a safe pair of hands. He's written for Doctor Who on TV, audio dramas, novels and comics before, including a novel (The Well-Mannered War) featuring the Fourth Doctor, who appears here, and his usual style is a sort of whimsical mildly parodic SF that is clearly influenced by Adams.
Roberts is nowhere near the writer that Adams was, but he doesn't need to be for this. What he *is* good at is functional storytelling, and structure, two things that were among Adams' weaker points. So while he keeps all the plot beats and important scenes from Adams' script, and at least 90% of Adams' dialogue, he fixes at least one big plot hole, completes a sub-plot that Adams seemed to start and then give up on, and provides a lot of back-story and character motivation.
For the most part, Roberts' inventions fit perfectly with the Adams material, to the point where I'd challenge anyone unfamiliar with the source material to say what came from where. And it's still recognisably the same story - the story of Skagra trying to turn the entire universe into his own mind in a Darkseid-like fashion, and of his search for the ancient Time Lord criminal Salyavin, and how the Doctor gets involved with this when visiting his old friend Professor Chronotis at St Cedd's College, Cambridge. Reading it at times does feel spookily like reading a 'new' late-period Adams book - like a third Dirk Gently novel. (The first Dirk Gently novel, of course, used some characters and dialogue from Shada, along with the basic plot of City Of Death).
There are a couple of places where it goes wrong, though. For the most part, Roberts' prose is functional, but he occasionally tries to ape Adams' style, with predictably poor results. Adams' tics are very easy to emulate, the sensibility behind them much less so - Roberts actually feels far more like Adams when he's not copying his prose style but just telling Adams' story.
Also, the jokes Roberts adds in the descriptive passages are nowhere near up to the standard of those in Adams' dialogue, and often descend into an almost Peter Kay like "Remember the late 1970s? Things were slightly different then, weren't they? What's that all about?". The occasional pun (the status quo one stands out in the memory as particularly bad) seems to be put in more because this is 'a Douglas Adams book' and therefore has to be funny, rather than because it makes any kind of artistic sense.
Even less excusable are the occasional continuity references, thrown in merely in order that people like myself will recognise them - "Wow, the Fourth Doctor mentioned the Rani!" There are quite a few knowing winks to the status of Doctor Who as a national institution, as well, which quite frankly just feel smug (and a rather more forgivable single one acting as a tribute to Adams).
But this is, fundamentally, nit-picking. What we have here is the best actual story Douglas Adams ever wrote for Doctor Who, adapted as well as one could reasonably expect. If it's not as funny, clever, or exciting as it thinks it is, it's still funnier, cleverer and more exciting than it has any right to be given its tortured genesis.
If Amazon allowed half-stars in reviews I'd probably give this three and a half, because it's not going to change anyone's life or make anyone think differently about the world. But it's a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, and that's still worth a lot, so I'll round up to four.
on 16 May 2012
At last Shada emerges from its own time capsule, ironically like some of the characters in the story itself: frozen in time, because it never made the TV screen owing to a strike at BBC TV centre back in 1979.
Shada was the third of three stories to be penned by the late, great Douglas Adams for the original Doctor Who TV series. This novelisation by Gareth Roberts does the near-impossible job of satisfying three different audiences: fans of the original (classic) Doctor Who Series; fans of the new TV series and of course Douglas Adams fans.
As someone who grew up with Tom Baker as 'my Doctor' ; Lalla Ward and K9 as 'my companions' this novelisation was a real treat. My first recollections of Doctor Who are the 1979-1980 season - of which Shada was intended to be the finale. Gareth keeps true to the spirit of the original series, so much so you can hear Tom's rich baritone voice in his dialogue booming out from the pages; along with Lalla's haughty observations and K9's nasal pedantry. Along with that you have the wit and dry humour for which Douglas Adams is legendary, and the grafting on of issues that would have been taboo back in 1979 - such as the sexuality of one of the incidental characters. All 3 are done with such aplomb by Gareth that you never doubt for one moment that all 3 sets of readers will be happy with this book.
