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It’s 40 years since Douglas Adams was first handed the keys to the TARDIS. To celebrate, DWM tells the story of “the greatest writer ever to have turned his genius to Doctor Who”, with contributions from those who knew and loved him best.
Illustration by STUART MANNING

On a farm near Chipping Norton, a Douglas fir stands tall and strong in the Oxfordshire soil. It’s 17 years since Lalla Ward and her husband Richard Dawkins planted the tree in memory of their friend Douglas Adams, just hours after receiving news of his death at the age of 49.

Looking back, Lalla describes that day spent scouring garden centres for a suitable sapling as “a ludicrous displacement actirevity” for two people blinded by grief. But it’s hard to conceive of a more fitting monument to Douglas Adams than this mighty evergreen, growing in stature year after year as its roots spread ever deeper into the earth.

Lalla first met Douglas at the BBC’s ‘Acton Hilton’ rehearsal rooms when they were both new to the Doctor Who family: she joining as the second incarnation of the Doctor’s Time Lady companion Romana, he taking over the script editor’s chair following the success of his debut serial, The Pirate Planet.

The 30th of September will mark 40 years since the first episode of that story – a boisterous tale of a mad cyborg who drains the energy of planets while screaming blusterous insults like “By the frontal lobe of the Sky Demon!” In Douglas Adams’ unique and idiosyncratic take on the universe, 40 might not be as significant a number as 42, but it’s a cause for celebration nonetheless – this collision of icons, when the most restlessly imaginative show on television found itself shaped by one of the late 20th century’s most fertile minds.

Ask anyone for their first memory of Douglas Adams and they’ll instinctively reach for his size (6’ 5” in his stocking feet). “It’s a cliché, but my first impression of him was that he was enormous,” recalls John Lloyd, Douglas’ friend and sometime co-writer. “He was thinking of getting a badge made which said, ‘No it is not cold up here,’ because people used to make that joke every single time.”

Lalla Ward remembers being dwarfed by Douglas and the similarly imposing Tom Baker. “The pair of them kind of towered,” she says. “Douglas was one of those people who was larger than life, in personality as well as stature.”

Born in Cambridge in 1952 and raised in East London and Essex, Douglas Noel Adams measured six feet tall by the time he was 12. He was just 26 when he joined Doctor Who, and in the five years since leaving Cambridge for a second time (with an English degree from St John’s College under his belt), had earned a handful of TV writing credits, including the final Monty Python series in 1974 (which he likened to “playing tambourine for The Beatles”).

But he’d found it a struggle to make a living, instead taking odd jobs as everything from a chicken-shed cleaner to a bodyguard, and a year before the TARDIS came calling, had been on the verge of throwing it all in to become a shipbroker in Hong Kong.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

• In his Production Notes showrunner Chris Chibnall recalls recording the Thirteenth Doctor's special reveal scene last July • 40 years on from his Doctor Who debut, we pay tribute to Douglas Adams, “the greatest writer ever to have turned his genius to Doctor Who” • A look at Douglas Adams' notebooks reveal more about his creative process • Peter Purves answers questions from DWM's TARDIS tin • A blast from the past as DWM investigats the Sky Ray ice lollies which were enjoyed by Doctor Who fans in the summers of 1967 and 68 • The story of IDW's distinctive range of Doctor Who comics in America • DWM chats to graphic designer Lee Binding about the packaging for the Season 12 Blu-ray box set • Part Five of The Clockwise War, a new comic strip adventure featuring the Doctor and Bill • The Time Team tackles three of Doctor Who's most controversial and complained-about episodes • The Fact of Fiction explores the 2017 Twelfth Doctor story Empress of Mars • Seventh Doctor cosplay with Jamie Lenman • Previews, audio reviews, news, The Blogs of Doom, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!