This is the Story of the Review of the Tertiary Phase of ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’

Herein lie my thoughts on the Tertiary Phase of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.
     When it was announced over a year ago that Dirk Magg’s, Douglas Adam’s choice as the director for a new ‘Guide…’ radio series was going to write and produce a third series after twenty-five plus years of non-radio ‘Guide…’ I must admit that I was worried. That he was going to use all the surviving cast members was a good sign, but that he was going to base the series on ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ rather than do it was a sequel to the radio series I became very, very, very concerned.
     With knobs on.
     Anyone who is savvy with the ‘Guide…’ will know that the second series differs radically from the books, containing an entire sub-plot about birds, the power of art and the archaeology of shoes. It rids itself of Trillian and ends in a very interesting way that obviously shows that a third radio series was expected shortly. Whilst some of the plot made it into ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ many sections did not. It also ends in a slightly different way, making it very difficult to tie it into the books.
     Which they did, and not particularly well. The second radio series is now a pyschotic delusion Zaphod had, which not only doesn’t explain how and why certain things did or did not occur, it also demeans large chunks of the second series as well. The second series now seems to exist in a vacuum of non-existence, and I am not entirely sure that is quite the way the Douglas Adams would have done things…
     Only the first episode of the thrid series actually contained any scripting by Douglas Adams, hereafter known as DNA; everything after that point was adapted from the books by Dirk Maggs, and he does an admirable job of transferring the text to radio. ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ has a weird history, seeing that it started out as a Doctor Who script, became a book and now has been taken to radio (this might be a first for media history), but it suffers from being an adaptation, and that is a huge flaw for something associated with the ‘Guide…’
     The first two series of the ‘Guide…’ were, in structure, a rock opera. A huge and imaginative soundscape that moved along at a cracking pace.
     ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’ was a first in radio, by and large. It was one of the first recordings that used multiple channels (it was the first to record dialogue not only from separate mics but also from separate rooms) and soundwise it was something utterly and completely new. Much of what was accomplished was very difficult and extremely innovative; today I could produce a lot of that material on my iBook, which just shows how far we have come in sound design (which is not that far compared to work done in visuals). Luckily, there was hope; Dirk Maggs wanted to be as innovative as the original series was and decided that they would produce a recording in 5.1 Surround Sound. It was also to be webcast, like all other radio series that the BBC plays, which would have delighted DNA something chronic.
     Now 5.1 radio is not common, and to appreciate it I will need to await the DVD release and play it on the home sound system. The actual soundscape this time is interesting; some good, some average and one piece in particular quite aggravating (although that might have been the intention).
     I could bore you (very easily) with even more by the way of technical jargon and opinion… But I shan’t. All I will say that with my newfound interest in sound I was, by and large, interested by not stunned by the new series.
     No, for our purposes we want to talk plot, we want to analyse narrative and, by and large, we want to discuss sequels.
     The plot, with minor exception, is the plot of the book. It starts with only slight change, wrapping up the second series in an implausible and ugly blanket, and moves on to pre-historic Earth, then Lord’s, just as the book did all those years ago. It does not try to fix the bits that really didn’t work, such as the role of Slartibartfast (a character who should not be there and also a character whose original voice actor is dead). Everything zips along nicely… Until we get to the Starship Bistromathic.
     DNA started out as a script writer, and a lot of the plot of ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ actually sounds better than it reads. However, books have a certain structure and they also have a certain… Well, way of things. When given a page to fill with script you double-space, insert notes for SFX and generally produce a whitye canvas with funny black (or blue if you do it in biro). A book, however, tends to be denser, and thus the later scenes of the radio series ape the book far too much, slowing down the pace of the story substantially.
     Which lead to a last episode that can only be called frantic, and that’s on a good day.
     I won’t go through every detail; suffice it to say (and I am sure you will agree if you listen to all three series) that the middle of the story feels far too long whilst the last episode seems far too short. It races… No, it breaks the laws of sound to produce its three endings, one of which makes little sense. The first episode seems like a worthy sequel; the latter episodes contain scenes that are far too long, filled with exposition that seems a little too obvious, and a last episode that returns to the tremendous speed of the first series, but with a focus that is too narrow to the story and thus not wide enough to the mythos.      Still, adaptations are problematic, and reducing down a book to six episodes must have been difficult. Especially when it is a sequel…
     The history of the ‘Guide…’ starts with a radio serial, a set of records, then another radio series, then a set of five books. After that DNA died (the timeline is hideously truncated), having claimed that he would write a sixth.
     A sequel to the second series should really have been a sequel to the second series. This is not to say that the third series should ignore the other books but it should not, at the same time, try to be the third book by ignoring the second series.
     All of this sounds fairly negative and it might seem that I didn’t enjoy the experience. I did enjoy the fit the thirteenth to eighteenth and will be listening to it all again. I suppose I am bemused that after all this time they are making more ‘Guide…’ on radio. It seems like such a strange thing to do.
     Expect more of this next year when the final two books are adapted and we get the new, happy ending (that DNA wanted).
     And, of course, there is also the film to experience…


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