Some of you may recall the sparkling dialogue between Romana and the Doctor, whilst punting on the Cam,in the 20th anniversary story - The Five Doctors. To date, this is the only part of Shada to make it onto the small screen. The book continues in a similar vein, along with observations about 1970's fashions, early pub closing times, wry observations about the (lack of) a gay scene in Cambridge, polluting 1970's motor cars and simply the narrative of a gentler, simpler time when the sun shone in October and the world moved at a simpler and slower rate. Reading this book is like being transported back in time to 1979 Cambridge, along with its gentle sights and sounds.
Reading this book also made you realise that Douglas had an imagination far bigger than the TV series could have hoped to realise successfully- at the time. Perhaps the irony of not making it to the TV screen is that we can imagine the Kraags, Shada, Skagra in all their evil abomination without the limitations of the BBC Doctor Who budget of the late 1970s. The concepts in the story are of course ones which Adams fans will recognise - a talking computer, galatic criminals held in suspension, and of course an evil meglomaniac out to cause mischief- the staple diet of Doctor Who adventures. The story is ahead of its time too, as the villain Skagra, wants to take over the universe not by conventional means, but by absorbing the thoughts and minds of all sentinent beings in the universe. It seems odd we are seriously contemplating this as (an earthy) reality now in 2012!
In the hands of Gareth Roberts, he takes both the scripts and the actors' ad-libs from the TV rehearsals, and gives a novelisation worthy of the imagination that went into the original story by Douglas in the first place. The result is a masterpiece, like Douglas' other major contribution - City of Death - greater than the sum of its parts.
Is there a negative about this story? None, other than it is a shame it has never made it to the TV screen. At what price - a TV remake for the 50th anniversary in 2013? Now that the new series production team has a budget and talent to match the huge imagination that was Douglas Adams.
Here, at last, after 30 years, is a finished version of "Shada", the "Doctor Who" adventure by Douglas Adams that was never finished (a strike at the BBC interrupted filming, although bits were used in the later "The Five Doctors" to cover for Tom Baker's absence from that).
Gareth Roberts has done a stunning job, returning to the latest notes and versions that Adams left and, as he says in a helpful postscript, having had the luxury of time to complete what Adams was writing in a rush.
I've always been cautious about written versions of Who and never convinced that they work as well as on TV, but Roberts (and Adams, of course!) show here that it's possible. Whether considered as a Doctor Who adventure alongside all the others (including the 21st century revival) or simply as a compelling story, this book succeeds - both bring to life the characters of the Fourth Doctor and Romana and also providing foils in Clare, Colin, and Professor Chronatis, who are swept in their wake (as well as a truly megalomaniac villain).
It's also possible to see aspects of Adams' other fiction reflected here (slightly irritating talking spaceships, bad stuff that might happen with airlocks and much more - it's fun to watch out for this.)
Overall, an enjoyable read, I'd have thought a must for those who are Doctor Who or Douglas Adams fans (or both).
on 4 April 2012
Boasting several very Douglas Adamsish set pieces, "Shada" is a well-wriiten book, doing a very diligent job at capturing both late 1970s Doctor Who and the style of Douglas Adams. The thing is, Gareth Roberts has captured this era of Doctor Who better (particularly in his "The Romance of Crime" and "The English Way of Death") as it does feel like he was tip-toeing on creative eggshells while producing this novelisation. It seems ever so slightly stilted on occasions, straight-jacketed into the constraints of satisfying three different (although not mutually exclusive) audiences: Douglas Adams fans, Old (or "classic") Who fans and New (Russell T Davies/Steven Moffat era) Who fans. Broadly, the book works as it gives each audience rewards for persevering, it is solid and well-told - but it doesn't ever move on from what it is: a labour of love. And, judging from Roberts' own comments in the book, that love was somewhat laboured at times - unlike his own stories based on this period in Doctor Who's history: they positively sing with his joy at writing for the characters he loves, here the joy is muted. There is joy but it's not sung aloud with relish, rather it is polite, even a little restrained.
