The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode one

Recently, our son got tired of not understanding the Douglas Adams lines that my wife and I routinely employ. “I think these guys must really hate the Vogons,” for example, is what I might quietly grumble when eating carry-out that disappoints. So nine years of us deflecting, “Oh, it’s from Hitchhiker’s Guide, Mom’ll read it to you one of these days,” finally had him insisting that day come immediately.

Marie has a nice, faux-leatherbound edition of the first four novels – our original paperbacks, purchased at B. Dalton’s or Waldenbooks hundreds of miles apart in the 1980s, long since fallen to pieces – and she read him the first two across August and September. I told them to pause there and they can resume in November after we watch the TV serial and the feature film. Now the kid is exasperated because he doesn’t want to wait so long, but she’s reading him Target Doctor Who novelizations and he’s enjoying those just fine.

I’ve always thought that Hitchhiker’s Guide is one of those stories that starts brilliantly and runs out of steam far more quickly than it should. Writer Douglas Adams created the most perfect little half hour ever, whether you’re hearing it on radio, watching it on TV, or reading it, and then struggled mightily for a plot worthy of such a genius little gem. I mean, the narrator, Peter Jones, straight out tells us that he’s going to tell us the story of the book itself through the events that befell some of the people around it, and we never actually get that story. Much of what we get is downright wonderful – I really love the planet of the bird-people in the second radio series, and a world without Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged is a world not worth considering – but there’s a big part of me that feels we really should have locked Douglas Adams in a hotel room for a long weekend – it’s how we got “Shada” out of him, I believe – and got the story that this should have been.

But anyway, forty years ago, Simon Jones and David Dixon became Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect for television, with Joe Melia on location with them as a vandal and a homewrecker, but only briefly, because the world ends about fifteen minutes into the first episode. It’s flawless and I love everything about it, the visuals as well as the script. I love the barman who hears what Ford says without listening to him, and I love the hagro biscuits, which are proof that Dentrasi must really hate the Vogons, because they serve them blue breadsticks covered with sweet relish and paprika. I also liked spotting the headset prop that was first used in “The Green Death,” and later in three other Doctor Who serials, dumped in a storage locker on the Vogon constructor ship, because I’m a big geek. Not that you couldn’t tell that from me making jokes about hagro biscuits for the last thirty-four years or anything.

Our kid was very pleased. He giggled all the way through this and loved the animated sections of the Guide. Feeding a Vogon’s grandmother to a nasty space monster got the biggest laugh, but he enjoyed the whole thing and says that he can’t wait until they get to Milliways. It’ll be a few days yet. It is at the end of the universe, after all.

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