Number of pages: 416
Inside this book is another book - the strangest, most important and most dangerous book in the entire universe.
The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey wields enormous power. It must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
Skagra - who believes he should be God and permits himself only two smiles per day - most definitely has the wrong hands.
Beware the Sphere.
Back in the 1970s, the late Douglas Adams wrote some classic serialisations for the TV series, Doctor Who, including one called Shada. Unfortunately, halfway through production, there was a BBC strike and it was never completed or transmitted, although in the 1990s it was finished for a VHS release, with the missing bits animated and narrated by Tom Baker, who played the Doctor throughout the latter half of the 1970s. The thing that surprised me (as set out in this book's Afterword), was the Douglas Adams hated it, and hadn't enjoyed writing the serial, having not been able to write the story he wanted, which was about the Doctor attempting to retire from his space adventures.
I thought it was quite sad that Douglas Adams felt this way because, based on this recent novelisation, is must have been incredibly well-written.
The first sentence in the book is: At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. Sounds controversial, certainly, but this turns out to not be significant in a book in which Skagra then decides that there must be a vacancy that he should be filling.
The story then involves the Doctor and his companions attempting to retrieve a book that belongs to the Time Lords (effectively the story's McGuffin) from Earth and preventing it falling into the hands of Skagra, who is capable of sucking out peoples' minds using mysterious spheres. To say too much about the plot would give it all away, save to say that the identity of "Shada" is not given until quite late on.
I enjoyed this book a lot, as it is written in a style that is very true to Douglas Adams himself; not surprisingly, it is hilarious in places and although the plot does go to some quite dark places, you're never far off from a comical interlude. Writer Gareth Roberts also apparently added some scenes of his own (though this was written in around 2011, the appearance of the Doctor's swimming pool located in the TARDIS is probably one of them, since to my knowledge this did not get mentioned until the Matt Smith era). There is also an enjoyable nod to Adams' most famous novel later on, which seems to have been added as an easter egg.
It isn't hard to tell that the plot was written with Tom Baker's Doctor in mind, and I found his characterisation throughout was very good. Maybe not a book that everyone would enjoy, but certainly one for the Doctor Who fans.
Next book: Making Money (Terry Pratchett)