The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (BBC) — a review

This review is wholly unnecessary.

I know that. You don’t have to tell me. I am an unrepentant fan of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s series. I’ve read all five of the novels written by Adams, all more than once. Plus, I also read the sixth novel, And Another Thing . . ., written by Eoin Colfer, but only once. I also watched the major theatrical movie, but rather wish I hadn’t.

If you’re already a fan, you know that the series began as a BBC Radio 4 comedy broadcast, way back in 1978. From there, it became a novel, a double-LP, and a stage production, all before becoming a television program on BBC television.

Adams himself wrote one skit for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, after being discovered by Graham Chapman. It was “Patient Abuse,” which appeared in the last episode of the series. You’ve seen it, even if you don’t recall it at the moment. I didn’t discover this fact until well after I had already made the private observation that Adams’s sense of humor reminded me of Monty Python. He also wrote three Doctor Who serials during the Tom Baker era.

I discovered the BBC television series on my local PBS station in 1982 or ’83. PBS had introduced me already to The Twilight Zone, Monty Python, and The Young Ones. Cable television existed back then, but not in my area yet, and certainly not in my house. PBS was one of my legitimate channel choices, out of three network channels and one other regional UHF station. The television series entertained me enough that it led me to the novel, which in turn led me to the next, and so on, and so on.

This review is based on a recent rewatch I completed, nearly forty years later. It was an Amazon Prime offering that I couldn’t resist.

If you’re familiar with the novels, you’re familiar with the television storyline. It covers the material of the first and second books. It is the story of Earthman Arthur Dent (Simon Jones) who wakes up one morning to discover that his house is about to be demolished to make room for a highway. He is taken from his standoff with a bulldozer by a friend named Ford Prefect (David Dixon) who is saving Dent, among all Earthmen, because the planet itself is about to be demolished by the Vogons to make way for a hyperspace highway. This moment of change in the life of Arthur Dent provides the jumping off point for the entire Hitchhiker’s saga. In short order, we meet Zaphod Beeblebrox (Mark Wing-Davey) and Tricia McMillan AKA Trillian (Sandra Dickinson), Marvin the Paranoid Android (Stephen Moore) and a cast of assorted wackos.

This series plays out in only five episodes. It is definitely low-budget television, so not something you want to go into expecting spectacular special effects. I still prefer it to the movie. Spectacle is not the star of this program. The words themselves are the star. The dialogue, the Guide itself, and the voiceover narration (which is, in fact, mostly Guide entries). You already know if you like dry English humor. If you do, this series has it in spades.

I honestly didn’t expect to like the series as much as I did this time around. Decades have passed, and I’ve kidded myself that my tastes have become more refined and discerning. Nah. This still made me laugh, even when I knew all of the gags.

I realize that this series isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe this review will give you an idea if it may be yours. I’ve heard rumors of another series being produced from the material, perhaps for 2021 release. I don’t have high hopes for that one. Like the motion picture, they’ll probably just water it down with mind-blowing special effects, which are okay in their place but completely miss the strong suit of Adams’s work.

Firewater’s The-Answer-is-Always-42 Report Card: A

Still hilarious, after all these years.

2 thoughts on “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (BBC) — a review

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