Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Comedy Archeology - Don’t Panic

This one’s a big ‘un. It’s something that I’ve consumed in every possible version and have enjoyed (to varying degrees) in each new iteration. It’s a go-to-comedy for me and by that I mean that it’s a comedy that I am always in the mood for and always makes me feel better whether it be in audio, televisual or book form.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
I have a very vague memory of sneaking glimpse of the television adaptation of this when I was supposed to be in bed. It was fascinating to me - something that I looked a bit like Doctor Who but was clearly meant for adults as I wasn’t allowed to stay up late to watch it. In fact, there is very little about Hitchhiker’s that makes it post-watershed, partly aas a sresult of its background as a radio show.

The Radio Show
Created back in 1977 for Radio 4 by Douglas Adams, a former script editor for Doctor Who at that time, the show was originally going to end each episode with the Earth being destroyed. Ultimately, this became the springboard for the storyline as bemused Arthur Dent escapes the destruction of Earth to be unwittingly thrown into the wilds of the universe when all he really wants is a cup of tea and a bit of a lie down. It’s got a cast on top form and a great device in the form of the Book itself which allows Adams to go off on all manner of comic diversions that don’t necessarily drive the story forward. Mixing sci fi and comedy has always been a tricky one to pull off but Adams manages it with style.

The Books
Transferring medium allowed Adams to flesh out some of the stuff in more detail and change some of the things that he was less keen on with the benefit of time and hindsight. It gives a bit more rounding out to some of the minor characters (Mr Prosser, the man trying to knock down Arthur’s house, being a direct descendant of Genghis Khan who is plagued by imagery of thundering Mongol hordes is the sort of detail you only get in the books) and even takes the story beyond where the radio and TV versions leave off. The later novels were sources of dissatisfaction to Adams himself (who famously hated writing - “I love deadlines. I like the sound they make as they go whooshing past.”) I didn't enjoy the fourth book much as a youth but have enjoyed it more upon subsequent readings. The fifth book is a little down-spirited and unfortunately Adams never got the chance to bring it around with a sixth book.

The TV Series
I have a particular fondness for this version. As mentioned, I glimpsed it as a kid and then finally saw it once BBC repeated it during my early teens. Like many BBC productions of the 70s and 80s, particularly those with any relation to sci fi and fantasy, it suffers from the budgetary restrictions common to the time (Zaphod’s second head being largely immobile most of the time) but the humour still shines through, the cast ar on top form and the animations that accompany the entries from the Book still look great today.

There is also the big budget film version which Adams himself was working on up until his death and is largely the vision that he wanted to bring to the screen but it feels like an oddly truncated greatest hits with some of the jokes weirdly cut short. It’s by no means the car crash that is has been portrayed as but it’s not my favourite version of Hitchhikers by a long shot. 

So this one is a cornerstone of my sense of humor along with the next lot who were briefly touched upon in an earlier entry…

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