Hitchhikers for Continuity

Okay, I think this the best place and time to post my little “review” of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Tertiary Phase – since this is the only place where I have a journal of sorts, and I have just listened to the Tertiary Phase for the first time.

Being a long-time radio fan (I used to listen to 1940’s American radio shows when I was younger), as well as an H2G2 fan (first heard the series when I was 11 – before I knew what the word “contraceptive” meant) I knew that I would enjoy this. Had no doubt about it. And (unsurprisingly) I did.


There was one major problem with the Tertiary Phase that put a damper on what would otherwise be a blissfully happy 3-CDs-long listening experience for me: (SPOILERS AHEAD)




The Tertiary Phase, as the name suggests, is the third part in the Hitchhiker’s series made for radio (the Primary and Secondary Phases came out nearly 30 years ago). Now, you’d expect the third part of any series to continue whatever story the first and second parts told, wouldn’t you? So would I, except for some bizarre, mind-twisting reason, the H2G2 Tertiary Phase seems to disregard nearly every event of the first two Phases.

This is driving me crazy.

I mean, if this were “A completely new dramatization of Douglas Adams’ book, Life, The Universe, and Everything, starring the original cast of the Hitchhiker’s radio series!” I would have no problems whatsoever. The events of the first two books and the first two radio series are vastly different from each other. But this is a follow-up to the Primary and Secondary Phases! It is a sequel! It is part three in the series – and everything that can be done to confuse the listener has been done.

To clarify, the events of the first two phases of the H2G2 radio series go thusly:

Arthur gets rescued from Earth, he and his savior Ford get thrown off a spaceship and picked up by another (the Heart of Gold), where they meet a couple of old friends, the ship takes them to a planet called Magrathea. After a series of events they are cornered behind a computer bank, which heats up and explodes, sending them forward a few billion years to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, after eating there and meeting Marvin (who was left behind on Mag.), they steal a ship which takes them back in time and right into the middle of a major intergalactic war held by a race of beings that can evolve into any shape they wish in a matter of seconds called Hagunenons, Trillian, Zaphod and Marvin get eaten by a carbon copy of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall, Ford and Arthur escape and wind up on prehistoric Earth (end of Primary Phase).

Then Zaphod (who, along with Trillian and Marvin, survived, since the Hagunenon accidentally evolved into an escape capsule) hitches a ride to the H2G2 offices, where he meets Marvin (it turns out that Trillian was forcibly married to the Algonian chapter of the Galactic Rotary Club), both are taken to the Frogstar, where Zaphod, against all odds, survives the Total Perspective Vortex, then, after a bizarre series of events involving a hill covered with daffodils and a fossilized towel, Ford and Arthur are rescued from Earth by Zaphod, who has miraculously reacquired the Heart of Gold, they barely survive an alien attack, then wind up on the planet Brontidol, where Zaphod and Ford meet the person whom Zaphod was looking for in the H2G2 offices (Zarniwoop), then all five of them (including Lintilla, an archeologist that Arthur met) make their way to the home of the ruler of the universe. Somehow, the Heart of Gold disappears with Arthur, Lintilla and Marvin in it, leaving Ford, Zaphod and Zarniwoop stranded (end of Secondary Phase).

Follow me so far?

After listening to the Primary and Secondary phases, imagine how confused someone who has never read the H2G2 novels must feel whilst listening to the Tertiary Phase.

In the beginning of the Tertiary Phase, Ford and Arthur are stuck on prehistoric Earth.
(What? Again?? How???)

Zaphod and Trillian are together again…
(But…but…wasn’t she married to that other guy? And weren’t he and Ford marooned on that planet?)

…in the Heart of Gold.
(Huh?? I thought Arthur and Lintilla…speaking of which, what happened to HER???)

Meanwhile, Marvin is stuck in a swamp on a desolate planet…
(Um…okay, I can buy that. It’s an Infinite Improbability Drive…with it, weird stuff happens all the time, right?)

…having narrowly escaped death in an exploding sun.
(WHAT? When the #@*& did THAT happen??)

I just don’t understand all these discrepancies. Did the H2G2 radio universe undergo a sideslip* or something? I understand the writers' reasons for wanting to keep Mr. Adams’ work intact rather than radically altering the story, but why didn’t they even mention the events of the first two phases, aside from the flashbacks to several pre-Magrathea events (the only ones that seem consistent in every incarnation of H2G2)? They included a snide little cross-reference to the Secondary Phase (“…the Guide has this to say on the subject of towels: See Secondary Phase.”), but didn’t acknowledge the events of it or the Primary Phase at all.

I’m sure that the writers could have found a way to fix things so that things flowed smoothly from the end of the Secondary Phase to the beginning of the Tertiary Phase. Marvin could’ve wound up on Squornshellous Zeta through some quirk of the IID when it was activated (no exploding sun here, though), Ford and Zaphod could’ve found some way off the planet they were stranded on (possibly hitching a ride on one of the “six black shiny ships”, leaving Zarniwoop behind), Arthur and Lintilla could get to know each other better, Lintilla might become interested in Arthur’s planet and express interest in going there (having never done an archeological survey on an organic computer before), Ford and Zaphod could somehow wind up on the ship, with the IID somehow sending Ford and Arthur to prehistoric Earth.

All this would leave us with a scenario vaguely similar to the beginning of LTUAE, except Lintilla has taken Trillian’s place (no matter, though, since she leaves Zaphod at the end of the first episode, appearing again in Episode 4). The gang could’ve met Trillian at the party in the company of her husband, and Arthur could “rescue” her (with Lintilla possibly staying behind, interested in whatever archeological findings the planet ravenged by the flying party had). The rest of the story could continue on as normal – hey, the Anticlone that Arthur killed in the Secondary phase could’ve been another incarnation of Agrajag!

Yep, it could’ve been this way – or at least similar to it – but nope. No continuity for us. Everything else was wonderful, save for this.

If you’ll excuse me now…I feel another Art Fairbain “It’s not fair” episode coming on.

--Akril 6-16-05

*from Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels – a “sideslip” is a jump to a parallel universe, usually caused by someone changing the past via time travel. People “inside” the sideslip (in this case the H2G2 characters) notice nothing, but anyone “outside” the sideslip (here, the listeners) will probably be aware that something has changed. ^