Category: Douglas Adams

TV Club, Doctor Who, Shada

“Shada” (season 17, episodes 21-26. Filmed in 1979; never aired.)

In 1979, Douglas Adams, then script editor for Doctor Who, wrote a story for the show in which the villain disastrously shatters into half a dozen fragments of himself that scatter throughout time. That was “City Of Death,” one of the best serials Doctor Who ever did. Later that year, he wrote another one. This time, the story itself exploded, shattered into half a dozen fragments of itself, and scattered throughout time. That was “Shada,” the great lost story of season 17, a half-filmed serial from Tom Baker’s second-to-last season as the Fourth Doctor. And for a long time, people wondered if it too wouldn’t have been one of the greats. But that was back when it was still lost.

It’s oddly appropriate that the last scene of “Shada” begins with the Doctor reading from Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, because despite the persistent efforts over the years to give it life again, “Shada” remains, in all its various and contradictory manifestations, just an old curiosity. It’s not awful, mind you. It’s not anywhere near the toxicity level of something like “The Twin Dilemma,” in which the stupidity is actually painful to watch. No, this is just a thinly written, overly formulaic story, with some clever ideas and a smattering of good Adamsian jokes and Bakerian Doctoring stretched out over a lot of boring filler. “Shada” would never have engendered so much interest if Douglas Adams’ name hadn’t been attached to it.

Still, even if it’s mediocre, it’s worth a look. If nothing else, “Shada” is interesting as a bit of complex pop-culture archaeology. There are at least seven versions of “Shada” floating around out there, ranging from complete adaptations to fragmentary scraps.

Originally published Feb. 17, 2013 on Read the complete article.

Review: Gareth Roberts/Douglas Adams, Shada

Charles Dickens has The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. Bruce Lee has Game Of Death. And for Doctor Who and Douglas Adams, the great unfinished story is Shada. A six-part serial scripted by the Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy author while he was screenplay editor for the venerable science-fiction TV series in 1980, Shada was meant to be the grand finale of Doctor Who’s 17th season, but strikes at the BBC halted filming halfway through, and scuttled the story. Since then, it’s grown to mythological proportions in its own absence, with a reputation as a tantalizingly incomplete fragment of unfulfilled potential.

Like a ghost, Shada has refused to stay quietly dead, popping up in fragmentary or much-reworked versions over the years. Most famously, clips of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in character as the time-traveling Fourth Doctor and his companion Romana were used in the 1983 anniversary special “The Five Doctors,” and in 1992, Baker provided linking narration when the surviving footage was released on video. In 2003, Paul McGann starred as the Eighth Doctor in a rewritten, partly animated audio version.

Adams himself cannibalized Shada for his 1987 novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, after which he washed his hands of it, saying the episode was “not that great” and refusing to put his name on the video release, which he claimed had been authorized by mistake. (“Whoever it was had forgotten that I wanted Shada sat on.”) His sudden death in 2001 sunk any lingering hope that he might eventually write a proper novel version, and it became, instead, unique among Doctor Who’s sizable array of missing adventures, as the only one from a writer of Douglas’ caliber not at least available as a novelization.

Now Shada is back in another regeneration, as a novel authorized by Adams’ estate and penned by Gareth Roberts, a frequent writer for the current TV series. It’s a respectful, even loving adaptation of the original scripts, and Roberts takes pains to try to recreate the spirit of the Adams era of Doctor Who, when it was often something like a cosmic screwball comedy. And other than fleshing out the underwritten side characters, he sticks very closely to Adams’ plot, which—ironically enough—revolves around a lost book.

Originally published June 25, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Destiny Of The Daleks”

“Destiny Of The Daleks” (season 17, episodes 1-4. Originally aired Sept. 1-22, 1979)

Just going by pedigree of the writers involved, “Destiny Of The Daleks” should be a lot better than it is. It marked the final Doctor Who script from Terry Nation, one of the series’ oldest and most reliable writers and the creator of the Daleks. The story also marked the debut—as script editor—of the inimitable Douglas Adams, who had written “The Pirate Planet” for season 16 the year before and was now taking over the big chair. And “Destiny Of The Daleks” was a huge success at the time, setting new viewership records for the series along with the following story, “City Of Death”—both helped a lot by a strike that had taken the BBC’s main competitor, ITV, out of action. But although there’s a lot to enjoy here, especially in the early episodes, in the end the story fizzles out. It’s dragged down chiefly by a revisionist take on the Daleks and their creator Davros that makes both less interesting and fails to build on the promise of their previous appearance in “Genesis Of The Daleks.” It’s sunk further by miring the pepperpots in a stalemate with a deadly dull army of alien robots, the Movellans, who look something like Milli Vanilli in white disco outfits.

Most of what works well here is loaded in the first half of the story, so let’s start there.

