(2018) James Goss (& Douglas Adams), BBC Books, £8.99, pbk, vii + 407pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94106-1
Imagine, if you will, what The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would have been like if instead of following the adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect it had instead followed those of the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker’s), Romana, and K-9. Imagine no more, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is it.
Back in 1976 Douglas Adams was busy, very busy. The BBC had accepted his scripts for The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (radio series), ‘The Pirate Planet’ (Doctor Who TV story), and suggested to him that his story outline The Cricketers should be a Doctor Who film. The first two got made but the film never came to fruition; indeed it eventually disappeared and that is why the cover of this novel declares it to be ‘The Lost Adventure By Douglas Adams’. However, Adams was a great one for holding on to ideas, reworking them and reusing them elsewhere, and so the Krikkitmen stayed with him and resurfaced in the third Hitch-Hiker’s book Life, The Universe and Everything.
As well as working on Doctor Who – Scratchman with Tom Baker, James Goss has written several novelisations from the Doctor Who TV series (amongst other TV programmes). It was whilst researching Adams’ script for ‘The Pirate Planet’ (which he has since novelised and published) that the author was reading through the Douglas Noël Adams Papers at St. John’s College Library, Cambridge, when, amongst much else, he came across the long-lost script.
The Papers were a goldmine of information and ideas. Using the various versions of the original script and its presentations, along with various versions of Life, The Universe and Everything, and along with many other versions and rewrites of other scripts and ideas, Goss picked and chose much material with which to weave together this novel. Thus some the book is almost pure Adams (as acknowledged in the appendices), much of it is based on Adams’ ideas, and the rest is Goss (who himself is not short of ideas), but quite how much is Adams and how much is Goss I could not guess. Whatever the split, Goss has certainly woven it all together very well.
The book opens with a short introduction by Adams, taken from presentations he made at the time. The story (357 pages) is followed by three appendices: 1. ‘Life, The Universe and Photocopying’ (notes by James Goss); 2. ‘Douglas Adams’s Original Treatment’ (twenty four pages of story outline written by Adams); and 3. ‘The Krikkitmen - Sarah Jane Smith Version (An Introduction)’ (by James Goss). From these we learn that Adams had intended the Doctor to be accompanied by ‘Jane’, presumably Sara Jane Smith, but for continuity reasons (including that only Time Lords can visit Gallifrey) Goss decided that Romana would be a better fit for the novel.
The story opens with the Doctor promising Romana the end of the universe but instead he takes her to a cricket match; she is not impressed. As it happens, though, this could indeed lead to the end of the universe. Just as England have won and been presented with the Ashes, a cricket pavilion-shaped space ship appears and out pour eleven killer robots. They are dressed in white, wear helmets, and carry bat-like weapons which shoot lethal bolts of energy, their sharp edges slice though people, and they are very useful for hitting (to be exact, aiming and delivering) small, red grenades which explode wherever they land. Grabbing the Ashes, the robots disappear. We learn that these are the Krikkitmen, created over two millions years ago on the planet Krikkit. We also learn that the English game of cricket is for some perverse reason based on the Krikkit Wars of that time.
The planet Krikkit is unusual in that it exists on the very edge of the galaxy and a dust cloud has hidden the rest of the galaxy from its gaze so, when a spaceship crash-landed on the planet, the Krikkiters were shocked - they had no idea there was anybody but them, or anywhere but Krikkit. Their response was to declare war on the galaxy and wipe it all out, thus restoring normality. Ultimately they were defeated by the Time Lords and their planet locked in Slow Time until the universe ran down, at which time they would be released and would indeed be the only life left.
And so, of course, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 start a convoluted journey through time and space, to Gallifrey and many other planets, to find out why, and indeed how, the Krikkitmen are back. The story covers millions of years of darting about hither and thither as they slowly uncover the truth. Then, of course, they have to fix things and again stop the galaxy from being destroyed. Given all the to-ing and fro-ing, I really cannot tell you more - other than there is a lot more! It is probably giving nothing away to reveal that ultimately the Doctor is victorious and sorts it all out. But just how much did he already know?
As the Doctor and his companions zip about, we are treated to many new planets and characters, all so enjoyably described and explained in the way so typical of Hitch-Hiker’s. This view of the galaxy is a delight and, having mostly been created when Adams was at the height of his inventiveness, it is a welcome return; there were times when I could almost hear the voice of Peter Jones as the Book.
The Book was a great narrative invention which allowed all the humorous though often irrelevant background information to be woven around the plot of the story and it is this that made The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy so much fun. Unfortunately this novel does not have such a mechanism and so in certain ways the humorous interludes take the pace away from the story. Sometimes I felt I was reading a Doctor Who story whilst at other times I was reading a further instalment of Hitch-Hiker’s, that this was trying to be both at the same time whereas it needed to be one or the other. Perhaps this is because Adams was full of ideas and spread them all around everything he was working on, without differentiating sufficiently between them. I remember back in his days on Doctor Who that some fans accused him of not understanding the Doctor and trying to make him something else, a specific Adams’ Doctor; an opinion you may or may not agree with. At the time I certainly got the impression from him that he had little time for the history of previous Doctors and was solely interested in where *he* could take the Time Lord.
As for the story, it has many twists and turns and several times I thought we were getting somewhere in our understanding of just exactly what was going on only to find that it was merely a peak of interest but then we were off on another trek to another high point, only to find that once again that one only lead to the next peak and, after a while, this became a little tiring; ‘will we ever get there?’ I sometimes asked myself. In the end, of course, it all came together and the whole story snapped into place.
Overall it is a good and complex story, perhaps a little too complex under the circumstances, and it was most enjoyable to have more Hitch-Hiker’s insights into the galaxy. I greatly enjoyed it but, I hate to say, I thought it did not quite work; it felt to me that Adams’ otherwise great and very funny inventiveness often interrupted the story rather than usefully embellishing it. It was a lot of fun but, well, not quite a proper Doctor story. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it!
See also Ian's take on Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen.
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