So, after umpteen years and the death of Douglas Adams, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ has come to its end on the medium it started out in, radio. In one foul swoop the last two books of the canon were dramatised and played back-to-back on Radio 4.
And it was good.
I had reservations about the Teritary Phase but was slightly more hopeful in re the Quandary and Quintessential Phases. I can’t really say why; perhaps it was the feeling that the last two books were so short and depressing that, really, you couldn’t make them any worse, and possibly because I had read that there was a new ending to the ‘Mostly Harmless’ storyline.
Which is what interests me here.
The Quandary Phase basically was ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Fish’ with a few new scenes involving the Vogons being annoyed that the Earth didn’t appear to have stayed destroyed. They fiddled with the plot a little; Rob McKenna ends up being tied into Arthur’s storyline and Ford makes a more weighty appearance than he was granted in the books. It all felt good.
Then we get the Quintessetial Phase. Which has had some massive rennovations if you think of it as an adaptation of ‘Mostly Harmless.’
One of my bugbears in re the Tertiary Phase was the seemingly trite dismissal that the events in the Second Phase ever occurred. Only Zaphod seems to mention it and Trillian immediately claims that it was some kind of mental seizure and that he dreamt the entire thing. This only seemed to serve the interesting fact that a lot of the Secondary Phase never appeared in the books (much of this material was written by John Lloyd and Douglas didn’t seem to like to use other people’s work); this was the easiest way to smooth over the transition. More remarkable is the fact that the first episode of the Tertiary Phase (the episode in which this glossing over takes place) was the only episode actually written by Adams before his death; this was, in the end, his idea.
The Quintessential Phase restores the events of the Secondary Phase, although it does suggest that most of it did, in fact, take place in Zarniwoop’s Personal Universe. Thus we get a lot of Zaphod, the return of Jonathan Pryce (as Zarniwoop Vann Harl) and more Vogons, which finally makes some sense of that final scene in the book.
And we get the new ending.
Apparently there are three endings, but only one was broadcast (the other two will be on the soon-to-be-released recordings). It actually occurs after the final scene with Arthur, Trillian, Tricia, Random and Ford in the book and is generally a much happier conclusion to the story.
I’m just not sure whether it is right.
I like the new ending, but I like it as a final chance to hear some well-loved characters doing their best routines. It makes a kind of sense, as well, and the whole plot of ‘Mostly Harmless’ is rescued by the motivation that justifies this ending (look at me dodging around telling you what the ending is) but I don’t know that Adams would have written it. Indeed, as a colleague tells me, the ending feels a little like a Christmas Special.
Then again, any ending is better than the book’s, isn’t it?
I can safely say that the new radio series are better than the books they are based upon, in the same way that the original radio series are better than the books they produced. So everything ends just as it all began.
I suspect that makes me happy.