Douglas Adams' lost Doctor Who story is becoming a book at last

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy creator Douglas Adams wrote three Doctor Who stories in the late 1970s, but only two of them made it to the screen. The third, "Shada," was never completed due to a strike.

Now, at last, a book version of "Shada" is coming from BBC Books in 2012. And the good news is, it'll be written by one of the few writers who stands a chance of doing justice to Adams' genius. Gareth Roberts, writer of some of the most inventive Doctor Who novels including The Highest Science as well as three Who episodes — most recently "The Lodger."

Douglas Adams' lost Doctor Who story is becoming a book at last

In "Shada," the Doctor and Romana are summoned to Cambridge University to visit a retired Time Lord, who's living incognito as Professor Chronotis. It turns out Chronotis has kept one very special book that he took from the Time Lords' planet, Gallifrey, and an evil, mind-stealing alien named Skagra wants the book for himself. The book will reveal the location of the prison world Shada, home of Gallifrey's most notorious criminal, Salyavin.

"Shada" has had a weirdly checkered life since it failed to appear on television in early 1980. John Nathan-Turner, who took over as producer early that year, reportedly asked the BBC for money to finish "Shada" as a one-off story, but was turned down. A few snippets of the story were used in the 1983 special "The Five Doctors" after Tom Baker declined to return to Doctor Who. Later, "Shada" was released in VHS tape with Baker narrating the un-filmed scenes. Adams, meanwhile, used many of the ideas in "Shada" for his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Eventually, an audio version of "Shada," starring the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, instead of Tom Baker, was released. There's also been an unofficial novelization by Paul Scoones and Jonathan Preddle. Apparently a DVD version is coming at some point.

Douglas Adams' lost Doctor Who story is becoming a book at last

But there's never been a straight-up book version of "Shada" — and it's perhaps in book form that this abortive serial has the best hope of achieving some semblance of its real potential as a Doctor Who story. Sadly, unlike Adams' other story from that same year, "City of Death," "Shada" isn't actually all that great a story — like a lot of six-episode stories, it's padded and full of fluff — but it does have many flashes of brilliance and moments of extreme cleverness. (Especially the bit where the Doctor points that that ruling the universe just doesn't make any sense — how would you manage it once you had it?)

It'll take some deft handling to bring out the quintessential Douglas Adams-ness in "Shada," but if anybody can do it, it's Gareth Roberts. [Guardian]