Radio Dramatisations

6 Reviews (2 New)

A Dark and Scary Place

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey

BBC Audio

Adapted, Directed & Co-Produced by Dirk Maggs (based on the book by Douglas Adams).

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.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004) 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase 5.1 DVD

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey

BBC Audio

Adapted, Directed & Co-Produced by Dirk Maggs (based on the book by Douglas Adams).

October 2006

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 is related to Zem the mattress and can only remember events for the length of one day, the Tertiary Phase is the third of five radio adaptations of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books written by everyone's mad uncle - Douglas Adams. The first two were broadcast to great acclaim in 1978 and, 25 years later, we welcomed the first of three Hitchhiker serials (adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs) covering books three to five. For those of you like me who prefer proper titles, the Tertiary Phase is Life, The Universe And Everything.

When I first received this disc, along with other review material, I only had time to notice the 5.1 Surround plastered on the cover. As if crystal clear Surround Sound isn't exciting enough for a radio serial, when I came to check out the contents I discovered there was significantly more on offer. Having already reviewed the
Tertiary Phase back in 2004, my interest this time was not so much in the story and performances but in the sound quality and extras.

Yes, extras! This is a DVD video with both audio and video content. What that means in practical terms is you can put this in your TV's or computer's DVD player (which, let's face it, are the more likely location's you'll have a 5.1 speaker system) and relax to sounds which comes at you from around the room. The switching isn't constant, so you don't get too used to it; instead it's used to great effect in the most significant places. This isn't the same old thing again, it's something completely new and the result is truly amazing. While you listen, on-screen information reminds you of the episode and indeed the chapter you're up to.

Audio extras consist of the
Pick of the Week radio intro, seven other trailers, Bits & Bloopers (entertaining outtakes), and The Krikkit Song in its entirety (including on-screen lyrics). Video extras include the Online Trailer and four other featurettes: Together Again (Arthur & Ford), Marvin and Zem, The New Voice of the Guide, and Stereo Heads (Zaphod & the use of sound). All of these segments are entertaining but are far too short. Every one of them leaves you wanting more. There is also a small photo gallery.

As far as I'm concerned this should become the standard format for audio henceforth, as you can listen to it in the comfort of your own "Chesterfield" sofa. However, there is still room for the CD releases (or at least MP3) which will suit listeners on the move. 8 for the episodes, and an additional point for the extras and in particular the forward thinking.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006) 

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Starring: Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Billy Boyd and Andrew Sachs

BBC Audio

Adapted, Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

From the Book by Douglas Adams

November 2007

Gordon Way has been murdered and the innocent Richard MacDuff stands accused. Of course, Gordon knows that Richard is not to blame; at least his invisible spirit does. However, communicating with anyone living proves more than tricky. Without being officially asked, private detective Dirk Gently (who is more used to dealing with missing cats) takes on the case. Dirk believes in the holistic interconnectedness of all things, and it's a good job he does, because before long he finds himself having to piece together the bizarre events of a seemingly impossible conjuring trick, a Cambridge professor who has been around for far too long, an electric monk searching for its horse (which turns up in a bathroom), a vindictive spirit and a spaceship. And to make matters worse, the fate of the universe is in his hands. Not bad for someone dragged out of Cambridge University by the police, and who can't even pay his long-suffering secretary...

The various media of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have made Douglas Adams a big name in literature, and particularly readers of science fiction and fantasy. Dirk Maggs, adapter, producer and director of this first Dirk Gently adventure, himself is no stranger to these genres. Having already adapted books three to five of the Hitchhiker trilogy in five parts, he now turns his experienced hand to the even more arduous task of dramatising Dirk Gently for BBC Radio 4. To my mind this would have been difficult because the novel contains many descriptive passages which needed to be made into character dialogue to avoid the obvious inclusion of a narrator. Therefore, we now have a speaking electric monk (which at times seems to pay homage to Marvin the paranoid android), and we have some verbal interaction from the ghost of Gordon Way.

