Shada. You’re probably thinking there’s nothing left to say. You’re probably well up to speed with the series of events that kept this Douglas Adams script from being broadcast. You have your unofficial fan novelisations, the VHS set and you’ve already watched the McGann/Eighth Doctor adaptation.
Even with the Gareth Roberts proclaimed definitive version of this lost serial, set to hit bookshelves on the 15th March, you still might be thinking; ‘Well, what else can be said about it?’
400 of them in fact.
And now a further four from SFX who recently sat down with Gareth Roberts (The Lodger) – the man charged with adapting Douglas Adams (well, his prose, unless Adams was also a human all terrain vehicle) – to discuss just how he managed to make the paradoxical well told/never told tale interesting again.
Adapting Douglas Adams script into a novel was never going to be easy.
Firstly, Adams’ prose never really likes being made to focus, instead it darts quickly from brilliant, mad beguiling idea to beguiling idea – but Roberts only ever wanted to have his novel fit within the canon of other Doctor Who scripts (The Pirate Planet and City of Death) by Adams:
“I also wanted to – as far as I am able, humbly – put it in the Adams canon, to make it worthy of being alongside those books. I’ve kind of tried to follow his path. As a writer he grew and developed over the years, as a novelist, from being a script writer and I think some of his best stuff was when he was a scriptwriter and some of his best stuff was when he was a novelist. I mean, the Hitchhiker’s book with Fenchurch in it [Mostly Harmless], that’s an amazing book, that’s beautiful, but it’s nothing like the first Hitchhiker’s book, which is very much a Terrance Dicks-style novelisation, in a way. So, y’know, it’s been an attempt to jam those things together.”
Other than this moment of ‘jamming’ Roberts steadfastly refused to let previous adaptations cloud his intentions:
“I didn’t particularly like the previous attempts at the retelling of it or the finishing of it, probably for the same reasons that Douglas didn’t like it: he didn’t feel it was finished when he handed it in. So my attitude has been to finish it but to ‘finish it off’, if you know what I mean – to say, ‘It is done. This is it.”
But what exactly is it? Is it a Gareth Roberts novel written in the style of Douglas Adams like Faulks writing in the style of Ian Fleming? Or is it Douglas Adams novel recreated anonymously (i’m looking at you movie adaptation of Hitchhikers) :
“Well I haven’t taken anything out. What I’ve done is expanded on what was there. I just added more, and tried to widen the scale of it, so that Shada, when we discover what it is, is quite an impressive thing. [Who fan] Ian Levine has done a marvellous job on the thing [editing together the footage that was shot]. That helped me enormously to get the rhythm of the story, and the hideous nature of some of the sets that were never actually seen. My, god… I mean, the final battle is fought out in the tiniest part of TC3 [a studio at Television Centre], so I’ve changed all that. I strongly hope it now has that epic feel.
Of course ‘that epic feel’ brings us hurtling back into the modern era of Who and it raises an even greater ‘what if?’ Had Douglas not been taken from us at a shamefully young age; what would a Douglas Adams NuWho episode be like? :
“I’m sure he would have loved the ability to write Doctor Who on a bigger scale like we can do now. So it’s fun seeing his imagination in a more tightly controlled environment. But at the same time it limits him, because the great thing about Hitchhiker’s and most of Douglas’s other stuff is it’s a series of digressions. It’s not about the plot, it digresses all over the place; he starts in one place and finishes another, has another idea and moves over there – it has a fluid quality. With Doctor Who you just can’t do that, and he was well aware of that, and never tried that.
Douglas absolutely loved Doctor Who and knew exactly how to do it, that’s really the thing I’ve taken away – that he was very, very good at what you can and can’t do and how far and how fast you can push it.”
To read the full interview (and you really should because itis fantastic) head over to SFX.
Released on March 15th, hardcover, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions of Gareth Roberts’ adaptation of Shada are available to order from Amazon right now!