What is it? As part of BBC Radio 4’s “Character Invasion,” the cast of the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series reunited for a brand new 75-minute taping, based largely on the live shows they’d been touring the last couple years. That’s Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan, Mark Wing-Davy, Stephen Moore, and Toby Longworth, directed by Dirk Maggs. Again, they recorded in front of a live audience.
Where can I listen? For the next couple days, you can stream it online, yes even you, Americans!
Our story opens in the distant past in the shadow of the great and powerful computer, Deep Thought. The area surrounding this grand thinking machine looks a bit like Woodstock, people standing as far as the eye can see, eager to hear the outcome of the three and a half million-year long program to find the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, everything. When it’s revealed that the answer is 42, Deep Thought begins designing a greater computer, one that will be capable of calculating the great question, to which the answer is 42. And the computer shall be called…The EARTH!
Flash forward to the spaceship of the most bureaucratic and bad-tempered creatures in the galaxy, the vogons. Our heroes, earthling Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, who he’s just discovered is an alien, have materialized here just seconds before the vogons blew up the Earth, a few minutes before the planet-like computer finished its program to calculate the question of life, the universe, and everything. But wait! If you’re familiar with the series, you know that Arthur’s story begins in London. Upon discovering that the council is trying to knock down his house to put in a bypass, he lies in front of the bulldozer, at which point Ford shows up to tell him that the world is about to be destroyed. To make time, this is all summarized in dialogue between Ford and Arthur aboard the ship. While we’re missing some of my personal favorite scenes, we do still get some of the best jokes (i.e. beware of the leopard).
Simon Jones and Geoffrey McGivern have not only not changed in voice (Jones told me personally that a sound guy measured his voice from the original recording and now and found that it literally has not changed one jot), but they also take pains to deliver the lines exactly the same as they have in the past. I have never heard this particular recording, but I was able to say the lines along with them, matching the intonation.
The Book is played by John Lloyd, co-author of Douglas Adams’ Meaning of Liff dictionaries. And he’s wonderful! We get many, though not all, of the classic asides from the Hitchhiker’s Guide (aka the Book), including a very funny Man in the theological argument between God and Man.
After the vogon captain catches Arthur and Ford and reads some Earthling poetry at them, Ford and Arthur are thrown into deep space and rescued accidentally/automatically by the passing Heart of Gold ship, piloted by Ford’s semi-cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox (galactic president) and Trillian (an Earth girl Arthur met at a party once). Again, Mark Wing-Davy and Susan Sheridan are spot on.
And then there’s their paranoid robot, Marvin, voiced by Stephen Moore. Unlike the rest of the cast, Moore goes out of his way to deliver his Marvin lines a little more over the top, reeling in much bigger, much more genuine laughter from the audience. It’s all their favorite lines delivered fresh and funny. Same goes with the self-satisfied doors and the drink dispenser. Oh, yes. Tea!
When the automated missiles trying to kill them are unleashed from Magrathea, the planet that would eventually house the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (which is where Zaphod says he’s trying to go, in this version), the ship computer can’t take any evasive action because its circuits are tied up trying to figure out how to make Arthur a cup of tea he’ll actually enjoy. Eddie (the computer) starts singing his death song, which is delightfully much worse and much louder than previous incarnations.
After a monologue from a whale and the crashing of a bowl of petunias, they land on Magrathea, where Arthur meets Slartibartfast and has a good old laugh about his name. Before long, they are meeting the mice who rule the Earth and want to take out Arthur’s brain and are transported to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Millyway’s). But Trillian isn’t with them. This is where the story begins to deviate from the original script, but first, let’s hear from Max.
Max is the host of tonight’s show. Fresh from the other end of the universe at the Big Bang Burger Bar, where they have a Higgs-Boson Burger, the burger guaranteed to give you mass, Max plays with the crowd. The real crowd. I mean, the actual crowd who’s come to see the show. When he asks if there’s any Gods of Valhalla in tonight, you can bet your dingo’s kidneys the fans give a great big Nordic roar! This tangent to the story includes a lot of inside jokes (I’ve got a great white handkerchief and I’m not afraid to use it!) and an interlude of Krikkit warriors singing their “Our Lovely World’s so Lovely” song, which sounds exactly like the original…and then sums up their evolution by the final verse where they want to kill everything.
Then we get an extended gag, which, if I’m not mistaken, we haven’t gotten before, where the waiter creates a Pan-galactic Gargle-blaster from scratch for Zaphod. Finally–We have the recipe! Too bad it’s just as dangerous to make as it is to drink. And then another song, this one from Marvin, which was never in the original show, but has been reprised in later productions.
Slartibartfast shows up to explain to Arthur that he’s living his life out of order (Eddies in the space-time continuum) and that he shouldn’t hang around these people because their lives are all on different planes. See, Trillian has just shown up with Arthur’s daughter, but it’s years in the future for her and only a few hours have passed for Arthur. His daughter, Random Frequent-Flyer Dent (don’t ask) doesn’t seem to keen on her father, an Earthling in a bathrobe, but warms up pretty quickly. She has to–the show’s almost over!
With some new deja-vu jokes and drunk Ford making fun of Arthur’s middle name (Phillip) after Trillian reads out Wowbagger’s insult to him, the show ends as Ford and Arthur get into Slarti’s ship to start their next adventure. Hurrah.
Hurry, there’s isn’t much time left to listen!