The voice acting is considerably better than expected, bearing in mind certain fan base gripes about the choices. Andrew Sachs's Professor Chronotis I particularly enjoyed, along with Billy Boyd's Richard MacDuff and Toby Longworth's Electric Monk. Harry Enfield appears to play himself in the role of Dirk Gently, which is fine. The sound design and effects are top-notch, as we have come to expect from a Maggs production, but the music should be singled out for hitting all the right moods for each scene. The title music is fabulous, inspiring mystery and melancholia (at least in this reviewer).

So what do we have when we collect together an electric monk, a professor of chronology, a wandering spirit, and much more? Well, even after listening to it I'm not entirely sure. It's not a comfortable experience, as you're made to work for your payoff. This is not so much the fault of this audio piece as it is the mind of Douglas Adams himself. Being such a visionary, Adams' novel is teeming with a multitude of unrelated ideas, thoughts and opinions. Therefore, the utmost concentration is required to follow the plot.

Much as the liner notes say differently, I do think
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency works better in book form; you can read certain passages slowly as required, whereas an audio dramatisation of this nature has to motor along, making it difficult to absorb everything at once. Playing in the car or wandering around at home simply doesn't work; you need to lie-down, close your eyes and be transported. Even then you are rewarded when listening to the whole again. Dirk Maggs deserves much credit for turning a veritable cornucopia of events into a cohesive piece.

This first
Dirk Gently adventure might fail to grab a casual mainstream listening audience, but it will most definitely appeal to Hitchhiker fans, readers of surreal fantasy and of course followers of Douglas Adams. I do remember enjoying the second Gently book, The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul, rather more than the first, so I look forward to the broadcast of that adaptation.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007) 

Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Starring: Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Billy Boyd

BBC Audio

Adapted, Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

From the Book by Douglas Adams

November 2008

Holistic private detective Dirk Gently is down on his luck... again. Work is slack, his long-suffering secretary Janice has left to work for British Airways, and her Spanish replacement has gone missing after a disagreement about cleaning the fridge. Even the approach of a man claiming to be hounded by a goblin waving a contract and a green furry creature with a scythe doesn't spark his curiosity. However, when he finds himself investigating the decapitation of a man (apparently a suicide) he soon discovers there is a certain interconnectedness to events. A Norwegian man called Thor who tries to check on to a flight with only a large hammer and no passport, an old man called Odin, who cares for nothing but clean sheets and peace and quiet, and an advertising agency with a definite Nordic theme are inextricably linked. Dirk Gently brings those things together using the technique of randomly following a car which will take him, not where he wants to go, but where he needs to be...

This audio adaptation of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, like the original book, is considerably more linear and coherent as a whole than its predecessor, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. We still have the abundance of crazy, seemingly random and irrelevant ideas, but this time we get an inkling of the plot and are privy to certain reveals long before Dirk is (Gently, that is!). We then hitch a lift on Gently's hat as he (accidentally in most cases) moves the chaos into a semblance of... well, more chaos really. This step-by-step unravelling of a mad tale is considerably preferable to the first story's device of only coming together right at the very end.

I like the exploration of Norse gods and their limited interaction in the modern world. Thor is in effect flying the flag for the old ways; he is by far the best character and you can't help but get carried along by his enthusiasm. He is the Jack Regan of Valhalla, shouting a lot and forcing his way through situations. Some of the exchanges between Thor and Kate are very amusing.

There are decided references here to
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and particularly the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, mainly through the character of Richard Macduff. We hear the distinctive sound of the Book when a search is keyed-in and even hear a snippet of Marvin, who is obviously about to tell us about the diodes down his left side.

So there's plenty to enjoy here (the sound quality is as good as we've come to expect from
Dirk Maggs), although the whole does improve with repeated listenings. As with the first Gently audio we are treated to extra material not broadcast on radio and a couple of ideas from Douglas Adams's unfinished novel, The Salmon of Doubt. Unfortunately, Salmon will not now be adapted for a third audio experience, as stalwart writer/producer/director Dirk Maggs has parted company with Above the Title Productions.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008) 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase

Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey, Susan Sheridan and Stephen Moore

BBC Audio

By Douglas Adams (Special Edition Remastered by Dirk Maggs)

November 2008

Just in case you’re from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and you’ve been spending your time stranded on prehistoric Earth with an ape-descended life-form - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells the story of Arthur Dent, whose planet is destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass. Along with mysterious friend Ford Prefect, the two-headed, three-armed ex-galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the trusty (or is that rusty?) Marvin the Paranoid Android, they visit the planet-manufacturing Magrathea, dine at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and learn the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything...

