❉ James Goss steps up to the plate once again. Is it an ‘owzat’ or rain stopped play?
How do you define a ‘lost’ Doctor Who adventure? Big Finish Productions’ Lost Stories range took the concept quite elastically, with audio dramatisations of everything from fully scripted serials abandoned in utero – e.g. The Masters of Luxor, The Nightmare Fair, The Prison In Space – to ones that only reached the ‘scribbled on the back of a fag packet’ stage, worked up into full audio dramas with the input of seasoned Big Finish scriptwriters. Ironically, the most famous ‘lost’ story, Douglas Adams’ Shada, now exists in almost as many incarnations as the Time Lord zirself – most recently a full-blown Blu-Ray release, and a few years earlier, a BBC Books novelisation, which is where Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen comes in.
Gareth Roberts’ Shada was so well received upon publication, and the Adams-shaped gap in the original Target novels range such a fan completist-troubling one, that it was inevitable that BBC Books would amend this. James Goss stepped up to the plate with novelisations of both City Of Death and The Pirate Planet, taking a ‘director’s cut’ approach by incorporating elements from shooting scripts, earlier drafts and secondary material to make the experience more than a late-period Terrance Dicks ‘novelisation-o-matic’, and with Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen, Goss takes up the bat a third time. But is it an “Owzat!” or “rain stopped play”? Let’s start by taking a look under the bonnet…
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by James Goss is a ‘lost’ Douglas Adams ‘Who’ yarn whose loose outline will be recognisable to anyone familiar with Life, The Universe and Everything, the third Hitchhikers book. As such, since this title’s announcement late in 2017, there’s been scepticism in some quarters that adapting Adams’ Krikkit story into a lost Doctor Who adventure would amount to little more than doing a ‘find and replace’ on ‘Slartibartfast’ with ‘The Doctor’ – an uncharitable but somewhat understandable reservation. But that’s not to say it’s a case of “And now for something entirely familiar”…
The book’s expansive set of appendices make abundantly clear that the story of “Whatever happened to Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen?” is a lot more convoluted than that, leading Goss quite the breadcrumb trail to follow. It all began in 1976, when Douglas Adams visited the BBC to discuss not only the story that became The Pirate Planet but also a Doctor Who movie, which exists in the archives as (in Goss’ words) “33 closely typed A4 pages, going into a great deal of detail and including a large amount of dialogue. It wasn’t just a set of ideas – it was a full roadmap, complete with backseat driver.”
Adams worked on this film treatment for four more years alongside other commitments before it fell by the wayside, with parts of it cannibalised into Life, The Universe and Everything. But, just as we know that Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a very different story from the two Doctor Who serials it drew from freely, so Life, The Universe and Everything is more of a starting point than finishing one for The Krikkitmen. As part of Goss’ research, he also came across not only a first draft of Life much closer to the Dr Who film script than the published second version of Life, but also the script for what would have been the first episode of a second BBC TV series of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (whose existence was first confirmed in Jem Roberts’ definitive Adams biography The Frood), which begins with Ford and Arthur meeting the Krikkitmen. Like a master mixologist, Goss has also incorporated elements of these two pieces into his adaptation (Trace elements of another piece of Adams apocrypha which will be familiar to anyone who owns The Utterly, Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book also appear).
Because of the nature of Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen’s hybrid genesis, the closeness of both fandoms with their shared celebrity writer, and Who fans’ compulsive obsession with minutae, behind the scenes forensics and pattern recognition, the supplementary chapters with their detailed insights into the source materials Goss was privy to will be as engrossing and enjoyable to many readers as the main text itself.
The amount of time Goss has spent in the trenches synthesizing these disparate sources to weave them into a coherent story that feels at home in the Whoniverse should put paid to criticism of Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen being a cynical cash-in – it’s clearly a labour of love, and Goss has earned his stripes: Aside from having been responsible for the two previous Adams/Who novelisations and 2003’s fully-cast, semi-animated Shada starring Paul McGann, as an undergraduate he produced a stage adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency with Arvind Ethan David, who is now Executive Producer of the Dirk Gently TV series. He’s a safe pair of hands, and his track record with both Adams and Who means that he can capture the mutual love-in that is Season 17 Doctor and Romana II (he’s particularly good at Lalla Ward’s irresistible combination of lofty hauteur and mischievous frivolity) as well as sympathetically evoking Adams’ own prose style, complete with Guide-like rambling tangents and authorial asides.
Furthermore, while the start and end points of Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen are fundamentally the same as H2G2’s tertiary phase, the journey is very different and much more essentially ‘Who-ish’: Whereas Life’s protagonists, Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast, are reluctant, shambling heroes, the Doctor and Romana are much more proactive, with Romana in particular enjoying a sizeable slice of the action – much as she did in Season 17’s de facto season closer, The Horns of Nimon.
So what kind of book is this? Without making a side by side comparison with Life… or the other source materials, it is very hard to say to what extent Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen could accurately be described as a ‘reconstruction’ of a story that never was, an reconfiguration of orphaned Adams material folded into the narrative to give it a good home, a tribute, or a mere ‘homage’ written to evoke rather than innovate. One thing that can be said it is that it fulfils the criteria of many a Doctor Who story during Graham Williams and Douglas Adams’ time working on the series, as a Saturday evening “romp” (yes, I went there) where ‘the pen is mightier than the BBC budget’ offscreen world-building meets the quintessentially English ‘Who ethos’ during Tom Baker’s imperial phase of saving the universe in time for tea. (Fittingly, this is, of course, the same vibe of the Hitchhikers series, and the two franchises – for want of a better word – have always felt like they made sympathetic bedfellows, living in adjacent universes.)
All in all, very much in-keeping for a story which takes the oh-so English pastime of cricket and extrapolates from it a backstory of the blood-soaked rise and fall of alien civilisations, and something of a closing of a circle when one considers the opening image of a TARDIS (or a sofa, delete as applicable) materialising on Lord’s Cricket Ground was, consciously or otherwise, Douglas Adams drawing on his childhood memory of watching The Daleks Master Plan on Christmas Day 1965.
Although Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen is borne of good intentions, the reconstituting of stray material by creators no longer with us will always be contentious in some quarters or viewed with extreme cynicism by others, mindful of how bankable the name Douglas Adams will always be (As I was prepping this review, a writer friend quipped on Facebook, “I’ve got a set of receipts from a coffee shop DNA took a dump in once. Expect the novel extrapolated from that next Christmas.”) so it’s fair to say that what you get out of Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen is entirely dependent on the spirit with which you enter into it.
It does what’s required of it and then some – and, crucially, prioritises telling a fun, pacey story above trying to canonise a bunch of apocrypha merely for the sake of it like some demented Ian Levine fan edit. It hangs together well, despite the basic story’s familiar silhouette. As one more mad dash across the universe with Tom and Lalla circa 1979, it certainly fits in snugly alongside the likes of Gareth Roberts’ The Well-Mannered War and Jonathon Morris’ Festival of Death.
So, what next in the world of lost adventures? Doctor Who And Scratchman for me, please! How about it, BBC Books?
❉ In case you missed it, read our 2017 interview with James Goss HERE.
❉ ‘Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen’ by James Goss (BBC Books, RRP £16.99) is published on 18 January 2018.