Originally published May 13, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club Doctor Who: 24: City of Death

“City Of Death” (season 17, episodes 5-8. Originally aired Sept. 29-Oct. 20, 1979)

Today’s stop on our nonchronological journey through Doctor Who brings us to somewhere close to the end of the second major period of the Fourth Doctor era. The most obvious way to mark changes in the series over the years is simply by which actor is playing the main character, but Baker’s seven years in the role, longer than anyone else, spans three distinct periods, more or less. There were always many other forces helping to shape Who, whether that was external ones like the 1960s Dalek craze or competition from shows like The Avengers and Batman, or internal ones like the changes in creative vision brought in whenever a new producer or script editor took over. I’ve already covered two serials from Baker’s first period (“The Brain of Morbius” and “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”), when horror-friendly Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were the creative leads behind-the-scenes. (Baker’s debut, “Robot,” is really more of a holdover from the Third Doctor creative team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.) The third section begins in Baker’s last season, with the ascendancy of producer John Nathan-Turner, who would steer the ship like a slow-motion car crash through nine years and four Doctors, before flying his metaphorical “Mission Accomplished” banner with the series’ cancellation in 1989.

Originally published Jan. 8 on Read the complete article.

Inventory: 13 sidekicks who are cooler than their heroes

1. Tonto, the Lone Ranger movies
The Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian companion debuted in the 1930s, an age not known for its enlightened attitudes toward minorities. And writers like Sherman Alexie have pointed out Tonto’s more problematic aspects, like his stereotypical broken English. But from the beginning, Tonto was depicted as a heroic figure in his own right, and not so much the Lone Ranger’s assistant as his friend. Tonto was saddled with pidgin dialogue, but he wasn’t dumb, and could track bandits and right wrongs with a skill equal to the masked man’s. Also worth noting: The similar character dynamic in the Lone Ranger spin-off The Green Hornet, between the Hornet and his Asian sidekick Kato, led to Bruce Lee’s American breakthrough role on the short-lived 1966 TV series. And few people, sidekicks or not, are cooler than Bruce Lee.

9. Dr. Pretorius, Bride Of Frankenstein
It’s so hard to find good help these days, as Dr. Henry Frankenstein found out. In the original movie, his lab assistant steals the wrong brain. In the sequel, Bride Of Frankenstein, his old teacher shows up and nearly steals the entire film. Though Henry is nominally the lead scientist in their partnership, Dr. Septimus Pretorius wins hands down in the “mad scientist” department, swanning through the movie with such gleefully macabre abandon that he makes the wet-blanket Henry instantly forgettable. Where Frankenstein is plagued by his wishy-washy conscience, Pretorius revels in his blackmails and grave robberies, and even goes tomb-looting with a sense of style, sticking around after the corpse is dragged away, and having a light supper and a smoke inside a mausoleum.

11. Marvin, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ science-fiction satire contains no shortage of characters who’d be fun to get drunk with. And even terminally bewildered protagonist Arthur Dent seems like a nice enough guy. But no character captured the hearts of Adams’ fans as much as the gloomy Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Though Marvin’s constant melancholy was a source of irritation to his shipmates on the Heart Of Gold, it was easy to sympathize with the slump-shouldered robot. Marvin may have exaggerated and obsessed over his many burdens—pain in all the diodes on his left side, or being forced to park cars for millions of years while his friends went to a fancy restaurant. But in Douglas Adams’ mixed-up and often terrifyingly random universe, Marvin’s weary resignation was one of the only sane responses to life. Besides, Marvin was more than a piece of miserable machinery, he was also the series’ stoic hero figure—often the only character smart enough to know what was actually going on, he repeatedly saved the lives of his (usually ungrateful) friends at great peril to himself. Whether it meant facing down an intelligent battle tank unarmed or staying behind on a doomed starship while the others teleported to safety, Marvin was always willing (though never eager) to put himself in harm’s way. Perhaps Marvin’s popularity also owed something to Adams’ own identification with the character—though it was inspired by a fellow writer named Andrew Marshall, Marvin’s disconsolate pessimism also came from Adams’ own bouts with depression.

Originally published on Feb. 26, 2007 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Tonto (and Kato), R2D2, Nobody, Inigo Montoya, Dr. Pretorius, Marvin, and Mouse. Read the complete article.

Can Hitch-Hiker’s survive Hollywood?

Over the course of nearly three decades, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” has been many things. It began as a radio drama — a terrifically sharp, satirical sci-fi piece about the destruction of the Earth because of a bureaucratic snafu, and all the fun that came next. … The radio series was a smash hit on its debut in 1977, making a star (or at least a popular cult author) out of its creator, Douglas Adams, and spawning “Hitchhiker” adaptations in nearly every form imaginable — books, two stage plays, a TV series, a computer game, even a beach towel.

Just about the only thing “Hitchhiker” hadn’t been turned into was a feature film, which became a lifelong quest for Adams, who spent nearly 20 years trying to get a film project off the ground before his untimely death from a heart attack in 2001. Ironically, that tragic event seemed to break the Hollywood dam, leading to the movie starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def and Sam Rockwell that arrives on screens Friday.

Originally published on April 28, 2005. Read the complete article.

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