HHGG
is quite simply an enduring (not to mention endearing) masterpiece. Since its original 1978 radio broadcast it's hardly aged at all, and its subsequent success has spawned books, records, a TV series, a feature film, four more radio serials, and no doubt a towel or two somewhere along the line. The first book was voted high in the nation's 100 favourite reads, and the audio book has won numerous awards.

Listening to this 4-CD set, newly remastered by audio movie maestro
Dirk Maggs (who adapted books 3 to 5 of the series) is a good example of memory cheats. I was mildly disappointed by the main plot points (not because they're not fantastic - which they are - but because I know them too well) and pleasantly surprised by the myriad little asides, most of which I'd forgotten - such as the alien attack fleet which is swallowed by a small dog.

To say that
HHGG is mad would be a monumental understatement. It's jam-packed with philosophical ideas and off-kilter but often true observations on life... an existentialist's dream. Personally speaking, the highlight of the original HHGG is the character of Marvin the Paranoid Android - the ultimate 'Grumpy Old Man'. The idea of a manic depressive robot in inspired. I've modelled myself on Marvin ("Life, don't talk to me about life." / "Do you want me to sit in the corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?").

Disc 4 of this set contains the 55-minute
Douglas Adams' Guide to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The comments from Adams are always worth listening to, but the long-winded linking pieces spoken by The Book begin to grate after a while. If you want to hear the quotes listen to the audio - this is just labouring a point. However, this is just a minor quibble for an otherwise outstanding release.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008) 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Secondary Phase

Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey, Susan Sheridan and Stephen Moore

BBC Audio

By Douglas Adams (Special Edition Remastered by Dirk Maggs)

November 2008

To accompany the re-release of Douglas Adams’ original HHGG radio series from 1978 on a 4-CD set, comes the follow-up series in the same format, now known as the Secondary Phase. This one continues from where the first one finished, with Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect stranded on prehistoric Earth. Through a series of events more mad than a box of frogs they soon find themselves reunited with Zaphod Beeblebrox, who has survived the Total Perspective Vortex, and the real hero of these stories, Marvin the Paranoid Android (“I’ve discovered that if I stick my left arm in my right ear I can electrocute myself.”). Escaping the Vogons using the Improbability Drive, they arrive on the planet Brontitall and come into contact with the intelligent but deeply troubled bird-like inhabitants, before meeting the mysterious Man in the Shack.

Due to the phenomenal and somewhat unexpected success of the first serial, Douglas Adams became highly pressurised, time-wise, to come-up with a sequel script - to the point that he was in a room next to the recording studio feverishly completing the scripts as the voice artists were performing. With this in mind you might assume it has no structure; certainly, it is a little less cohesive than its predecessor (meandering about and ending with no proper finale), but still full of crazy, seemingly irrelevant ideas, many of which will make you smile at the very least. I particularly like the silly throw-away lines of dialogue, such as when Zaphod says something to the effect of: “I don’t know why I’ve got to see Zarniwoop, but he’d better have a darn good reason for me wanting to see him.”

Disc 4 contains a 50-minute bonus interview with Douglas Adams, and it’s good to note that this time there’s no tedious Book voiceover to pad it out. In addition, as in the new
Primary Phase, we have Philip Pope’s version of the theme tune to accompany the episodes.

It would be a crime to finish this review without mentioning
Dirk Maggs, the talent behind the audio adaptations of books three to five, plus Dirk Gently and many others. As expected, he has done a sterling job remastering the Primary and Secondary Phases of this celebrated work. It certainly knocks spots off my old twin cassette versions!

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008)