There is another issue for this reader: Shada may never have been finished but it has appeared as an animated webcast and a VHS VCR with linking narration (courtesy of one Tom Baker); it inspired chunks of the first Dirk Gently book and, consequently, is something many are already reasonably familiar with. Consequently, there is little in the novel which is truly new and fresh. Not a bad thing in itself, just something to be aware of. It's a little like seeing one of those West End musicals based on a favourite film: the story is one you know, there are no major surprises but your interest is held throughout with occasional embellishments in the reinterpretation.
Gareth Roberts' take on "Shada" does not provoke contempt through its familarity. Neither does it invoke shocks or surprises through invoking something new; it will never set the literary world on fire but it will always have its place.
on 2 October 2012
There are books that I look forward to reading, but there are very few books that actually get me excited these days. Not like how I used to really look forward to reading books when I was a child.
Well here is a book that should have been written when I was a child, wasn't, but still gave me the frisson of anticipation when it was released this year.
Between the ages of 8 and 18, I absolutely loved Target's Doctor Who books. When I was 10-11, I I devoured them. I was off school for 3 months with glandular fever. Bored? Not a bit of it. I just had loads more time to blast my way through the massive back catalogue of brilliant adventure stories, written by Terrance Dicks, Ian Marter, Barry Letts, Malcolm Hulke et al.
I really enjoyed reading Shada. Gareth Roberts has made an excellent job of creating a very readable novel out of what must have been a collection of bits: a shooting script, the completed sections of the tv programme and of course Tom Baker's own linking narration on the early-90s video release.
It's great to read an adventure of the Fourth Doctor again. The author really captures the fun and the excitement of Tom Baker's era. There was definitely something special about Doctor 4 and his pairing with Lalla Ward's Romana. That relationship is bottled and served like a good wine (not a table wine, no!) in Shada. The villain, Skagra, whilst being as cartoony on the page as he was in the TV version, is still a good nemesis for the Doctor, and gives the Time Lord lots of scope to crack jokes and deliver put downs.
I haven't been able to get interested in the books that have written for Doctors 9, 10 and 11, so this is the first new Doctor Who novel that I've been able to read and enjoy in years.
We just need Gareth Roberts to novelize The Pirate Planet and City of Death now please :-)
on 30 March 2012
This review is about the quality of the audiobook. Others have written about the quality of the story, and I have to agree with them: respectful to the source material of Douglas Adams, and genuinly both funny and horrible (in the sense of "duck behind the sofa as I don't want to see that happening)
Read those reviews if you want to learn more about the novel - far better than I could have written!
Here, I thought I ought to say a few words about this CD edition, in case anyone was interested in listening to the book rather than reading it for themselves.
First things first - as I write this review, the Amazon listing has a mistake. It is described as 4 cds and unabridged. It is unabridged, but you get TEN cds. So don't worry - you won't be getting an abridged version!
Now for the story. I have listened to a number of audio books, and the vast majority of them are just a single voice for the duration. Here is a bit different: firstly, Lalla Ward (who played the second Romana on Doctor Who) is accompanied by John Leeson as K9. The second difference is the addition of sound effects. This ranges from the mundane, like footsteps on gravel, to the bizarre, such as the indistinct voices from a strange sphere.
And you know what? It works. It serves to act as a sort of "grounding" to the setting, and it does aid the imagination.
But the big question is - how does Lalla Ward do as a narrator? She provides distinct voices to all the characters, and it is easy to tell who is who. Her voice, when providing the words that a male character speaks, does not sound out of place.
With one exception: Tom Baker's distinctive sonorous voice.
She tries, she really does. There are times when I could almost hear The Doctor's voice coming through, and at those times it works well. Unfortunately there are equally as many times when it just sounds like Lalla is putting on an odd deep voice. But providing you can get over that distraction, the story doesn't suffer.
