Doctor Who & Douglas Adams

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Christopher Morley looks back at Douglas Adams association with Doctor Who.


With the Gareth Roberts novelisation of City Of Death hitting bookshops later this year, what better time to look back on Douglas Adams's association with Doctor Who?



It would seem Robert Holmes took a shine to him. As Adams himself explained:
"I sent in my (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) pilot episode to the then script editor of ‘Doctor Who’, Robert Holmes, who said ‘Yes, yes, we like this. Come round and see us’. So we discussed ideas for a bit, and I eventually got commissioned to write four ‘Doctor Who’ episodes. The original concept of ‘The Pirate Planet’ was just the basic concept of a hollow planet. Graham [Williams] was interested in space pirates, so we just married the two ideas together.

The original storyline was of a planet being mined by the Time Lords. The inhabitants of the planet were a rowdy lot and the Time Lords had erected a giant statue, the inside of which was in fact a giant machine for absorbing all the aggression from the people. When they had all the ore that they needed, they sent a Time Lord to disconnect the machine, but he got trapped in the works and absorbed all the aggression. None of the other Time Lords had bothered to find out where he had got to, so he decided to take revenge on them by letting the mining equipment completely hollow out the planet, then making it jump to surround Gallifrey."



By the time of Season Seventeen, Dougie would have his feet comfortably under the desk as script editor!
"When I became script editor for season seventeen, I was told ‘We want you, Douglas, because of the specific things you’ll be able to bring to the programme’, which I was systematically not allowed to do. This season of ‘Doctor Who’ will look just like any other season, and I feel very disappointed about that. It’s too big a thing for any one person to change – it’s like a big raft in the middle of a lake, and you’re trying to move it by swimming."

Seems he had similar 'fond' memories of City Of Death too.......
"An interesting thing actually happened during the making of ‘City of Death’, because although I’d written it to be in Paris I was the only member of the team who didn’t get to go to Paris! So I was rather upset about this, I was sitting in my office at the BBC feeling a little miffed, because everyone else was gallivanting off in Paris and I was by myself, and this wild Scottish ex-hippie came into the office and said ‘Where is everybody?’, and I said ‘They’re in Paris’, he said ‘Well I need to talk to the producer’.

I said ‘Why’s that?’, he said ‘I’m directing the next show, the Dalek story, and there are some problems I want to talk about’. This was Ken Grieve, who is one of the world’s most stupendous and marvellous piss artists, and I said ‘Well you can’t talk to them, they’re in Paris’, he said ‘And you’re here all by yourself?’, I said rather bitterly ‘Yes’, he said ‘Why don’t we go to Paris?’, I said ‘Don’t be stupid’.

So we got our passports, went down to the airport, jumped on a plane, got into Paris, arrived at the hotel we knew they were staying in. They were all looking tired after a long day’s shooting, other than Tom, and we said ‘Hey, bet you’re pleased to see us’, of course they weren’t. We said ‘Let’s go out and have fun’, but they’d had a long day, they said ‘You go out and have fun’. At that point, Ken and I sort of looked at each other, and gradually the realisation dawned on us that if we’d really planned this trip at all, well (a) we wouldn’t have made it, and (b) we’d have brought someone prettier than the other one."

But what of Shada? Let's turn to the man tasked with adapting the tale of the Doctor's visit to the prison planet of the Time Lords? Speaking to Kasterborous, Gareth Roberts stated that he was trying to be as faithful to Adams's original scripts for the story as possible:
"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.

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."
He also had a pretty clear idea of what he was trying to achieve with Adams abandoned story:
"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."
"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."
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