Sunday, 5 August 2018

Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: Quintessential Phase

BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast: 9th to 30th July 2018

Fifth series of the cult science fiction comedy, based on Douglas Adams's book, Mostly Harmless.

BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast: 9th July 2018

The Grebulons arrived some time ago upon the tenth planet in our Solar system, named Persephone upon its discovery, but now nicknamed Rupert after some philosopher's parrot. Their huge battlecruiser bristles with armaments and camouflage devices but has crashlanded on this cold and remote world far from anyone who can tell them their mission. They have been sent to monitor an unknown location for unknown purposes, the unknowns in this instance being caused by the fact that, while they were in hibernation, a meteorite took out that part of the ship that stored both their, and its, memories. In essence they have literally lost their minds, but on monitoring the considerable outpourings of Earth's popular media they are developing quite a taste for soap opera, puppet shows and reruns of 70s cop shows.

Searching for his lost love Fenchurch, lost on a routine hyperspace jump, Arthur Dent has hitchhiked across the Galaxy to the location where once he found the Earth - only to find an Earthlike planet called Nowwhat upon which there is very little to comfort him except the shapes of the continents. Nursing a bite on the thigh from a Boghog he accepts the advice of a telepathic pseudopodic creature on the Information Desk and moves on to look for Hawalius, a planet of soothsayers. Here he hopes to get guidance and advice. What he gets is a reminder that his old girlfriend Trillian is now a reporter for the Siderial Daily Mentioner, travelling through both time and space to get news stories, effectively putting the soothsayers out of work.

In a parallel universe, upon the 'new' Earth where Arthur met Fenchurch, Tricia MacMillan - the blonder, more American counterpart to Arthur's friend Trillian - interviews Gail Andrews, an astrologer, and confides that she is haunted by a party she once attended where she failed to get off with a tall two-headed alien called Zaphod. Those of us who have been following the saga know of course that the 'other' Tricia - the one we know as Trillian - in fact got off with Zaphod at the same party on HER Earth and that is why she is now roaming the Galaxy doing pieces to camera and noddy shots. Tricia - the blonder, more American one - is however still Earthbound. She made Zaphod wait while she went to fetch her bag, and, as (the other) Trillian could have told her, Zaphod waits for no-one.

In fact Zaphod's patience has run out completely. He has lived for nearly eleven episodes with the frustration of knowing that - whatever Trillian might have thought - he was NOT drunk on Pan Galactic Gargleblasters when he visited the Hitchhiker's Guide Building (in the Secondary Phase) and encountered a strange and sinister person called Zarniwoop, who had built a virtual universe inside his office, in which Zaphod was tortured by a machine called the Total Perspective Vortex, opening his senses so they could perceive Everything Everywhere All At Once. Now Zaphod returns to the Hitchhiker's Building, relocated to the planet Saquo-Pilia Hensha, where he finds Zarniwoop very much in charge of a very sinister operation.

Add to this zesty mixture Ford Prefect, who has snuck into the Hitchhiker's Building on a mission to clear his expenses. This is a mission that involves considerable subterfuge and cunning, as Ford's business affairs as a Hitchhiker's Guide Researcher are an accounting nightmare. In the course of finding his way past the security screens to the Editor's Office for a grovelling phase to open negotiations, Ford catches and reprograms one of the melon-sized security robots that patrol the corridors, renaming it Colin. Colin reveals to Ford that the Guide is under a wonderful new management. This immediately arouses Ford's suspicions. Things are Not Right with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast: 16th July 2018

Arthur's search for guidance and advice on the Planet Hawalius leads him to memorable encounters with The Smelly Photocopier Woman - an extravagantly flatulent Hawalian soothsayer - and The Old Man On The Pole, who squats hundreds of feet up in the air on a series of tall sticks, swooshing about from one to the other nonchalantly. This is (a) off-putting and (b) irritating, and as the consensus of opinion among all the prophets and soothsayers seems to be that Arthur should go elsewhere and do something constructive with his life, he resolves to move on, catching a shuttle off the planet. His listlessness is not helped by his bereavement at the loss of his girlfriend Fenchurch, and his copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is proving not much use at all, except maybe for eating his sandwiches off, because some strange female voice keeps interrupting its normally urbane sophisticate presence, advertising a 'Guide Mark II', which is 'Coming Soon'.

