The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode six

In a perfect world, we’d have got a few more TV series of Hitchhiker’s Guide. What we got was delightful, and it has a sweet little ending, but it doesn’t resolve what happened to Trillian, Zaphod, and Marvin. You would have to listen to the radio series or read the books for that. But there should have been a lot more Hitchhiker’s on TV. Add it to my silly little list of shoulda-beens along with a Peter Wyngarde Master and adding Jack Kelly to the eighties Bret Maverick series.

But it ends well, with Aubrey Morris showing up as a bath-obsessed starship captain in charge of a coterie of hairdressers, television producers, and management consultants, and some devilish putdowns directed at marketing bean-counters who think that the color of a wheel is more important than its function. Ford and Arthur are left to sadly realize that the revelation of the “great question” wasn’t spoiled by the Earth’s destruction by the Vogons, but by having the planet infected by hairdressers, television producers, and management consultants two million years previously. It’s so deliciously mean-spirited.

Our son enjoyed it very much and was also a little disappointed that there’s just one series, although Hulu’s threatening to make a new version, so we may have more of that in the future. Plus there’s the feature film, which we’ll look at in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for that!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode five

Longtime readers may know that this blog’s longest running and most exasperating inside joke is my disbelief over our son’s inability to recognize actors in different roles. Well, in the afternoons, we’ve been dusting off a few films and TV shows that we’ve watched together again. Space always being at a premium, I’ve decided that some movies that I bought specifically to show him for the blog, but will probably never, ever watch again myself, are going into a plastic “time capsule” bin for him to potentially enjoy sometime down the road. Or he can sell Battle Beyond the Stars and the like for the quarter apiece that DVDs will go for in the far-flung future of 2040, whatever, at least he’ll have the option.

So Adam Adamant Lives! isn’t going in the bin, because I really enjoy it, but we gave a couple of episodes another outing last week. He was honestly less taken with them than he was the first time around, which surprised me somewhat, but I made sure to draw his attention to Jack May, who played Simms, and told him that he’d be seeing him again when Hitchhiker’s got to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. And not only did he identify Jack May tonight, he noticed Peter Davison’s name in the opening credits. “Yeah, but you won’t recognize him,” I said. That’s Davison on the right in the photo above as the Dish of the Day. I enjoyed pausing the episode during the end credits so the kid could read who he played.

While I’m talking of actors, the great Colin Jeavons plays the compere and comedian who performs at Milliways, and he is magnificent. I just bet that among the thousands of frustrating fights they had making this show, somebody at the BBC was really pushing to have a known comedian from the day like Eric Morecambe or Ronnie Corbett play the role for the publicity and the ratings. Using a supporting character actor like Jeavons instead of a standup works really well and I just love how he throws himself into it.

When Marie read our son the first two books, I gave him a quick lesson in tax exiles, specifically how the UK’s mega-rich like David Bowie or Elton John or Roger Moore would move to Switzerland to avoid the taxman. I probably should have mentioned David Gilmour, because the band Disaster Area was meant as a specific lampoon of Pink Floyd. One of the spaceships that they consider stealing from the Milliways car park before settling on Disaster Area’s produced our son’s favorite line from the first two books: it “steers like a cow.” He laughed really hard when the actors got to that line.

He did, however, protest that he really preferred the way that Adams got our heroes out from the cliffhanger at the end of part four in the novel rather than the series. We pointed out that one of the neat things about Hitchhiker’s is the way that Douglas Adams kept evolving it from medium to medium. I pulled my increasingly fragile copy of the radio scripts off the shelf to show him that the time travel explosion was there in the original, and it took Adams a few years to figure out a better way to get from one scene to the next.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode four

I’d completely forgotten the old Beteleguese death anthem that Ford and Zaphod warble together at the end of this episode. Man alive, that’s funny.

But speaking of sound, this DVD was released, as DVDs were in the early 2000s, with all sorts of hoopla about it having a digitally remastered stereo soundtrack. And all I can say about that is that thank heaven they included the original broadcast mono, because their remastered stereo made every single thing that Valentine Dyall said as Deep Thought utterly incomprehensible, drowned in layers of reverb. You get so used to all the advances in restoration making old programs look and sound better that you forget that once in a while these guys can get it so amazingly wrong.

We don’t get nearly as much in this installment from our heroes, sadly. Most of this episode is given over to the story of Deep Thought and the philosophers and scientists who built it to find the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and it doesn’t make for good television, honestly. Probably worked great on radio, though. So fewer giggles overall this time for our son, who certainly enjoyed the two space cops gunning for our heroes at the climax. The fellow with the mustache – “Shooty” – is Matt Zimmerman, who had been the voice of Alan Tracy in Thunderbirds.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode three

It’s one of those weird little quirks of television that I’m not at all familiar with anything else that the four lead actors in Hitchhiker’s Guide did, but the guest cast is peppered with terrific performances from people that I do know. Slartibartfast is played by Richard Vernon, one of those character actors who’s usually called “the distinguished,” and I’ve seen him in dozens of things. This episode takes our heroes to the legendary planet Magarathea, where Zaphod believes that the amassed wealth of the pre-collapse galactic economy can be pilfered. But this world’s business is waking up after a five million year slumber and Slartibartfast is one of the planet-builders who may be tasked in literally creating a new Earth.

Okay, I lie, I remember Sandra Dickinson – and her then-husband Peter Davison – in that godawful Tomorrow People story they did, but nothing else.

The kid giggled and laughed all the way through this episode again. Marvin stole the show once more, grumbling and complaining about everything he can imagine, and since he’s 50,000 times smarter than you, that’s a lot. The animated sections were his favorite, though. Since he heard the book already, it was of course like waiting for well-worn jokes to be told anew, but he howled over the bowl of petunias giving their sad final words, and the dolphins leaving the planet with their own final words, “So long and thanks for all the fish.” Remember the 2008 Doctor Who story “The Stolen Earth,” where the bees left our planet for a better place? I really think it’s a tip of the hat to this.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, episode two

The second episode of this beautifully silly story went over even better with our son, thanks to the introduction of Marvin, a shambling, depressed robot who has a brain the size of a planet but is nevertheless asked to do the most menial tasks. He was our son’s favorite character in the book, thanks in no small part to the wonderfully glum voice that Marie used for him, and he cackled whenever Marvin said anything here. He also loved Ford briefly turning into a penguin due to the effects of an infinite improbability drive.

I’m glad that our son is accepting the dated visual effects and presentation without comment. Mark Wing-Davey’s second head as Zaphod Beeblebrox has never satisfied anybody, but all he asked, because he did not immediately see it, was “Where’s his third arm?” Also joining the cast this week, it’s Sandra Dickinson as Trillian, which did elicit a comment from Marie: “She should be a brunette.” She will be, in 2005.

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.