AUDIO DRAMA
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Tertiary Phase

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey
BBC Audio
RRP 15.99
ISBN 0563 51043 9
Available 25 October 2004


Arthur Dent is stranded on prehistoric Earth with one-time researcher for the guide Ford Prefect, except Ford has gone walkabout leaving Arthur with no-one to talk to but the trees. Just as he's making an executive decision to go mad, Ford returns blabbering about sub-ether waves and the space/time continuum. A Chesterfield sofa appears and starts swirling around. When Ford has them chase it and jump on it deposits them through time to the middle of Lords cricket field, during an Ashes match between England and Australia. It turns out that it's the day before the Earth is due to be demolished to make way for an interstellar by-pass. Slartibartfast shows up in a strange new spacecraft, but so does a team of cricket-clad homicidal robots called Krikkits. As Arthur and Ford make their escape, Slartibartfast appears overly desperate to obtain the Ashes. Very soon Arthur finds himself dragged along on a reluctant journey to save the universe, and he doesn't even have time for a nice cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich...

For anyone who's spent the last 25 years somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse this is the third in the series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy BBC radio dramatisations based on characters and situations created by Douglas Adams. It follows on from the two highly successful serials of the late seventies and eighties. In fact, The Tertiary Phase is the first to be adapted from the book version. I have to say I dislike the latter day renaming of these to The Primary, Secondary, and in this case Tertiary Phase; why can't the BBC just stick with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe and Everything?

Some people, I'm certain, will complain about the apparent lack of continuity between the last series and this, but the truth is adapter, director and co-producer Dirk Maggs faced a difficult problem. The second radio series didn't follow the precise plotlines of the second book, and they have completely different endings. Although Dirk undoubtedly possesses the writing experience and ability to manipulate the story around to bridge the gap, Douglas Adams is said to have had no worries about continuity. Therefore, with a limited running time it was probably the right decision to crack on with this story. So we have Zaphod Beeblebrox suffering a double-psychotic episode, running off to Ursa Minor to prove some conspiracy theory, only to be found days later wandering the corridors of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy building looking for Zarniwoop, a free lunch and a stiff drink.

I tend to see all of these since the original to be further (not necessarily linear) adventures for these imaginative but easily identifiable characters. Although the main plot is quirky and fun, it is also a clever manner in which to link together countless crazy but somewhat logical observations on... well, life, the universe and everything really. We get to hear about planets, diverse races, spaceships, wars and time travel. In the case of The Tertiary Phase: the Campaign For Real Time, the Somebody Else's Problem Field, the Principles of Non-absoluteness, and the Bistromatic Drive. I tend to prefer the surreal conversations between Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect. My favourite kind of humour is play on words, so you can perhaps understand why I so enjoyed the following exchange.

Arthur: "Why is there a sofa in that field?"
Ford: "I told you, eddies in the space/time continuum."
Arthur: "Then tell him to come and collect his sofa."

A character which is never represented enough for my liking is Marvin the Paranoid Android. Like a grumpy old man, Marvin is a perfectly perpetually pessimistic manic-depressive (try saying that when you've downed a few Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters!).

Returning to reprise their roles is Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Susan Sheridan as Trillian and Stephen Moore as the marvellous Marvin the Paranoid Android. Joining the cast is William Franklyn as The Book and, among others, Richard Griffiths as Slartibartfast, Joanna Lumley as the Sydney Opera House Woman, and Leslie Phillips as Hactar.

As everyone with two heads knows, Douglas Adams was a mad genius, and Dirk Maggs has done a fine job of adapting the chaos for radio and bringing it to life. My first impression when hearing this on radio was how the concept sounds modern and yet not out of place with the first two serials. Further demonstrating this fact Dirk has managed to incorporate Douglas Adams' own book-reading portrayal of Agrajag. The sound effects and atmospherics are well utilised and come across much better on this 3-CD set than on radio. There's also an extra 20 minutes of material not originally broadcast.

A great return for the gang, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

Ty Power

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