Ford Prefect is in a position to help Arthur understand better what is happening to the Guide, but inconveniently he is thousands of light years away, having sneaked into the new Hitchhiker's Guide Building on Saquo-Pilia Hensha, with the help of a reprogrammed security robot called Colin. Ford has entered the office of the Editor of the Guide to discover that there's been a change at the top and the post is now occupied by a vaguely familiar and definitely sinister new Editor named Zarniwoop Van Harl. Zarniwoop explains that the Megadodo Corporation is now as defunct as a - um - Dodo, and some shadowy corporation called Infinidim Enterprises has taken over the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Their brainchild, the Guide Mark II, is a complete redesign of the Hitchhiker's Guide. Instead of selling to penniless hitchhikers, the product will be aimed at businessmen and their wives, people with lots of income and a predisposition to dispose it on gadgetry, the purpose of which may be much more than they imagine.

Zarniwoop further explains that whereas the business once relied on selling lots of old Guides to billions of people, the new plan depends on selling One Guide many many times to billions and billions of people. This is possible because the new Guide has been built to operate transdimensionally, available anywhere at any time across the layers of the multiverse. And instead of the voice of a plummy pompous pedagogue lecturing to penniless hitchhikers, it boasts a sultry Brantisvogan Escort Agency VIP vamp voice.

Ford is not over-impressed at this development but significantly more impressed - one might even say gobsmacked - when Zarniwoop presents him with a Dine-O-Charge card in his name. Zarniwoop wants Ford to be the Guide's new restaurant critic. If the Quota Permits. Unfortunately the use of the word quota has the same effect on Ford as it has throughout the ages on all free thinking independent spirits in the Galaxy who sense fences being put up to protect Corporate Mediocrity, and without thinking he orders Colin to kill Zarniwoop. Rhetorically of course. The upshot is that Zarniwoop is rendered unconscious before Ford can reverse the order. However as a result Ford (naturally) looks through Zarniwoop's pockets and finds an Ident-i-Eze card which is going to prove VERY useful in gaining access to the Hitchhiker's Guide Accounting computer, where he can clear his more reckless expense claims once and for all.

On the new Earth where Arthur Dent met and loved the disappeared Fenchurch, television reporter Tricia MacMillan lives in complete ignorance that a parallel, less blonde, more British version of herself called Trillian roams the Galaxy, once as a girlfriend of Zaphod Beeblebrox, now as a reporter for the Siderial Daily Mentioner. Tricia has longed to travel in space ever since she failed to get off with Zaphod Beeblebrox at a party, and when a party of aliens land their ship on her lawn and ask if she will go with them to the Planet Rupert and help calculate their astrological forecasts using her astrophysical expertise, she readily accepts.

Arthur Dent meanwhile is in a shuttle which fails to make a hyperspace jump at the Lamuella Nexus. It plunges towards the nearest planet and certain doom, with Arthur hoping very hard that the planet is NOT called Stavromula Beta, the location where the unhinged reincarnated creature called Agrajag more or less predicted he would die (see Tertiary Phase Episode 4, Fit The Sixteenth).

