(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #9.)
I’ve never hid my obsessions with Doctor Who: I started this blog as a place to talk about the show, as long forgotten as that idea seems now. Douglas Adams was one of the humorists that inspired me, and sometimes kept me sane, as a young man. Combine the two, and I’m in nerd-heaven. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is my fourth DW book this year and that I might end up reading at least two more. On the bright side, it will be the last book that I try to shoehorn into my playing of the Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide game as I have completed it now (over on The Adventure Gamer) and will be posting the final rating in a day or two.
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is the third posthumous collaboration between James Goss and Douglas Adams, based on his archived papers and notes. The history of this book alone is worth the price of admission: Douglas Adams first wrote a treatment for Krikkitmen back in 1976, during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure with Sarah Jane Smith. The treatment wasn’t accepted for one reason or another, although they clearly liked Mr. Adams’s work enough to bring him onboard. Adams left on it the back-burner, at one point even considering it for a possible theatrical film. Never one to leave a good idea behind, aspects of Krikkitmen made their way into Shada and eventually the main thrust of the book was transposed into the third Hitchhiker’s book, Life, the Universe, and Everything. The Doctor and companion became Arthur and Ford, but otherwise many of the fundamentals remained: a terrible race of white-outfitted robots wielding cricket bats fought a war millions of years ago for the fate of the galaxy. It is the distant racial memory of this terrible war that inspired the game of cricket, although only the English could possibly make a game out of the slaughter of millions. The Doctor ultimately fights this scourge and protects the universe and at one point nearly blows it up by accident himself.
The book takes this outline and expands it greatly, to some great and some poor effects. The initial segments of the book involve a somehow freed group of robot Krikkitmen traveling around the universe in search of the components of an ancient wicket gate which locks the Krikkit planet in a prison of “slow time”. The Doctor meets this group at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London to prevent them stealing the “Ashes”, a trophy that is probably very important to people that know about cricket. This leads into an extended sequence, similar to the Key of Time, where the Doctor and Romana II have to visit a variety of interesting locations to try to prevent the Krikkitmen from stealing the magical artifacts that would allow them to unseal the prison. But rather than this being the end of the story, it’s only the beginning: the Krikkitmen outmaneuver the Doctor at every step, manage to capture all of the components of the gate, and unlock their world. They even manage to fool the Doctor into visiting Shada and freeing millions of Krikkit robot soldiers that had been trapped there. The Doctor finally admits that he has only one choice: he has to visit Krikkit and discover what happened there to turn them against the universe. It’s quite interesting how the Doctor and Romana get out of this one and I highly recommend the story both as a time capsule of early 1980s Doctor Who, but also for Douglas Adams’s views of the Time Lords. (It’s curious that both this and Shada involved the Time Lords directly, while City of Death involved another time traveler. He seemed to have liked to play with time travel plots nearly as much as Steven Moffat).
James Goss managed to breathe a lot of life into a story that started as a 33-page treatment with an undefined companion. Along the way, he turned it into a Shada sequel and placed it squarely at the end of his Douglas Adams trilogy, even if in original intent it should have been first. I haven’t read his other two books yet, but in this one he tries to hard to mimic Douglas Adams’s style. No one can quite replicate his comedic timing and trying to do so just comes off as distracting. Even so, there are tons of great sequences: I’m particularly fond of the recurring character of the Great Khan, the leader of a group of Space Mongols. Yes, the story is silly like that and you do eventually just stop thinking about it and enjoy the ride. I really love Goss’s handling of Romana in this book. She’s at her most powerful here, capable of solving most problems without the Doctor, and even at one point going off and having a mini-adventure with Margaret Thatcher in tow as her companion. This is a women who (in some of the older books at least) will become President of Gallifrey and showing her as strong and independent really sells it. She is the perfect companion for this story.
Not everything in the story hangs off perfectly. The final villains, when revealed, is more of a “what?” than a revelation. An aspect of the reveal seems to have either been an inspiration for, or coincidence with, a modern Who story written by Neil Gaiman. I’ll leave a little mystery for you as to which one, but it shouldn’t take you too long to figure it out. There’s also a supercomputer that seems just a little too much like Deep Thought for comfort, with motivations that don’t make that much sense even when carefully explained. Another aspect of the book involved the misuse of Time Lord technology in a battle. I love Romana’s solution (which you have to read to understand), but it made the whole thing seem too easy and too small. Do we really need another fleet trying to invade Gallifrey? Even the explanation for why the Krikkitmen need to invade Gallifrey first is a bit questionable.
A few logic problems aside, the book works as a book even as I cannot imagine how they would have broken it up into episodes. Goss has captured the Fourth Doctor and Romana perfectly and I would gladly read him writing those two characters for some time. The Douglas Adams books are his only take on this particular combination in prose, but he’s written plenty of the modern Doctors, as well as Torchwood and Class books. I particularly appreciated the long author’s note (with original script treatment!), allowing history-buffs like myself to understand the production process. Highly recommended.
Previous posts in this series:
- “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois Bujold (2012)
- “The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan (2017)
- “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” by Don Rosa (1994)
- “Crystal Phoenix” by Michael Berlyn (1980)
- “The Original Hitchhiker’s Guide Radio Scripts” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1978, 1980)
- “Rose” novelization by Russell T. Davies (2018) & “The Day of the Doctor” novelization by Steven Moffat (2018)
- “Shada” by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts (2012)