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26 June 2015 @ 08:42 pm
Shada by Gareth Roberts  
Douglas Adams famously (at least within Who fandom) would not agree to the novelisation of the episodes he wrote (on the grounds, I believe, that no one else would do them justice and WH Allen couldn't pay him enough to do it himself). His estate, clearly, have no such qualms. This was a source of frustration, at least to completist book fans such as myself. Of the three scripts he wrote for Doctor Who, Shada, was particularly tantalising since the filming of it was never actually completed. A version constructed from the completed parts with linking narration by Tom Baker was released in the 90s, and Big Finish made an audio/animated version from the scripts a decade later starring Paul McGann and Lalla Ward. Based on these fans have generally considered it the least accomplished of Adams' scripts for the show.

Gareth Roberts is a pretty good choice of noveliser. He started out writing the Virgin Doctor Who New Adventures and stood out from a pack of writers who certainly had a tendency towards angst-ridden navel-gazing, by writing quirky, gently humorous stories. He's gone on to write, often well received, scripts for (Nu)Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), NuWho and the Sarah Jane adventures all of which, to a greater extent, reveal his light touch and gentle humour.

Of course, Adams' humour wasn't really gentle, but of all the field of Dr Who authors Roberts is the obvious choice. Roberts wisely avoids making Eoin Colfer's mistake of attempting to emulate Adams' style and he has the advantage of being able to work from Adams' scripts. On the other hand he's saddled with the modern desire for longer books. Where Terrance Dicks could happily compress a six part Doctor Who script into 120 pages (which arguably was a little on the short side), Roberts needs to spread Shada's script out over 400 (which I would argue is too many). Comedy is all about timing (Adams madcap humour arguably even more so), even in novels, and Shada just takes a little too long to deliver its punch lines.

Roberts has written a very interesting epilogue in which he discusses his own opinions of the scripts he had to work from, and he clearly feels that Adams was being forced to write in too much of a hurry, to a plot outline he disliked, and that the dissatisfaction and rush ultimately shows. Roberts has obviously worked hard in an attempt to polish off some of the rough edges but this feels more like the ghost of a Douglas Adams work, rather than the work itself.

Still, as someone, who used to mourn the gaps on her bookshelf where The Pirate Planet, City of Death and Shada should sit, it is nice to see that filled and by something which, while not of Adams' calibre when at his best, is better than a Terrance Dicks* production-line effort.

*It is popular these days to speak well of Dicks' writing, and some of it is good, but it would be foolish to pretend he was doing much beyond adding minimal description to a script on the days when he was writing a novelisation a month.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/162498.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on June 26th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
An interesting write-up - thanks.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on June 27th, 2015 11:47 pm (UTC)
I actually found Roberts' NAs (not his MAs) to be pretty bleak. The first one (no time to look up the name) ends with all the likeable guest characters either dead or in stasis; IIRC, Zamper ends with them all dead. (I think Roberts has said that Zamper was a deliberate attempt to do something more typical of the NAs, which in retrospect he saw as a mistake on his part.)

Anyway, I haven't read this. The BBCi animated version (available as an extra on the DVD) is my favourite Shada if only for some good performances. Nice to hear McGann in something different to what the eighth Doctor got to do in the novels and audios (from what I've read/heard of them), although I can sort of see Shada working as a DWM comic strip.
louisedennislouisedennis on June 30th, 2015 11:03 am (UTC)
You are write that the first one has this time stasis ending (though its all sorted out at a later point - I think in the Benny's wedding book which is tying up as many loose ends as it can). I don't, to be honest, recall Zamper at all. I'm half tempted to start an NA re-reading project were it not that my to read pile is too large, and worked through too slowly, as it is.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on June 30th, 2015 11:07 pm (UTC)
It is indeed in the 50th NA (Happy Endings, I think), but at the time it seems depressing.

Zamper is not really memorable, as I recall (!) except for predicting that Tony Blair would be Prime Minister, which wasn't hard at the time it was published (circa 1995 IIRC).