Back in the Hitchhiker's Guide Building, Ford enters the Virtual Reality computer-generated Universe that once existed only in an upstairs office for Zarniwoop's sole use, but now has spread through an entire basement level. Here it is, among staggeringly realistic computer-generated lofty mountains and distant seas, from rocky crags to lonely huts on beaches, that the Guide's accounts are manipulated using a three-dimensional ecosynthetic multidimensional interface. Having used Zarniwoop's Ident-i-Eze card to clear all

BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast: 23rd July 2018

Far away out on the Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Planet Lamuella spins slowly, its iron age culture only occasionally enlivened by the arrival and departure of the Perfectly Normal Beasts, a vast stampede of buffalo-like creatures who appear at one end of the Anhondo mountains, thunder through the Anhondo Valley, and disappear at its far end. These animals provide the simple people of Lamuella with their principal source of protein, and since the arrival of the Sandwich Maker in the Fiery Chariot which Laid Waste the Great Forest, this means many fine Perfectly Normal Beast sandwiches are enjoyed on a daily basis by those who tend the crops which are fertilised by the droppings of the pikka birds, who tend to drop their droppings anywhere, anyway.

It is many moons since the cataclysmic arrival of the Sandwich Maker's fiery chariot which - according to the local shaman, soothsayer and fraud Old Thrashbarg - was responsible for filling the Great Forest with Ghosts, and since the Sandwich Maker recovered from his injuries this bucolic idyll has been, for him, a haven of peace and a chance to recover from years of wandering the Galaxy in pursuit of one thing or another, from white mice to a decent cup of tea to pieces of the Wikkit Gate to a lost girlfriend. Now he can give up rushing about and instead devote his time to the making of a perfect sandwich. Or so he thought till this morning. For into the village clearing has descended a new chariot, not fiery but smooth and with go-faster stripes, bearing within it a woman and a young girl. The woman's name is Trillian and, as Thrashbarg and the villagers scatter in fear, she gazes upon the Sandwich Maker and says, ""Hello Arthur"". For that is his name.

Trillian samples a Perfectly Normal Beast sandwich and explains to Arthur that the teenage girl she has brought with her is in fact their daughter. As Arthur has long financed his trips around the Galaxy with donations to tissue and sperm banks, and as he and Trillian were the only humans from the original Earth to survive its destruction by the Vogons, it was pretty easy for Trillian to find out who the donor was when she felt the need to visit a fertility clinic. Now about to jaunt off to cover the decisive arrival of a battlecruiser in a war which - due to the vagaries of sub-light travel - erupted millennia ago, Trillian is leaving the girl with Arthur. Both are horribly dismayed but Trillian has already gone. Arthur asks his daughter's name, ""Random Frequent Flyer Dent"" is the reply.

Arthur's attempts to bond with his sudden daughter are greeted with little success; Random is a product of a technological civilisation and is bored by the very things he values about life on Lamuella - its simplicity and freedom from gadgetry. When a package arrives from Ford Prefect, addressed to Arthur, the latter correctly surmises that it contains nothing harmless, and is horrified when Random runs off with it.

With her father in pursuit, Random stumbles across the secret of the ghosts in the Great Forest - they are in fact malfunctioning holovids from the in-flight entertainment system of the crashed shuttle which brought Arthur here so long ago. High up in a cave in the Anhondo Mountains she stops and opens the package. Out of it she pulls something looking like an ebony dinner plate, which unfolds itself and flutters to perch on a nearby rock. It is some kind of mechanical bird, but it identifies itself as The Guide Mark II. Calibrating itself so that Random can see and hear it, the bird explains it is her Guide, that it exists across all dimensions and can use Reverse Temporal engineering to show her anything she wants, do for her anything she wants and take her anywhere she likes. It shows her the Earth her mother came from, how it exists in a Plural Zone which is very unstable and where, when one thing is destroyed, another, near-identical one can pop up in its place. It shows her Tricia MacMillan, living on that Earth, a shock for Random who thinks this must be her mother and demands to be taken there. The bird, following orders, immediately reaches back as far into time as is necessary to bring about the instant arrival of a spaceship to take them there. Out of the spaceship emerges Ford Prefect, who Random promptly knocks on the head with a rock. As Random and the bird leave in the ship, Arthur arrives in the clearing outside the cave, discovering Ford's head is under his foot.

BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast: 30th July 2018

Arthur and Ford are reunited on the distant and backward planet of Lamuella, and both have vital information for each other. Arthur's is that the young woman who just stole Ford's spaceship is Arthur's daughter by Trillian, Random. Ford's news is more sinister - the Vogons have taken over the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and have developed a new model of the famous book, the Guide Mark II, which exists in the form of a black bird and, with its Unfiltered Perception, exists across all layers of the Universe and at all times simultaneously, capable of changing any events or any bringing about any chain of cause-and-effect to achieve its owner's wishes. The result may be as simple as to manipulate events so that Ford Prefect survives a leap from a 23rd floor window and arrives on Lamuella in a spaceship which it new owner - Arthur's daughter Random - can then steal; or as complex as helping the Vogons effortlessly carry out their grandest schemes - from their general desire to turn the whole Galaxy into one vast Bureaucracy, to the more particular and irksome issue of making sure that once the planet Earth is destroyed it STAYS destroyed, rather than having replacement Earths keep popping up, due to the Plural nature of that particular Sector of space.

Lamuella itself is bisected by a Plural Zone and this is what causes the curious phenomenon of the Spring Migration of the Perfectly Normal Beasts, whereby a vast stampede of buffalo-like creatures appear at one end of the Anhondo mountains, thunder through the Anhondo Valley, and disappear at its far end. Arthur suddenly realises that this may be their ticket off the planet, and he and Ford scurry off to attempt to ride a Perfectly Normal Beast to ... wherever it goes ...

Meanwhile on the Planet Rupert, Tricia's help in recalibrating the Gerbulons' astrology computer has led to unforeseen complications. The Grebulon Leader's immediate future is revealed to be beset by adverse astrological signs, mainly to do with the positioning of the Planet Earth. It seems that the only solution to a very tedious month ahead is to somehow alter the movement of the planets. Perhaps eliminate one. He decides to investigate the astrological potential of his battle cruiser's gun turrets. As he does so, Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz monitors his deliberations from a safe and undetectable distance. The Guide Mark II has fulfilled its function. Everything is being tied up neatly, thanks to the ""lost"" Grebulons. A tick will soon be put in a long-empty box on his clipboard. The black bird hovers nearby. He orders it to engage the Total Perspective Vortex.

Arthur and Ford arrive on Earth. Pausing only to use the Dine-O-Charge card to buy The Langham Hilton and organise the repatriation of all the animals in London Zoo, they track Tricia and Random to Tricia's favourite drinking haunt in London, Club Beta, where reports indicate the female occupant of yet another spaceship lately arrived has headed. Arriving at the club, Arthur and Ford encounter a strange man on the stairs who seems to know Arthur but isn't quite sure. Ignoring him they descend and enter the bar to find Tricia, Trillian and Random, who has a gun pointed at both her mother and her mother's doppelganger, hopelessly confused and hysterical. Trillian is desperately trying to get everyone to leave. The space battle she went to cover as a news story when she left Random with Arthur never happened. The battle cruiser sent to fight it never arrived, but crashlanded on the outer planet of this solar system and is about to do something dreadful. But Random is beyond reason. The man that Arthur and Ford passed on the stairs attempts to wrestle the gun from the girl, but in the melee it goes off. Arthur ducks and the shot misses him, but hits the man, who dies in his arms, and, as he does so, looks at Arthur and says, ""You ...."". Arthur is reminded of Agrajag, the unhinged reincarnated creature who predicted he would only die after arriving at a place called Stavromula Beta. Thus when Trillian says they must all leave, now, or perish, Arthur is relaxed. Nothing can happen to him here. He is is not on Stavromula Beta. Horrified, Trillian shows him one of the club's menu covers. It is run by a Greek/German called Stavro Mueller. His first club, in New York, was called Alpha. This is his second Club. Arthur is appalled to read the heading on the menu: STAVRO MUELLER BETA.

As the particle cannon beams crash into the planet, ripping it apart, destroying the Earth once and for all, Ford can be heard laughing. "Oh that's good. That's very good ...".

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