Saturday 24 March 2018

WHO REVIEW: Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (audio novelisation)

Written by James Goss, based on a story by Douglas Adams
Read by Dan Starkey

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is a strange beast. Its convoluted history begins with a TV serial pitch by Douglas Adams back when he was script editor for Doctor Who in the late 70s, before being reworked as a spec script for a Doctor Who movie. It might have stayed in the “unmade stories Hall of Fame” had Adams not been so adept at reusing his own material. Like City of Death and Shada, which we reworked aggressively to become the basis for the Dirk Gently books, The Krikkitmen was rewritten to become part of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. At first lined up to be the opening parts of a second Hitchhiker's TV series, it then became the basis for the third novel, Life, the Universe and Everything. Decades later, this was adapted by Dirk Maggs to become the Tertiary Phase of the original iteration of Hitchhiker's, the radio series.

Which is what makes the new novelisation of The Krikkitmen such an oddity. Based on the copious notes and plot breakdown originally submitted by Adams back in the day, the new novel by James Goss feels less like Doctor Who per se than a sort-of DW/HHGttG hybrid. This isn't odd in itself – Doctor Who was very much like Hitchhiker's in this period, mainly because Adams had his fingerprints all over it and tested out his ideas on the series. Still, The Krikkitmen does have the problem of feeling overly familiar to anyone who's read Life, the Universe and Everything.

Doctor Who fans are used to stories existing in multiple form. There are half-a-dozen versions of Adams's other grand unfinished story, Shada, and something like nine versions of the first Dalek story. It's the differences in style, content and format that make these revisits interesting. The problem with The Krikkitmen is that Adams reworked so much of it to become Life, the Universe and Everything that there isn't so much of a difference to it. The Doctor's lines were basically split between Slartibartfast and Trillian, so now the dialogue is back with the Doctor and Romana. So much of the story, particularly the opening scenes, just sound like rerunning the novel.

Still, between Adams and Goss, there's plenty more built into the Doctor Who version of the story. Goss peppers the story with references to past and (relative) future Doctor Who events, and there's a significant side plot which involves the intervention of the early Time Lords, necessitating a visit to Gallifrey. Ther's a lot more extra material, as well, with various little side trips on the quest to find the pieces of the Wicket Gate, but they make the story feel more like Hitchhiker's, not less, so rambling and bizarre they seem. Also, Adams's original story concept is still brilliant: that cricket, that most English and genteel of sports, is in fact a race memory of the most horrific and destructive interstellar war the Galaxy has ever known. Oh, and behind the Krikkitmen, there's an even worse and more destructive alien species who have the means to destroy the entire universe. It just doesn't feel fresh anymore.

Nonetheless, Goss is as close to a replacement for Adams as we're going to get. I've not read his novelisation of City of Death (my very favourite DW serial, and one I'm reluctant to revisit in prose in case it doesn't live up to the original), but the reading of The Pirate Planet is tremendous. That's one thing Goss's prose really has going for it, and another thing it has in common with Adams's: it's absolutely made to be read aloud. It's hard to beat Jon Culshaw as a reader of fourth Doctor material (as with The Pirate Planet) but Dan “Strax” Starkey does an amazing job, giving the telling a relaxed, conversational tone while perfectly capturing the Doctor and Romana.

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen would probably have made an amazing movie once. It certainly made a great Hitchhiker's novel. It also makes for a great new Doctor Who novel, so long as you haven't read Life, the Universe and Everything first.

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