The late Douglas Adams was notoriously bad with deadlines. But he seems to have pulled his finger out recently, despite passing away in 2001.
Last January, the novelization of ‘The Pirate Planet’ was finally completed – albeit with some help from Adams’ ghost-writer James Goss. Then in November we finally saw a completed version of ‘Shada’. Having only had a home video release with linking narration, a Big Finish audio, several animated versions and a Gareth Roberts novelization to scrape by with. But now we have all-new Douglas Adams stories that we weren’t even expecting – The Krikkitmen!
‘The Krikkitmen’ was first submitted to the Doctor Who production office in 1976. Though rejected, Adams impressed Bob Holmes enough to be commissioned to write ‘The Pirate Planet’ and later take over Holmes’ role as script editor. Some time later, he’d consider pitching the idea as a Doctor Who film. But Douglas Adams would ultimately retool ‘The Krikkitmen’ for his third The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel: ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’. This was later adapted into the third Hitchhiker’s radio series (right). Now, with an appropriate 42 years since Adams first pitched the idea, James Goss has finally given the Krikkitmen a place in the Whoniverse.
The planet of Krikkit – isolated by a comfortably dense cloud of dust – was aghast to learn that there was a whole Universe out there! Not only that, but it was full of life audacious enough to exist with no regard for the Krikkita’s fundamental belief that it didn’t. The Time Lords locked the planet away so Krikkit could have the galaxies all to themselves once they were finished with them. Unfortunately, a remnant of Krikkit’s robot army – the Krikkitmen – demand a clever cricket reference to indicate revenge!
If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams’ radio/television/novel series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy then you’ll instantly recognise the setting of the opening scene. But this is far from a rehash and only really the Krikkitmen and Lord’s Cricket Ground remain. The Doctor is about as far from Arthur Dent as it’s possible to get without cataloguing obscure bacteria.
The Fourth Doctor and Romana are as expertly realised as ever. Goss has form with Tom Baker’s Doctor having penned two novelizations and a Big Finish audio featuring him. The character’s voice is perfectly captured and Goss uses the freedom of a novel to expand on the Doctor’s psyche and the breadth of his eccentricities. The Doctor sullenly stomping around a new planet with a kettle strikes a bizarre but perfect balance between Adams’ unique style of comedy and the scope of a space opera.
Fellow Time Lord Romana, as played by Lalla Ward, is rendered very precisely at the hands of Goss. Since her regard for the Doctor was changed drastically over her tenure, this story reflects Romana’s admiration mixed with frustration. Adams’ initial pitch (which is included as an appendix) had the Doctor travelling with “Sarah”, presumably intended to be Sarah Jane Smith. So the complex feelings and sparkling rapport the pair have can be credited entirely to Goss. However, that also becomes a bit of a problem when one major story element is carried over from the original treatment. Early in the story, Romana undergoes mind control and remains so for a while. But keeping the banter between the two in spite of this and often using it for comic relief undermined it as threat. I kept expecting Romana to reveal that she only pretended to be under the Krikkitmen’s influence as part of a grand plan. Goss succeeds in keeping Romana’s wit even through her mind controlled period, but at the cost of a lot of the tension.
Goss for a Gozza
Unlike James Goss’ previous Adams adaptations, this is not adapted from a broadcast story. The story was constructed from Adams’ original pitch, later versions he wrote and a cache of notes. Perhaps because of this, the story can sometimes be a bit scattershot. At times feeling like standalone episodes in a serial rather than one continuous story. It jumps around in setting a lot, barely giving the reader time to appreciate the place before moving on. Typical of Douglas Adams’ style, certianly, with many seemingly-random diversions that affect the plot later in unexpected ways. However, with characters making only brief appearances it’s easy to forget them when they show up again later. This structure makes sense: it was, after all, intended to be broadcast as 25 minute episodes. In a novel, however, it feels like we’re rushing through environments.
That being said, it’s terrific to see the scale of the story fully realised in prose. Had this story been produced, it’s inevitable that Adams’ vision would have been scaled down to suit TV budgets and special effects. Though this often reined in some of Douglas Adams’ structural idiosyncracies, it was clear his imagination was boundless. Goss takes advantage of this and, though occasionally unweidly, the sheer variety of locations and characters make this the perfect read for any sci-fi fan who wants to let their imagination loose.
It’s be easy to misuse the term “epic” but it’s hard to say that this wouldn’t qualify on word count alone. An expansive space adventure with the homespun humour of Douglas Adams and the witty talents of James Goss make ‘Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen’ into a genuine epic.
‘Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen’ is available to buy now from Amazon at the link below.