Doctor Who—the science fiction series so epic, its production spawned its own long-lost legend. And that legend is now the novel Shada. Or more formally, Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams.
Shada began its life as a multi-episode arc written for the seventeenth season (1979-80) of Doctor Who. Starring Tom Baker's inimitable fourth Doctor, the script was written by Douglas Adams, author of the scifi classic, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A 1979 labor strike prevented the production from being completed and the story of Shada was largely lost to posterity.
The story did make the occasional reappearance, first in 1992 as a re-edited home video release, and as a 2003 audio play which streamed online, but for all intents and purposes, Adams' original vision for the story went unfulfilled—until now. Working from Adams' original scripts and contemporaneous production notes, author Gareth Roberts (who's penned four episodes of the new Doctor Who series) wrote the Shada novel hoping to, he said, "untangle the raveled threads of Shada, to pay off Douglas' ideas as I think he would have done."
The story is an entertaining mix of comedy and mystery, skewing heavily in favor of the former. Absent-minded Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, has retired to Cambridge University with an ancient and powerful Gallifrean text in his not-so-safekeeping. The Doctor and his companions are the only things standing in the way of the evil and cunning Skagra, who wants to use the book to unlock the mysteries of Shada. But who or what is Shada? You'll have to read the book to find that one out.
Anyone who's read The Hitchhiker's Guide will definitely hear echoes of Douglas Adams in the opening chapter of the Shada novel. Those early pages, however, serve more as a tribute than an attempt at mimicry, and Shada quickly finds its own voice. Thereafter, it takes the tone of a classic Doctor Who adventure, albeit with a few more hat tips to Adams.
Though written in the last year, Shada features the fourth Doctor (with his trademark scarf as present in the novel as it was in the TV series) and is set in the late seventies. Traveling with him are the Time Lady Romana and robot dog K-9. Of course, while he's on Earth, a couple of unwitting humans, grad students Clare and Chris, manage to get caught up in the Doctor's adventure.
The mystery of Shada is not exactly white-knuckle reading but that's hardly the point with a Doctor Who story. Ultimately the Doctor's charm and guile win the day, averting what otherwise would have been a disaster of galactic proportions. Along the way, however, some interesting revelations come to light concerning the history and politics of Time Lord society, that were as surprising to the Doctor as they will be to the reader.
Skagra, for his part, is serviceable as a villain. Make no mistake, he's depraved and amoral, but he's perhaps a bit too cartoonish to inspire much fear in the reader. He's also depicted as so self-satisfied that little question is left as to inevitability of his undoing.
Ultimately, the story feels (and is) a little dated, but nostalgic fans of the classic Doctor Who series will find a lot to enjoy in this book. Newer fans will certainly enjoy the book's humor but may feel that it's lacking a bit of the edge found in the new series. Overall, Shada is worthwhile reading, if not a must-read, for any Doctor Who fan.
Are you an old series or new series fan?