Hitchhiker's Guide to Doctor Who (as imagined by Douglas Adams)

Billie Piper may be quitting, but fans can look forward to a new story by the cult author

Saving the universe on countless occasions was relatively simple. But overcoming a strike at the BBC proved too much even for Doctor Who, condemning one of the works of a well-loved master of science-fiction, Douglas Adams, to be lost in limbo.

Now a forgotten Doctor Who script by Adams - creator of the hugely successful Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - which was abandoned halfway through filming because of the dispute, has been revived, re-recorded and will be broadcast for the first time by the BBC. The story had widely been seen as the writer's great lost work.

It comes as Doctor Who enjoys a fresh boom on BBC1 after the series was brought back to TV. It proved to be one of the biggest hits of 2005, with Christopher Eccleston in the title role, soon to be replaced by David Tennant. There will be a Christmas special, then a second 13-part run to air next year. Billie Piper, who plays the Doctor's sidekick Rose, was reported yesterday to have made up her mind not to film a third TV series. The BBC refused to confirm or deny that she would be leaving the Tardis.

Adams wrote just three stories for the long-running saga (one of them under the pseudonym David Agnew), while working as a script editor on the series in the 1970s prior to finding success with Hitchhiker's Guide on radio and TV.

But it was his final story, Shada, which has given him a quarter of a century of notoriety among Doctor Who's legions of devotees. The six-part serial was midway through filming when a 1979 strike brought the entire production grinding to a halt. By the time work resumed, so much studio time had been lost that it was virtually impossible to carry on because numerous BBC Christmas specials were booked into the studios. Further attempts to pick up the pieces failed because costs were mounting, production staff had moved on to other programmes and its lead actor, Tom Baker, was in the process of moving on from the show.

Now the production company Big Finish has reworked the series using Adams's original scripts to make Shada into an audio drama, which will be broadcast for the first time on BBC Radio 4's sister station BBC7 next month.

Director Nicholas Pegg said: "Shada became a cause célèbre among Doctor Who fans as the great lost story because it was half-made and abandoned. Douglas Adams's reputation grew and grew after that and he was arguably the most successful writer to cut his teeth on Doctor Who, but there was a great appetite to see it finished. Big Finish negotiated the rights from the BBC and, knowing that I was an aficionado and admirer of Douglas Adams, they asked me to do it."

He managed to gather some of the original cast, including Lalla Ward who played the Doctor's assistant Romana, and John Leeson, who voiced the robotic dog K9. The actor Paul McGann, who played the Doctor in a flop TV movie in 1996, was recruited for the main role.

"I was very lucky to assemble a top-notch cast. I think the fact that Douglas Adams had written it was something special that meant they wanted to get involved. It's not every day that you get a writer of that magnitude whose script has been languishing on a shelf," Mr Pegg said.

Adams recycled some of the ideas from the lost script and incorporated them in his later novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, including the Shada character Professor Chronotis.

The writer, who died in 2001 at the age of 49, became involved in Doctor Who after sending the production office a draft script for his proposed Hitchhiker's Guide radio series. He was script editor for one season. HHGG proved a runaway hit and was quickly adapted for TV. Early this year it was released as a £25m movie starring Martin Freeman.

Doctor Who: Shada will be aired on BBC7 on 10 December from 9am to noon

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