Doctor Who: Shada
Written by Gareth Roberts
Published by BBC Books
When ‘And another thing…’, Eoin Colfer’s authorised sixth book in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, was published, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Problem was, I couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t Douglas Adams, the attempts to mimic his style fell flat, and the story suffered as a result.
Fast forward a few years, and we have Shada, Gareth Roberts’ novel based on Douglas Adams’ aborted Doctor Who adventure from 1979. My anticipation was as keen as before, and my disappointment equally painful.
This is not to say Shada is a disaster. I did make it to the end, and for large chunks of the book I was amused and entertained. But for some of its length, particularly in the later chapters, I felt bored.
Shada was conceived as a six part serial. The problem with most of Who’s six parters is that at least two episodes are effectively filler between the main plot points. You can perhaps get away with that if Tom Baker is applying the filler with his inimitable trowel, but I’m afraid on the page it is as dull as cement.
Douglas Adams was reportedly never happy with Shada. When he came to write his first Dirk Gently novel, he took some of the key characters and ditched all the tedious jetting around in the space time vortex. He was never afraid to reframe and restate his creations to suit the various mediums he worked in.
It’s a shame Roberts hasn’t taken the same approach with this novel. By sticking so reverentially to the various scripts (shooting, rehearsal) available, he has failed to capture the essence of Shada, which was never conceived, let’s remember as a book. That’s not to say there aren’t pleasures within – Skagra’s sentient ship is a pure delight – but the novel would have improved with the loss of at least two dozen of its micro chapters.
I returned to Eoin Colfer’s novel after a year, away from the hype and anticipation, and enjoyed it for what it was. What it wasn’t, and never will be, was a new Douglas Adams novel. There can be no more of those.
Perhaps one day I will reread Shada and reevaulate it as a well written Doctor Who novel. As the Doctor himself might say, time will tell…