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Douglas Adams’ classic ‘Doctor Who’ episode will be adapted into a book

Well-known Whovian and tie-in writer James Goss will be adapting Adams' script for print.


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 20, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 6:26 am CDT

One of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ many legacies is the classic Doctor Who episode he co-wrote, “City of Death.”

If you love Adams’ work but haven’t yet had a chance to explore the series’ older episodes, you’re in luck: the BBC has tapped screenwriter, tie-in novelist, and hardcore Whovian James Goss to turn “City of Death” into a book.

Adams co-wrote “City of Death” for Doctor Who‘s 17th season, along with screenwriters David Fisher and Graham Williams. The episode originally aired in 1979, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and featuring a hilarious cameo from Monty Python‘s John Cleese as a pretentious art lover.

Adams’ scriptwriting process for “City of Death” was nothing short of remarkable. A script editor for the show at the time, he was tasked with writing the draft in a single weekendfueled by “whisky and black coffee”after the producers realized that they were supposed to start filming an episode the following Monday for which no one had written a script. 

The story Adams came up with sends the Doctor to 16th-century France, where he and his companion Romana find themselves embroiled in a plot to alter the course of human technological evolution. The villain is the evil alien Scaroth, disguised as the villainous Count Scarlioni, who has forced Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa and now intends to sell her off in order to finance his diabolical plan: introducing time-travel to a planet not yet ready for it. 

The result is one of the most popular Doctor Who episodes ever.

According to Goss, the BBC offered Adams the chance to novelize his own episode during the ’80s, but Adams declined.

Goss, who ran the BBC’s Doctor Who website prior to the show’s relaunch, has written numerous Doctor Who and Torchwood tie-ins already. He also adapted an unfinished Douglas Adams Who short story for BBC Radio and adapted one of Adams’ Dirk Gently novels for the stage.

Despite these notches in his belt, Goss told the Guardian that he was nervous about adapting something as high-profile as a Douglas Adams Who episode. Still, he noted that his inability to live up to Adams’ legacy was actually beneficial:

But in a way it was great, because I knew that every decision I’d make would be wrong,” he said. “When you’re essentially ghost-writing, and for someone as good as Douglas Adams, you know readers will say: ‘That’s not how Adams would have done it.’ It took a lot of pressure off.”

BBC Books will publish the novelization of City of Death” under the same title on May 21.

Illustration via Jeff Bell/deviantART (CC BY-NC-ND-3.0; used with permission)

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*First Published: Mar 20, 2015, 4:23 pm CDT