For a self-confessed Whovian, a lover of all things Doctor Who, I shamefully have to admit that I have seen a grand total of possibly eight episodes of the classic series (everything pre-dating the reboot in 2005). When I was living in Canberra, the classic series was being shown on Syfy and, being unemployed for a while, I managed to catch a few episodes.
The very first episodes I ever saw of the classic series was Tom Baker’s Doctor and Sarah Jane’s very last episode together. I mean…really. Thanks universe.
The reason for this prologue is because Shada is a Fourth Doctor’s story. For anyone who doesn’t know, and I didn’t until I read Gareth Robert’s afterword, Shada was actually a storyline in the show, written by the formidable Douglas Adams. However, due to strikes and deadlines and all sorts of other nonsense, the story didn’t go the way that Adams intended. And so this is Roberts reworking Shada into what the story should have been.
Roberts nailed it.
I have read a lot of Doctor Who books in my time, as you probably already know if you’ve been following this blog for a while. But most of them read like scriptwriters attempting to write books, rather than just reading like books. Not this one. This is an actual book with beautiful characters, sparkling dialogue, and the foreshadowing. Oh, geeze, the foreshadowing.
Roberts (or possibly Adams?) uses repetition to not only bring humour to the story, but also to bring out uneasiness. For example, there is one character who is always described as a “nice old man”. No other variation of the words. This starts as humour, but eventually it repeats so much that the reader starts to cotton on that maybe there’s a reason that this phrase is repeated over and over again.
Not only this, but Roberts/Adams does this beautiful thing where they address the whole woman-as-assistant trope but then he (they?) turn it on its head. In Shada there are two human companions, as it were, as well as the lovely Time Lady, Romana: Chris and Clare. Only, in this book it’s Chris that is somehow always reduced to cheerleader/assistant role. And it’s Clare that ends up flying the TARDIS and doing some bonafide life-saving.
And then there’s the fact that Roberts/Adams hilariously gives a human companion’s impression of the Doctor and how he makes everyone feel safe, only, they don’t know why. No reason to trust the strange man with the ridiculous scarf other than that they feel they can.
I really wish I had highlighted some quotes so that you can see this hilariousness right here and now but, oh well, you’re just going to have to read this book!
Finally, I want to bring this review back to my first statement. I have seen only a thin sliver of classic Who. Now, unfortunately, a lot of Doctor Who books rely on the reader’s prior knowledge of the various Doctors to fill in the gaps left in the story. If you were to read those books without watching the show, you wouldn’t really get much of the characters. We Whovians fill in a lot of personality for the authors. But not in Shada. Every single character sparkles with three-dimensionality and uniqueness and loveliness. Even Wilkins. Even the constable at the end (though, he’s not really ‘lovely’, per se). Characters are a huge part of what makes me love or hate a book and, in this case, Roberts/Adams has made me love this book.
The reason I haven’t given an overview of the story is that I can’t really do that at all without:
a. giving away spoilers
b. possibly turning you off this book by doing a lousy job explaining the genius that is this story.
So if anything I’ve said tickles your fancy you should definitely just read this book. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who. If you loved Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should read this book.
For all of this, and a whole lot more that you will only understand if you experience this story for yourself, I give Shada: