‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase’ (Audio)



Please feel free to comment on my review.

Is 42 the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?

“Don’t panic!” is also what Lance Corporal Jones says in ‘Dad’s Army’! 😀

Here I am at last! I’m reviewing the first season of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio series by Douglas Adams called ‘Primary Phase’! ‘Hitchhiker’s’ is what Douglas Adams is most remembered for. That as well as penning the ‘Dirk Gently’ books and being ‘Doctor Who’s script editor in 1979. 😀

Before checking out ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio series, I’d seen Douglas Adams’ style of storytelling in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘The Pirate Planet’ for ‘The Key to Time’ season as well as ‘City of Death’. I wanted to check out what Douglas Adams was like beyond his ‘Doctor Who’ stint.

Apparently, Douglas Adams is considered a notable and well-established author. He’s done plenty of sci-fi comedy drama over the years in books, TV and radio. ‘Hitchhiker’s’ is something considered as a worldwide phenomenon, especially when it’s formed in radio, TV, books and a 2005 feature film. 🙂

I purchased the 2008 4-disc Special Edition of ‘Hitchhiker’s: Primary Phase’ on CD when holidaying with my parents in Scotland, August 2009. I was aware of ‘Hitchhiker’s’ beforehand; but I didn’t realise its significance until I came across Douglas Adams as a ‘Doctor Who’ writer and script editor in the 1970s. 🙂

I enjoyed the comedy-drama Douglas Adams put into his ‘Doctor Who’ stories when writing and script-editing them. My curiosity got the better of me in terms of finding out what Douglas Adams was like as a writer outside of ‘Doctor Who’. The first ‘Hitchhiker’s’ radio series was released in 1978.

Apparently, Douglas Adams worked furiously on the first ‘Hitchhiker’s’ radio series at the same time he was commissioned to write for ‘Doctor Who’ with ‘The Pirate Planet’. I can imagine how frustrating and stressful he must’ve found the combined experience, but it must’ve been a lot of fun.

From what I’ve heard in terms of arguments for and against Douglas Adams’ abilities as a writer and a script editor, he’s considered to be an ideas man as well as a merchant for one-liners. He’s also regarded as someone who isn’t very good with narratives, which I think is evident in ‘Hitchhiker’s’. 😀

Before I go on criticising his work, let’s talk about the story of ‘Hitchhiker’s’ itself as well as some of the ideas he introduced in sci-fi comedy drama, which I found fascinating to listen to. I’m sure I’ve listened to ‘Primary Phase’ more than once in order to get my head around some of the bold ideas. 🙂

The first ‘Hitchhiker’s’ radio series is a six-episode series and was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from March 1978 to April 1978. In the 2008 4-disc Special Edition CD set, the six episodes are on the first three discs. Disc 4 has the ‘Douglas Adams’ Guide to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ documentary. 🙂

Apparently, Douglas Adams was inspired from reading a hitchhiker’s guide to Greece when holidaying in 1973. Thus, the idea was formed to do a series on ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, which he worked on with producer Simon Brett and soon with producer Geoffrey Perkins. 🙂

The series begins with Arthur Dent, a human of the planet Earth, who wakes up to find his house about to bulldozed by the local council to make way for a bypass. Arthur attempts to stop the bulldozers bulldozing his house before being invited by his friend Ford Prefect for a drink at the pub.

In actual fact, Ford Perfect happens to be an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. He rescues Arthur when the planet Earth is about to bulldozed by a fleet of Vogon constructor ships to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Very soon, the planet Earth gets destroyed.

I don’t know if this is the first time where the planet Earth has been destroyed in sci-fi or not, but it’s a bold thing for Douglas Adams to have in his ‘Hitchhiker’s’ series, especially one that’s a sci-fi comedy. John Lloyd (who co-wrote the last two episodes of this ‘Hitchhiker’s’ series with Douglas Adams) would utilise this concept for his ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘The Doomsday Contract’. 🙂

Arthur and Ford hitch a lift aboard the main Vogon constructor ship, where Ford introduces Arthur to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – an electronic book that’s meant to tell you everything about the universe. Ford invites Arthur to join him travelling the galaxy and update the guide book.

Let’s talk about the cast for a bit in ‘Hitchhiker’s’. Peter Jones is the narrator of the ‘Hitchhiker’s’ series – specifically called the Book. It was intriguing to hear the story of ‘Hitchhiker’s’ read to us by the actual Book, very often in amusing monologues. It was quite easy to laugh at certain moments. 🙂

Mind you, there are occasions where the Book diverts from the main story involving Arthur and Ford to moments that detail the background of certain things such as the Babel fish, used to help Arthur Dent understand aliens in English. Douglas Adams’ atheist views also come into play in this regard. 😐

Yeah, there are occasions where Douglas Adams’ writing can be quite uncomfortable for me to listen to, especially when he expresses the denial of God’s existence in the creation of the Babel fish as well as mentioning Oolon Coluphid’s trilogy of philosophical blockbusters in the series’ first episode.

But as this is a sci-fi comedy radio series and features the planet Earth blown up in the first episode, I’m not likely to take these things seriously. Douglas Adams is entitled to his atheist views just as much as I’m entitled to my Christian views. I can enjoy his stories and not take his views so seriously.

Going back to the cast, Simon Jones plays Arthur Dent. I enjoyed Simon Jones’ performance as Arthur, especially when he’s out of his depth after being rescued by his friend Ford Prefect before the Earth got blown up. It was fascinating to follow his journey and how he interpreted the universe.

I think it was unfair of people like Zaphod Beeblebrox to treat Arthur as ‘primitive’ and an ‘ape-man’, especially when he asked good questions regarding Earth’s creation from his encounters with Slartibartfast. Arthur is very down-to-earth and somebody we can relate to in listening to this series.

Geoffrey McGivern plays Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent’s friend in the series. I like Geoffrey McGivern’s interpretation of Ford Prefect as a character. More so than David Dixon’s in the TV adaptation. Having spent several more years on Earth than anticipated, Ford emphasises with Arthur’s anxieties.

When Arthur expresses how upset he is about the Earth being disintegrated, Ford says he understands that, which is what a good friend should do when consoling the loss of someone’s planet. It’s also established Arthur and Ford have known each other for five years to become friends.

Aboard the main Vogon construction ship, Arthur and Ford are soon captured by the Vogons and are tortured by the Vogon Captain, played by Bill Wallis, who reads them some of his poetry, which is considered as the worst form of poetry in the universe. They’re soon thrown off the ship into space.

Just to go off on an tangent, one of the unique aspects about ‘Hitchhiker’s’ as a radio series is its unusual sound design for electronic effects provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This is something that hadn’t been applied before in radio compared to say the ‘Dad’s Army’ radio series. 🙂

In the first episode of ‘Hitchhiker’s’, David Gooderson (who played Davros in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Destiny of the Daleks’) plays the barman who provides six pints of bitter to Arthur and Ford in the pub as well as bags of peanuts. I’ve chatted to David about his ‘Hitchhiker’s’ appearance in Glasgow, August 2012.

Instead of dying in the vacuum of space, Arthur and Ford are rescued by a starship called the Heart of Gold. It has an infinity improbability drive. Aboard are Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford’s semi-cousin, and Susan Sheridan as Trillian, whom Arthur Dent met at a party in Islington once.

It was interesting to hear the backstory of how Arthur met Tricia McMillian before she became Trillian and ended up with Zaphod Beeblebrox instead. I honestly prefer Susan Sheridan’s performance as Trillian in radio compared to Sandra Dickinson’s interpretation in the TV adaptation.

Very often, Zaphod is quite a jerk at times, especially when he handles voyaging across the stars in a starship that he’d stolen as well as interacting with Arthur and considering humans inferior. The teaming up of Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian is quite unusual when listening to them in the series.

My favourite character in ‘Hitchhiker’s’ has to be Marvin the Paranoid Android, played by Stephen Moore. I always find it funny when Marvin announces he’s feeling very depressed and complains that no-one seems to take him seriously. Honestly, I think Marvin should enjoy life more and more. 🙂

Though he’ll probably tell me not to talk to him ‘about life’. 😀 I was inspired by Marvin to create my character of Bruce the Android in my Fifth Doctor adventure called ‘The Space Hotel’. There are similarities between the two, but I enjoyed writing Bruce in my ‘Fawlty Towers’-in space adventure.

The rest of the cast includes the late Richard Vernon as Slartibartfast, who introduces Arthur Dent to the world of Magrathea whilst Ford, Zaphod and Trillian are off somewhere else. Slartibartfast shows Arthur the Earth Mark II in construction, implying that Magarathea had built the first planet Earth. 😐

This concept, of course, I don’t buy at all, as much as I don’t buy the notion that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question about ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is especially when the ultimate question is not clearly given in the radio series and is left open-ended for the listeners to debate on.

I tell you; I did get into arguments with some people about 42 being the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. It was all in jest of course, but I still stand by my viewpoint, especially considering ‘Hitchhiker’s’ is a fictional series and most of the concepts featured are very outlandish to think upon.

Another one of the concepts is the Restaurant at the End of the Universe that Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian visit in the fifth episode of the series. I quite like this concept, though it’s a shame we didn’t get to spend enough time there. Disaster strikes in whatever place Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian go to.

At the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Roy Hudd plays the compere named Max Quordlepleen. There’s also Anthony Sharp as Garkbit, who is the head waiter at the ‘Milliways’ restaurant at the end of the universe. He also plays the Great Prophet Zarquon in the radio series. 🙂

Very soon, Arthur and Ford end up separated from Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin, who get eaten up by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. It’s unclear what happened to Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin, though their fate gets touched upon in future instalments of ‘Hitchhiker’s’, which I’ll have to revisit soon.

Meanwhile, Arthur and Ford end up aboard Ship B of the Golgafrinchman Ark Fleet, commanded by its captain, played by David Jason, who likes to have his bath a lot. He’s joined by Johnathan Cecil as his Number One and Aubrey Woods as his Number Two. Their ship soon arrives on the planet Earth.

And by that, I mean, the planet Earth in its prehistoric age. The implication is given the Golgafrinchams colonised the planet Earth and became the humans of later times instead of the cavemen already on the planet. This is another concept by Douglas Adams that I can’t agree with at all. 😀

The secular viewpoint featured in this series is something I don’t take seriously, especially when my Christian views are concerned. I know it’s Douglas Adams challenging the listener’s viewpoint on their perception of the creation of Earth and the universe, but it’s not something I’m on board with.

‘Primary Phase’ of ‘Hitchhiker’s’ concludes with Arthur and Ford stuck on the planet Earth with the Golgafrincham colony and the song ‘What a Wonderful World’ sung by Louis Armstrong played during the sixth episode’s closing credits. A rather abrupt way to end the first series in my opinion. 😐

The behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Douglas Adams’ Guide to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ on Disc 4 of the 2008 4-disc Special Edition CD set has the following interviewees. There’s Douglas Adams himself, producer Simon Brett, producer Geoffrey McGivern, actor Simon Jones, actor Geoffrey McGivern, actor Stephen Moore, etc.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase’ by Douglas Adams has been a fascinating and enjoyable sci-fi comedy radio series to listen to. I wouldn’t agree with all of its concepts so heartedly, but they’ve been intriguing to listen to. The comedy one-liners by Douglas Adams are also very good.

I recall when listening to this radio series properly in 2010, I was enjoying chicken and bacon sandwiches and cups of tea at a service station, putting me in mind of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect drinking six pints of bitter in a pub. I know that’s nonsensical, but ‘Hitchhiker’s’ can be that as well. 😀

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase’ rating – 8/10

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  • ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Secondary Phase’ (Audio)
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