Thing is, I love Douglas Adams. He was great. A very clever man, very nice, very funny. A superb comic writer; possibly the greatest comic prose stylist since P. G. Wodehouse. An amiable and persuasive advocate of science and atheism. Creator of novels that I’ve read and re-read, radio shows that I’ve listened to over and over again, etc. A great guy.
But I don’t like ‘Shada’. It’s pretentious. And naff. A combination exemplified in that bit of description of Chris Parsons in the script: “likes Bach and Status Quo.” Oh dear.
And all that guff from Parsons about “doors that remain permanently closed to one”. What a load of Student Common Room wank. How amazing that Chris Bidmead is the guy who reguarly gets accused of pumping the series full of precious, science-fixated toss!
And Adams is clearly having a poke at sci-fi writers who write lazy plots (all that satirical jabbing at the idea of taking over the universe) while also not bothering to give Skagra any real motivation or any sensible goals. Robert Holmes had done the uber-ironic pisstaking of silly sci-fi names/plots/villains etc before this, and better, and without letting the audience think he was smirking. In ‘Shada’, Adams seems to be openly smirking at the audience, or looking over their heads at his Cambridge mates going “look chaps! What merkins they are – they take this rubbish seriously!” Someone who laughs at their own jokes is one thing. Someone who laughs at you for laughing at their jokes is another. Someone who laughs at you for laughing at their deliberately unfunny jokes is just, well, taking the piss.
There are some genuinely funny/clever glimpses of the real Adams (the scene where the Doctor fools Skagra’s ship into thinking he’s dead) and an attempt at a satire of literal mindedness… but it all seems so, well, literal.
Meanwhile, Tom and Lalla alternate between openly mocking everything around them and pretending that they’re in an adaptation of an Anthony Trollope novel (which both charms and repels me simultaneously) and Christopher Neame (better known from Secret Army, which was grim and gritty and all those other things that start with “gr” that Doctor Who fans pretend to like) commits skin-crawling dignitycide by walking around in Cambridge dressed as a charity shop Ziggy Stardust. Mind you, if you’ve seen in in Dracula A.D.1972…..
And Claire is just another dim, girly sidekick despite supposedly being a Physics postgrad student. And there’s a real snobbish condescension in the way that the College Porter is mocked at the expense of all the posh, cerebral characters.
Thank goodness it was cancelled and DNA got to cannibalise it for parts when writing his infinitely superior Dirk Gently novels. Really, I’d rather have had ‘Doctor Who and the Krikkit Men’.