Thus begins a four day long debacle in which I review each of the Hitchhiker’s Guide incarnations in turn.

Today, class, we’re going to be talking about the one that started it all, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio play, Primary Phase (this refers to the portion recorded before the publication of the books). If you’re a fan and you haven’t heard it, you owe it to yourself to go get it.

The audio recordings can be purchased here, from amazon.com, but I can’t honestly say whether this is a good way to do so. It is an mp3 cd recording, which seems fairly nifty, but I must admit that the way I got the recordings was significantly less direct. I would be interested in a better copy if anyone influential out there is listening.

High Point

All the sections with Peter Jones as the book. Brilliant and funny.

Low Point

The point where on Brontital, the giant bird says “if the good Lord had wanted us to walk he’d have given us sneakers”, and five minutes later we discover that the one thing the bird people refuse to talk about is shoes. I mean, I can understand a problem with continuity over the course of the series, but within a 5 minute stretch of a single episode? Editing really should have picked that up.

The Review

I started out writing this review assuming that everyone I spoke to would have already had some understanding of the books, some contact with this material. We’re all geeks, right? What geek hasn’t at least read the books? And then I started polling the people around me (I work with a lot of geeks) and found that – surprise surprise – a rather small number had.
What better place to begin than with where it all began – the radio show that started it all. The HHGTTG’s (as we’ll call it from here on out) initial conceit was to be one of the first series’ to start with the destruction of the earth, as opposed to ending with it, as was the fashion amongst the more pessimistic science fiction dramas of the time. The world is annihalated to make way for a hyperspatial bypass about halfway through the first episode, making way for your “hero” to be introduced to the utter insanity that onyly an infinite universe can hold. Only Arthur (our main protagonist) isn’t actually much of a hero at all. That is, in fact, rather the point in a lot of cases – and forms the basis for rather a lot of British humor. Arthur Dent is dragged unwillingly, sometimes forcibly, through space and time and spends most of the time whining about the lack of tea or anywhere to just stop off and relax for a while. While it sounds like this might be annoying, in actual fact it tends to be rather sympathetic.

Someone (okay, Terry Pratchett) once said that while Douglas Adams was a great writer, he wasn’t actually a great novelist. The point being that while he had an incredible knack for a neat turn of phrase, a sense of comic timing that could mildly be described as “enviable”, and a vivid imagination, he has trouble stringing those funny events together into a coherent plot. (that said, the Dirk Gentley books make up for that by taking a series of seeming un-related events and stringing them together into a semi-coherent plot.) Part of the beauty of the radio play is that, because it was written with the help of others, some of the rough edges have been smoothed off.

The thing is, while I was first introduced to the books, I’ve come to accept the radio play as the definitive version of the Guide – partially because I prefer the way the plot hangs together, partially because the voice acting is excellent. The images painted in my head by the cast and their reactions are the pictures I’ll be carrying with me long beyond this Friday’s movie, regardless of its quality.

There are some fairly major differences between the radio play and the ensuing book and tv/movie versions. That said, there are some fairly major differences between the book and the tv/movie versions and the radio play. In essence, any plot inconsistencies you still can’t cope with are therefore your own problem.

The Scores

I can’t give this a score! Really! I mean, this is the work that inspired our scoring system! If I give it anything other than a 42 out of 42…how could I live with myself? I mean, come ON. There’s a reason my nickname on here is “Hitch”!On the other hand, it really doesn’t deserve a perfect score. So I present to you my alternate scores.

Originality: This is the first example of science fiction humor I know of – or, at the very lease, the first GOOD example. Many of the conventions here are used for the first time or at the very least to the best effect I’ve ever seen them used. I give it a Superintelligent shade of the color blue.

Effects: Again, this radio play set the standard for a lot of things. Most of their money was spent on the effects – the first ever to be done in stereo for a comedic program. Each effect is lovingly handcrafted and fits the action it’s being used to supplement excellently. It definitely warrants a pleasing shade of mauvy-pinkish-purple.

The Story is a bit…well, how can you rate a story this weird? There are a lot of places where it becomes obvious that they really didn’t know where to go and just picked some random tangent, and places where they did some in-show retconning just to explain what was going on. Still and all, it hangs together fairly well and turns out to be at the very least interesting. The story, therefore, gets the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

The Acting is another of the high points in this one. As I said, this is the seminal production of the Hitchhiker’s Guide for me. Trillian manages to keep the cool, intelligent but very attractive sense that I’d always felt from the book (which I’m mainly mentioning here because future iterations seem to have completely forgotten the “intelligent” portion. But we’ll address that on Thursday.) and the rest of the cast just gives an uncanny job of portraying a group of people who are either so bored with the width and breadth of the galaxy that they’re just doing whatever they can to pass the time or people so dumbstruck by the whole incomprehensibility of it all that you just can’t help but identify with someone. Sometimes everyone. The acting definitely gets a pan-galactic gargle blaster.

The emotional response is strange to gauge here. There never was much tension – they actively go out of their way to avoid if not completely dispell that. But funny? Almost all of the humor is in a turn of phrase set up by a strange situation. Usually the timing or the delivery helps spike the humor into a home run with a slapshot right into the endzone (I’m a geek, not a jock). And that’s the kind of humor I like. So much so that there are certain phrases that I still find myself giggling over when listening one more time. And I’ve listened a LOT. Since this is the emotion they were trying to elicit, I’m going to give it a towel.

The Production, in this case, has a lot to do with the effects. We’ve been over those. So let’s discuss the putting together the excerpts from the Guide with the action with the acting while keeping the whole thing moving – it occasionally has hiccups, but for the most part is done well. Again, I’d like to point out that I consider this the best version out there. The productino deserves a real small furry creature from alpha centauri.

Overall, I want to give this a 42. Not out of anything, you understand…just…a 42.

In total, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series (Primary Phase) recieves an electronic thumb.