Shada, bless it, has been knocked about more times than Ben from LOST. The original script, penned by Douglas Adams (you might possibly have heard of him) fell victim to strike action and was never produced.
Since then it’s been resurrected in many a form. Adams himself reused aspects of the story to underpin the first of his Dirk Gently novels, raw footage was pillaged and swirlified for use in The Five Doctors and the story was retrofitted to the Eighth Doctor (you’re less likely to have heard of him), albeit as a bizarre audio-play-but-also-flash-animation-is-this-really-where-our-licence-fee-goes-auntie… thing.
And now it’s a book. A book based on a script about a book, no less, and one penned by Gareth Roberts – he’s written several of the series’ more light-hearted episodes since its 2005 return and the bombastic, don’t-stop-running-to-think-about-it tone he deployed in those episodes certainly has the potential to fit the Fourth Doctor’s manic frame like a particularly well-woven scarf. But then, you probably knew that much if you were reading this.
What’s surprising about Shada is not the Hitch-Hiker’s references or the period catchphrases; rather, it’s the delight it takes in being a 70s Doctor Who story written forty years after the fact. Roberts plays gleefully with time, seeding the narrative with sly nods to the bit-players and quirks of the Doctor Who universe that, were you reading this while ringing in the 1980s, you’d have to wait three decades to fully appreciate.
More than that, though, the spacey-wacey attitude of the older episodes is given a good lick of paint courtesy of modern television. In an era where your oldest episode is only a weblink away, and the angle of a man’s hat is imbued with deep philosophical intent, you can’t afford to take the slapdash approach that classic Who did to its own audience, and many of the nuts and bolts that form the “how?” of the story are given a quick tighten along the way – luckily, without ever dissolving into technobabble.
The backbone of the story remains largely unchanged, of course – at its core, this is still the tale that Adams wanted to tell – but for all that, Roberts seizes the gift of narrative introspection. The characters think, feel and remember in ways that a screen or audio play could simply never have accommodated, and these moments provide a refuge for many of the new jokes, sly references and likeable character traits that bring the book its fullness.
I’ve gobbled up every scrap of Shada over the years, and yet I still found many things to like about this book. It may not be the definitive version – there was only ever one man who could have written that – but it’s a fine addition to the bookshelf, a contented romp across familiar fields, and a far more confident adaptation of another man’s work than the sixth Hitch-Hiker’s book ever managed.
Also, it made me fancy Romana. I’m not too late, am I?