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

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey
BBC Audio
RRP: 19.99
ISBN-13: 978 0 56350 457 3
ISBN-10: 0 563 50457 9
Available 02 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.

Ty Power

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