Douglas Adams

Born: 11th March 1952 (as Douglas Noel Adams)
Died: 11th May 2001 (aged 49 years)
Episodes Broadcast: 1978-1980


Over the years, Doctor Who has been enriched by the contributions of many tremendously talented individuals. However, it could well be argued that none of its writers shone more brightly in the firmament of science-fiction than Douglas Adams. Born in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire but raised in London's East End, Adams' skill as a writer had already begun to emerge in his youth. Aged twelve, he had a short story published in The Eagle, and he later earned a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge University. Idolising comedian and writer John Cleese, Adams followed in his footsteps by joining the Footlights theatre group at Cambridge before graduating with a degree in English literature in 1974.

Adams' contributions to the Footlights were noticed by Cleese's Monty Python colleague, Graham Chapman. He recruited Adams for the final season of Monty Python's Flying Circus; Adams also made two on-screen cameos. Adams and Chapman collaborated on the telefilm Out Of The Trees and an episode of Doctor On The Go, while Adams also began writing for radio. At the same time, however, a planned science-fiction project with Beatles drummer Ringo Starr became irreversibly stalled. Adams was soon seeking additional sources of income, working as a bodyguard and even cleaning chicken sheds.

In 1977, Adams was commissioned to write the pilot episode for The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Then, in 1977, Adams was commissioned to write the pilot episode for a science-fiction radio comedy called The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which was inspired by a drunken night in an Austrian field several years before. Adams sent the script to the Doctor Who production office, where outgoing script editor Robert Holmes was sufficiently impressed to arrange a meeting with his successor, Anthony Read, and Adams. They began developing The Pirate Planet, broadcast as part of the 1978-79 Key To Time season. A second idea, called “The Krikkitmen” was deemed too ambitious for television, but was felt to be the potential basis for a Doctor Who feature film. At the same time, BBC Radio ordered a full season of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

With Read leaving Doctor Who at the conclusion of the Key To Time arc, Adams agreed to replace him, leaving a job as a radio producer to do so. The result was a season redolent of Adams' trademark humour, which was much to the liking of the programme's lead actor, Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor. When a plethora of issues prevented writer David Fisher from completing “A Gamble With Time”, Adams and producer Graham Williams refashioned it as City Of Death under the pseudonym “David Agnew”; it would often be cited as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time. Adams also wrote the planned season finale, Shada, only for the production to be cancelled due to an industrial dispute.

Adams left Doctor Who after one year to concentrate on The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which was proving phenomenally popular. Soon he had completed a second radio series, a television adaptation, two books, an LP, and a stage version, while also writing for Not The Nine O'Clock News and Doctor Snuggles. The third Hitchhiker's novel -- Life, The Universe And Everything, published in 1982 -- reused elements of the ultimately-unmade “The Krikkitmen” movie. Similarly, Adams recycled characters and ideas from Shada for two comedy mystery novels, the first of which was Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in 1987. With the success of Hitchhiker's sometimes feeling like an albatross around his neck, Adams also began to pursue interests in endangered wildlife and information technology.

In 1991, Adams married his longtime girlfriend, lawyer Jane Belson. Their daughter, Polly, was born in 1994 when Adams was 42 years of age: ironically, the legendary number at the heart of the Hitchhiker's storyline. The family later moved to Santa Barbara, California, as part of a long-gestating attempt to develop a Hitchhiker's feature film. Unfortunately, no one realised that Adams was suffering from coronary artery disease and, following a gym workout on May 11th, 2001, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Adams was only 49 years old. The unfinished sixth Hitchhiker's book, The Salmon Of Doubt, was published posthumously the following year.

Interest in Adams' unmade Doctor Who stories persisted in the years after his death. Shada, which had already been released in partly-completed form on VHS in 1992, saw its unrecorded scenes replaced with animation for a Blu-ray release in 2017. It was also novelised by Gareth Roberts in 2012, and this was followed by an adaptation of “The Krikkitmen” by James Goss in 2018. Both were issued by BBC Books.

The Pirate Planet
City Of Death (as David Agnew)
Script Editor
Destiny Of The Daleks
City Of Death
The Creature From The Pit
Nightmare Of Eden
The Horns Of Nimon

Updated 17th February 2021