Review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Tertiary PhaseThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase
By Douglas Adams, adapted by Dirk Maggs, performed by a Full Cast
3 CD’s, 3 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0792735919
Themes: / Science Fiction / Comedy / Time travel / Space travel /

A review by Steven H Silver

When The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally appeared on the BBC from 1978-1980, it consisted of twelve episodes (called “fits”). The first six of these fits were later refashioned to form the novels The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Turning his back on the medium of radio for several years, Douglas Adams continued the story with the novels Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. This caused continuity problems when the decision was made to return the series to its original medium.

Following in the footsteps of Arthur C. Clarke, who decided to write a sequel to the more widely known film 2001 rather than his book of the same title, the BBC produced a radio sequel to the books Adams wrote rather than to the radio series. The result is the complete disregard for fits 7 through 12 of the radio broadcasts as the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Tertiary Phase picks up where the now retitled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Primary Phase left off. There is a slight attempt to explain Zaphod’s adventures in those missing fits, but not Arthur nor that of Ford.

The BBC has successfully put together the surviving cast from the first series, which was more than they did for the second series. Simon Jones, Stephen Moore, and Mark Wing-Davey, who played Arthur Dent, Marvin, and Zaphod Beeblebrox on both radio and television, and Geoffrey McGivern (Ford Prefect) return for their third series. Susan Sheridan, who portrayed Trillian in the first series has returned to the role for the third series. The replacement of Peter Jones (the Book) by William Franklyn and Richard Vernon (Slartibartfast) by Richard Griffiths works well.

The inclusion of Adams’s own voice for the character Agrajag is a nice touch. Since Adams died before the series could begin production, a recording of him reading Agrajag’s lines from the audio version of Life, the Universe and Everything was used with some resampling which allowed it to fit in quite well with the general flow and sound of the broadcast.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with the Tertiary Phase is the same as one of the problems with the novel upon which it is based. Notably, although it contains the characters Adams created for the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, the story itself is a plot originally created by Adams for the television series Doctor Who. Another difficulty with the Third Phase is that because it is based on the novel, Life, the Universe and Everything, it lacks the sense of originality of the first two series, which formed the basis of everything that came after.

The Tertiary Phase strives to recreate the feel of the original series broadcast twenty-five years ago, and manages to achieve that goal. However, both the dialogue and the plot lack the originality of wit which caused those first two series to be so successful and launch Adams’s career. Fans of the Guide will enjoy listening to the broadcast, and will eagerly await the final phase, but it won’t recreate the feeling of listening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the late seventies.

This review is copyright 2005 by Steven H Silver, and first appeared on SFSite in January, 2005.

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