Tom Baker was asked if he wanted to narrate the book, but he declined. However, Lalla Ward did agree, and having her narrate is no bad thing - she is a direct link back to the original television story that never was. I was thinking that it might have been better to have had Jon Culshaw provide Tom Baker's bits, but then that could have ended up as more a parody of the story.
Anyway, if the reviews of the book have whetted your appetite and you are now just deciding whether or not to get the book or audio version, I don't think you'll be disappointed with either.
on 5 September 2012
For us long term Whovians who endured the lone years prior to the new series by reading both the New Adventures and the Missing Adventures from Virgin Books, we knew Gareth Roberts could nail the style of Douglas Adams' Fourth Doctor, 2nd Romana and K9 stories with such novels as The Romance Of Crime, The English Way Of Death and The Well Mannered War. As such when it came to producing the ultimate version of Shada in the written word there simply had to be only one candidate; Gareth Roberts. In this novel not only does he capture the style of Adams, he also captures his voice.
Shada is a witty, exciting, occasionally nostalgic sci fi tale that should appeal to a broader market beyond Who. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Adams' other work; HitchHikers and Dirk Gently (the first novel of which cribbed many of Shada's plotlines and ideas) but who may not necessarily consider themselves Whovians. Equally I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys an intelligent and amusing read within the sci fi genre.
on 16 June 2012
Like many others I have waited for the notoriously unfinished TV serial Dr Who-Shada [VHS] to be novelised a long time, and thus received the news of Gareth Roberts' efforts with some excitement and anticipation. For the most part I wasn't disappointed - Roberts has done a great job of capturing Douglas Adams' whimsical style, whilst adding in his own asides and character developments - not all of the latter quite so great. However, despite a somewhat over-egged climax, Roberts has delivered a decent read, now all we need is a complete DVD release with linking animation from Cosgrove Hall, a la the excellent Doctor Who - The Invasion (2 Disc Set) [DVD] .
on 27 January 2014
Renowned for many years as being the lost Fourth Doctor story due to industrial action, ‘Shada’ has been released, re-imagined and remade across various forms of media more than any other Doctor Who story. Since its initial failure to be completed for television it has experienced a VHS release complimentary of Tom Baker’s accompanying narration, been made into an audio play and released as a web based animation featuring the Eighth instead of the Fourth Doctor. It has also finally been released as a novelisation, which feels as if it might be the closest to what Douglas Adams intended.
It is an amalgamation of Douglas Adams’ original scripts and notes and the inventiveness of Gareth Roberts, renowned for writing some of the most popular Fourth Doctor and Romana novels (some of which are to be made into audio plays later in 2014). As a product of two authors it works very well. Roberts clearly knows and understands Adams’ unique style and humour and there is little indication of who wrote what. Having Roberts, writer of several televised scripts since the programme’s return, write the novelisation has the advantage of making the story feel that it is influenced by both the original run of Doctor Who and its return since 2005. Hence there are references to such things as Carrionites and the Corsair. It makes the story feel less routed in 1979. In a way it becomes more historical than modern.
The writing style is basically what you might expect if you’re a Hitchhikers fan or of any other works of Adams. Effortlessly whimsical and tongue in cheek but rarely frivolous to the plot and never pointless. The balance of humour is perfectly pitched. The novelisation is a fully fleshed out version of the TV story. This provides much more depth for the small cast of characters making them stronger and more dimensional, providing greater incentives and motivations for their actions and behaviour. Thus, however despicable, Shagra also manages to become a figure of sympathy. The love story angle between Chris and Claire is covered more satisfactorily and Salyavin becomes a far more understandable and explained character (something that felt a little absent in the TV version).
It’s great after all these years that ‘Shada’ finally gets a novelisation. It’s a good example of Douglas Adams’ marvellous contribution to Doctor Who and cements Gareth Roberts’ mastery over the Fourth Doctor/Second Romana era. I look forward to novelisation of ‘City of Death’.