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Adams, Douglas

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1952-2001) UK scriptwriter and author. He worked as script editor for the 1979-1980 season of Doctor Who television series, and wrote three stories for it: "The Pirate Planet" (1978), "City of Death" (1979) (with Graham Williams from an original draft by David Fisher as by "David Agnew"), and "Shada". The last was scheduled to be broadcast in 1980, but was only partially filmed owing to industrial action; the extant footage was released on video with linking narration in 1992; a novelization by Gareth Roberts eventually appeared as Shada (2012). "The Pirate Planet" was not initially novelized; the script was scheduled to appear as «Doctor Who: The Scripts: The Pirate Planet» in 1994, but the relevant publishing imprint was cancelled before its release. It was eventually released as a novelization by another hand – James Goss – as Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (2017). "City of Death" is particularly worthy of note: an inventive and witty Time-Travel tale set in Paris, where a plot to steal Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is orchestrated by the same Alien who, in another incarnation, commissioned it five centuries before. As with "Shada", a novelization by another hand – again James Goss – subsequently appeared as City of Death (2015); perhaps inevitably, it could not capture the joie de vivre of the original.

Adams came to wide notice with his Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy sequence (see Humour), whose first incarnation was on BBC Radio. This comprised a six-episode series broadcast in 1978, a one-episode 1978 Christmas special, and a five-episode second series in 1980. Episodes 5 and 6 of the first series were scripted in collaboration with producer John Lloyd. Both series were assembled as The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts (coll 1985; vt The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts 1986; exp vt The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts: 25th Anniversary Edition Containing Previously Unpublished Material 2003) edited by Geoffrey Perkins; the scripts as published here were modified for subsequent radio performances, and were also released on record albums in a format different from any of the radio incarnations. The second and third full reworkings of the sequence – as a television series and as the first two volumes of a series of novels – seem to have been put together more or less simultaneously, and, although there are some differences between the two, it would be difficult to assign priority to any one version of the long and episodic plot. In novel form, the sequence comprises The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979; rev vt The Illustrated Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy 1994), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992). The first three volumes were assembled as The Hitchhiker's Trilogy (omni 1984); the first four were assembled as The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts (omni 1986; rev with "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe" added vt The Hitchhiker's Quartet 1986; vt The More than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide: Five Stories 1987); and all five appeared as the ironically titled The Hitchhiker's Trilogy (omni 2000). The last three novels were adapted back to radio, with the surviving cast of the original series, in 2004-2005. An Adventure Videogame adaptation, opening similarly to the first radio series and book but soon diverging, is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984).

One basic premise frames the various episodes contained in the differing versions of the sequence, though volumes three and four of the novel sequence carry on into new territory, and volume five seems to terminate the entire sequence, with an effect of melancholia. A human-shaped Alien, on contract to revise the eponymous guide, has under the name Ford Prefect spent some time on Earth, where he befriends the protagonist of the series, Arthur Dent. On learning that Earth is to be demolished to make way for an interstellar bypass, Prefect escapes the doomed planet with Dent (see Last Man), and the two then hitch-hike around the galaxy, undergoing various adventures. Various Satirical points are made, and, as the sequence moves ahead into the final episodes, Adams's underlying corrosiveness of wit becomes more and more prominent. Earth (whose Secret Masters are Mice) proves to have been constructed aeons earlier as a Computer whose task it is to solve the meaning of "life, the universe and everything" (the ultimate answer, "42", having already been computed, with the precise corresponding question remaining unknown); but its demolition, only seconds before the answer is due, puts paid to any hope that any meaning will be found. For the millions of fans who listened to the radio version, watched the television episodes, and laughed through the first two volumes of the book sequence, volumes three and four must have seemed punitively unamused by the human condition; and in Mostly Harmless (1992), a late addition to the sequence, the darkness only increases. But a satirist's intrinsic failure to be amused by pain did, in retrospect, underlie the most ebullient earlier moments.

A second sequence comprising Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988) confirmed the dark bent of Adams's talent; the first derived plot elements from "City of Death" and "Shada", and may be his most satisfying and complex novel. Though the tales inventively carry the eponymous detective through a wide range of sf experiences, this second series did not gain the extraordinary response of the first, and the same can be said of the various projects with which Adams was occupied between the publication of Mostly Harmless in 1992 and his premature death in 2001. Those of genre interest included protracted efforts to bring the Hitch Hiker books into movie form – which eventually resulted in the release of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) – and the scripting and development of a computer Adventure Videogame, Starship Titanic (1998), preceded by the accompanying tie-in novel, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic (1997) by Terry Jones. Adams also embarked on a new Dirk Gently novel, «The Salmon of Doubt»; it remained incomplete at his death, but 100 pages of text were published, together with selected nonfiction by and about Adams, as The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (coll 2002).

In a sense that only time can test, it could be said that the Hitch Hiker's Guide has become folklore. [JC/GS]

see also: Anti-Intellectualism in SF; Ditmar Award; Fantastic Voyages; Gods and Demons; Invisibility; Music; Mythology; Robots; SF Music; Space Opera; Swearing; Thought Experiment; Time Abyss; Yinhe Award.

Douglas Noel Adams

born Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: 11 March 1952

died Santa Barbara, California: 11 May 2001



Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Dirk Gently

Doctor Who

  • Shada (London: BBC Books, 2012) with Gareth Roberts [tie: novelization by Roberts of Adams's Doctor Who script: Doctor Who: hb/Two Associates]
  • City of Death (London: BBC Books, 2015) with James Goss [tie: novelization by Goss of the Doctor Who script by Adams with Graham Williams (from an original draft by David Fisher) writing together as by "David Agnew": Doctor Who: hb/Two Associates]
  • Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (London: BBC Books, 2018) with James Goss [tie: official novelization by Goss of the 1978 Doctor Who story: Doctor Who: hb/]
  • Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (London: BBC Books, 2018) with James Goss [tie: novel adaptation of an unmade Douglas Adams Doctor Who script originally written in the mid-1970s and which later formed the basis for the third Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy book Life, the Universe and Everything: Doctor Who: hb/]


works as editor

about the author


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