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

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Stephen Moore and William Franklyn
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 0 563 50496 X
Available 23 May 2005


Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think audio movies are a pretty neat idea...

And so they are. This is the second of three radio serials adapted, co-produced and directed by Dirk Maggs, based on the late Douglas Adams' best-selling Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of books in five parts. This time we concentrate on book four: So Long and Thanks for all The Fish, here named (against somebody's better judgement) the Quandary Phase.

Arthur Dent returns home on a Teaser spacecraft when he learns that the Earth has inexplicably popped back into existence, after the Vogon Constructor Fleet had destroyed it to make way for a hyperspatial express route.

On the way to his cottage Arthur is given a lift and instantly falls in love with a seemingly demented young woman called Fenchurch, the same person who (just before the supposed mass hallucination of spacecraft appearing over the Earth and threatening to destroy it, before disappearing) had risen-up with a revelation of what had gone wrong with the world, and how people could finally live together in peace, only to promptly forget it again. Just before this hallucination all the dolphins had apparently left the Earth, leaving certain individuals crystal bowls inscribed with the words "So long and thanks for all the fish".

Ford Prefect turns up looking for Arthur, and helps them to leave on a Xaxisian Robot Ship. Why is the Earth the same and yet so different? Arthur and Fenchurch have their suspicions and leave on a quest to learn God's Last Words to His creation. En route they meet an old friend in Marvin the Paranoid Android, who these days is on his last legs and mostly armless (geddit?).

It's been said, not least by Dirk himself, that So Long... doesn't lend itself so well to the audio medium. Or was it Mostly Harmless? Anyway, judging by the content of this one I strongly disagree. Okay, so this is Arthur's love story. Normally the idea of that alone would send me to exile on the planet Boredom. And those people hoping for lots of whizzing around the universe with Zaphod, Trillian, Marvin and Slartibartfast will be severely disappointed. But this is a Douglas Adams story and it's all about humour. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has never been about jokes, but rather observations on life. In that respect it reminds me of the classic Smith & Jones Head to Head sketches.

It has a much more linear structure than the Tertiary Phase, which was very good but crammed in so much that it was in fear of becoming disjointed if you didn't listen to an episode in one sitting. The plot probably isn't so strong as Life, the Universe and Everything, but it's a lot easier to follow. In fact, I personally enjoy the dialogue exchanges in set scenes much more than the main revelations of plot points. It's a very English humour, which probably explains why the film version of the first book doesn't work.

Rob McKenna, the lorry-driving rain god is great, and the way that Arthur punctuates his boring conversation with "Are we there yet?" is priceless. The constant interruptions to Arthur and Fenchurch's conversation at the station by June Whitfield's Raffle Woman is also very well handled. "Are you two in love?" she finally asks. "It's a little hard to tell," says Arthur, "we haven't had a chance to talk yet!"

There's plenty of crazy situations in this professionally recorded two-disc set. I liked the idea of Wonko the Sane sitting on a beach waiting for the end of the world, not realising it's already been and gone. Being a drummer himself Dirk Maggs even finds time to make fun of drummers and bass players too.

I was enjoying the first disc so much that I felt I would have to top the mark I gave the Tertiary Phase. However, I have to reluctantly say that there were a few scenes which seemed to stem the flow of that enjoyment. The flying scene and that of the old woman on the plane didn't work, and the only Ford Prefect scene, before his meeting with Arthur, which was fun to listen to was when he talks his way out of a gargantuan bar bill.

Perhaps the whole production could have been tightened-up a little by losing one episode, but what do I know?! There's a lot here to be enjoyed. Even the "...pretty neat idea" has been updated from digital watches to novelty ring tones! Roll on the next one.

Ty Power

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