Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The single biggest failing of today’s entertainment media is to begin a story and then not finish it.

The casualties of this sort of production apathy are legion, and they are perhaps best expressed by the curse of the abandoned BBC book adaptation: The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (only 3 books made, and that was the intention from the start), The Tripods (2 out of 3 books made before abandoned), The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. (2 out of 5 books made)

The cast of the original radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Well all right, the 2 Hitchhiker radio series were actually written before the 5 books, so that last one isn’t really fair. Nevertheless I still remember, in about 1982 I think, sitting in my bedroom listening (probably off of tape) to the end of the second radio series.

Suddenly someone blurts out something about Earth’s destruction, Arthur and Lintilla steal the Heart Of Gold spaceship, Zaphod and Ford are stranded at a hut with Zarniwoop, the ruler of the universe (who isn’t sure whether anything actually exists) and his cat.

Cue closing narration:

“What does the future hold for our heroes now? What does the past or present hold for that matter?”

(you can tell it’s by Douglas Adams, can’t you?)

Many times over the last 20-odd years I’ve pondered just what in the universe did happen next. So in 2000, I sat down and read all 5 Hitchhiker books, each of which flatly contradicted the radio episodes.

You see, the late Douglas Adams was a perfectionist. He would rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again, often for many years after his final deadline. Radio series producer Geoffrey Perkins often tells the story of how Adams would show up to a radio recording session with only 10 completed pages, spend all day working on them, and then show up the next day having successfully increased the page-count to 5. Perkins calls this process “writing backwards.” Some episodes, I gather, were even written on the same day as transmission.

So when he came to novelise these radio scripts, Adams understandably took full advantage of extensively rewriting them all again. As a result his first 2 books read a bit like mixing-up one of those 2-dimensional sliding puzzles that challenges you to arrange all the numbered tiles into sequential order. It looks like it’s all there, but in a completely different order.

For example, in the novelisation, when they all meet Zaphod’s deceased father, Trillian falls quiet, partly out of shock, but mainly because she wasn’t originally in that scene.

This re-arranging of the story, pivotally, causes the second book to end, not as on the radio with the ruler of the universe and his cat, but with Arthur and Ford trapped on prehistoric Earth…a predicament from the middle of the radio episodes.

On the radio, this was resolved with Arthur and Ford dropping Arthur’s towel into a lava flow where, over the millennia, it became fossilised until modern-day Earth was blown-up by the Vogons, and Zaphod subsequently found Arthur’s fossilised towel floating amongst Earth’s debris in space, and so travelled back in time to save them.

With me? No? It doesn’t matter.

The point is, blow me if the resolution at the start of the third book isn’t completely different, with Arthur and Ford escaping from prehistoric Earth on a time-travelling sofa instead.

I’ll say this for Douglas Adams – there’s plenty of his wonderful imagination to enjoy!

Anyway, after Adams’ death in 2001, it seemed as though the 1982 radio series’ final cliffhanger with the ruler of the universe and his cat might never be resolved.

Until now.

It all sounded too good to be true – BBC radio producer Dirk Maggs adapted the remaining 3 books and – crucially – reassembled all the available original castmembers to record them. Same voices, same music, same episode length, same station even. Finally I was going to hear what happened next – what really happened next. Even the guy who voiced the ruler of the universe came back. (he also voiced Marvin)

So, with about 20 hours still to kill until my flight got in to London, I put my cassette of the first new episode in over 20 years into my walkman, closed my eyes, and listened.

The cast of the new radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
The opening music teased into my ears, the same guy from 20 years ago read the opening credits, some imaginative editing enabled the voice of the original, now deceased, narrator Peter Jones to be heard intercut with the new narrator. This was wonderful. As far as I was concerned, it was 1982 again. This was exactly the same show.

And then my heart sank like a stone.

This guy had adapted the third book, yes. He had adapted it all right. He had adapted it exactly.

Arthur and Ford were back on prehistoric Earth again – from where they had already escaped back in episode 7.

I listened, feeling just awful, as they escaped a second time, this time on a time-travelling sofa…with of course no memory of their first escape.

And then to account for this, there was a throwaway line writing-off the WHOLE of the second half of the original series as being just a dream.

The cast of the new radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
I couldn’t believe it. Douglas Adams’ huge imagination was apparently being adapted by a writer with so little of it. Just like the recent movie version that disappointed me so.

What a stupid thing to go and do. What a missed opportunity. What an insult.

And the most inconceivable thing? That was the new series’ one and only error.

The rest was utterly, utterly brilliant.

Oh sure it took a few episodes for the cast to get back into their roles again (Geoffrey McGivern initially projecting his lines as though for a studio audience like he had on The Griff Rhys Jones Show), and the new Slartibartfast didn’t sound anything like I remember, and the adapted dialogue was quite lazy at first, but apart from that this was absolutely lovely.

One of the highlights would be Douglas Adams himself playing Agrajag. Yes, I know I just said that he’d died in 2001, but a man of Douglas Adams’ imagination would never let a little thing like death stop him.

What a terrible, terrible way to start though, by destroying so much of what had gone before, and crippling the credibility of what followed.

The only thing it needs now is another new episode on the beginning to bridge the gap. To resolve the lost cliffhanger and strand Arthur and Ford on prehistoric Earth a second time.

I’ll have to ask the Campaign For Real Time if they can help.

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