If you’re sitting there thinking I’ve misspelled one of the words in the title of this post, then you probably don’t run in comedy sci-fi circles.
As the first (non-manga) book to read in my comfortably post-grad school existence, I chose Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen, because I’d been wanting to read it for some time. (I’m not sure why I hadn’t gotten to it before the semester started, but…) Of course, on reading it, certain passages were so very familiar that I had to reread Life, the Universe and Everything next, for reasons which will be obvious to anyone who’s read it.
For those of you unfamiliar with any of this, let me give you some background information.
1976. Tom Baker is the fourth actor to play the Doctor on the television series Doctor Who. (The fifth actor total, of course, because there were those two movie adaptations of the first two Dalek stories where they replaced William Hartnell with Peter Cushing, but I don’t think anyone liked to talk about those…) One of the writers working with the BBC on the program is the young Douglas Adams, who pitched a script for a Doctor Who movie in which Tom Baker’s Doctor would go up against the Krikkitmen, white robots whose armor happened to look like cricket gear.
Over the course of four years, the idea became more detailed (and the companion in the treatments became more vague because the Doctor had gone through several companions in the intervening years), until it ended up a bit over 30 pages long.
And then nothing happened with it. Tom Baker left the program, and Douglas Adams had his hands full with his own brilliant hit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which had started out as a BBC radio program, then transitioned to one series of television and a short series of novels.
By the time Adams got round to writing the third novel, the Doctor’s meeting with the Krikkitmen was off the table for good, and there was no reason to let a good story die in obscurity, so Adams adapted it into Life, the Universe and Everything. With a good many obvious changes, as Slartibartfast is not much like the Doctor (not like any version of same, in fact) and the starship Bistromath is not much like a TARDIS. In fact, not at all like a TARDIS except for the fact that neither one of them looks like something that ought to be a spaceship. (And no, the mouse on the cover is not the Bistromath. Nor is it the Heart of Gold, nor is it a Krikkit ship. I don’t know what the heck that thing is. Some artist just thought it looked funny, I guess.)
Fastforward many decades to 2012. Another of Douglas Adams’ Doctor Who projects that was never fully realized, the story “Shada” that had been intended to be the season finale (which was scrapped part-way into filming due to a strike), is released as a novel written by Gareth Roberts, in a narrative style that is comparable to Adams’, if not quite as brilliant. It’s a huge hit (as such things go), and the BBC starts casting about for anything else they can release in the same vein. Eventually, they hit on the Krikkitmen. (First, of course, they had to novelize a couple of stories that were broadcast. Haven’t bothered reading those, because why bother? Especially with “City of Death.” You can’t improve on perfection.)
So, what is the story of these books? Well, short version: far back in the mists of galactic history, the planet Krikkit really didn’t like the fact that the rest of the universe existed, and built robots to wipe it all out, but they were eventually defeated and now have become horrifying bogeymen parents use to frighten their children, and only one planet is gauche enough to talk about anything relating to Krikkit, even if they do happen to spell it slightly differently, but of course that wouldn’t be a story unless the robots suddenly returned to put the universe at risk once more. Only there’s so much more to it than that. I mean, even to the set-up there’s so much more to it. Really, it’s something one ought to read for oneself. If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, you really probably ought to, unless you’re utterly allergic to comedy and/or…well…what do you call it? “Soft sci-fi”? I know “hard sci-fi” is the stuff that tries to be as realistic as possible, which is kind of the opposite of Hitchhiker’s, which has its own set of logical rules of physics, which don’t really correspond to ours on a 1-to-1 basis. (Ours, after all, are not very funny.) The Doctor Who version is slightly less soft in sci-fi terms, but only very slightly. I mean, even the show in its most serious moments is pretty far from being hard sci-fi, and this is anything but its most serious moments. (He’s facing off against robots called Krikkitmen. How could it possibly be serious?)
But perhaps more importantly for this post, how does the Doctor Who version compare to Adams’ own version? Well…it’s hard to compare them, really. I mean, Adams’ prose is more brilliant, and funnier, but beyond that, the comparisons become more awkward. The story is really better suited to the Doctor Who universe, which only makes sense given that it was first intended to be told there. It features Romana II as the companion, of course, as is only fitting, since it was in her time on the show that Douglas Adams was the script editor, and “City of Death” aired (and “Shada” would have aired). The book also includes the longest of Adams’ treatments for the Krikkitmen movie (ironically, the one title he had ruled out for it was Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen) and the opening chapter of Goss’s earlier draft of the novel in which Sarah Jane Smith was the companion (as she was when the story was first pitched), only not the Sarah of the 1970s, but the Sarah Jane of the modern show era, with a paragraph that referenced meeting not only 10, but also 11, 6, possibly 12, and I think there was at least one other only I’ve forgotten now and the book’s already been returned to my father’s house. (However, the reference to meeting the sixth Doctor was completely inappropriate: the tenth Doctor’s reaction to seeing her made it very clear that he hadn’t seen her since “The Five Doctors.” Which, come to think of it, already ruled out older Sarah Jane as a companion for this story, given the fifth Doctor’s outfit…)
All in all, I would definitely say that the Doctor Who version is worth reading, if you’re familiar with the original series. If you only know the new stuff, it might be a bit jarring.
I have to say, though, it raised some questions in me that I don’t think it intended to. Not directly reading it, mind you, but thinking about it afterwards. Because I sat down and thought, “I wonder if we’re supposed to take this as canon?” And then thought that would be mighty weird if we did, given that as the fifth Doctor is trying to decide on his new look, he comes across a room full of cricket gear, and decides that would be perfect, and even passes comment on how the cricket bat needs tending to. So, if the English sport cricket was a demented race memory of the horror of the Krikkit wars (which it couldn’t really be a “race memory” per se, given that they ended long before humans evolved on Earth), then why in the world would the Doctor have so much cricket gear? Though the Doctor can be pretty weird and even a bit perverse, so that’s not a huge problem with its canoninity. (Yes, not a word, I know.) The bigger problem is the inclusion of the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin, which is of course well known to any who know Hitchhiker’s. And we’re not meant to take it as coincidental; it’s definitely meant to be the same planet, just earlier in its history than we know it. Which implies that maybe somehow the Doctor Who universe and the Hitchhiker’s universe are the same one. Almost plausible, in the light of “Destiny of the Daleks” having a scene where the Doctor is reading a book by Oolon Colluphid. (Less plausible in light of the destruction of the Earth at the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, naturally. And its redestruction at the end of Mostly Harmless.) But if they were the same universe, what would it mean when the tenth Doctor mentions Arthur Dent at the end of his first episode? Surely that was meant to be referring to a fictional character, not a fellow space-traveler, especially not one who gets so little respect and recognition as Arthur does.
Honestly, after having that thought, I can suddenly no longer fully reconcile that episode (or that line, anyway) with “Destiny of the Daleks.” I realize that’s kind of crazy, but…they don’t mesh properly. (Admittedly, that moment of “Destiny of the Daleks” was one of a couple of comedic filler moments that Adams provided because the script was too short to fill the show’s runtime (which actually ticked off Dalek creator Terry Nation), but still.)
…and, yeah, I think I wanted to post this “review” more so I could go into that ludicrously convoluted path to the “wait, what?” moment at the end with contrasting Oolon Colluphid being real and Arthur Dent being fictional in the same universe. Because apparently I wanted to showcase the fact that I put way too much thought into this sort of thing.