Recently, Paul B and I were guests on the Extended Edition podcast for their forty second episode . It being their forty second episode and they being a podcast that focuses on small and large screens – well, it was obvious that they could only cover one thing in this episode – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (in all its many incarnations). Paul and I rewatched the 1981 TV series in preparation. Here are just a few things that I didn’t quite get to discuss as much as I wanted in that episode, though please go and give it a listen, the Extended Edition guys are really rad.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy follows the “adventures” of Earth man Arthur Dent who is dragged into space, moments before the impending destruction of the Earth. Over the course of the story, Arthur learns that his best friend is an alien and that the galaxy is an awfully large place, as is the universe in general. It is the brainchild of Douglas Adams, and the name of the series references an e-book of the same name that features heavily in the story.
“If you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” I can’t quite put my finger on why, but since I first read the books, listened to the radio plays and watched the original TV series (all within the same twelve month period when I was 16), I have felt an affinity with Douglas Adams’ strange and mysterious restaurant out on the edges of time and space. It’s the one thing that, beyond references to the life, the universe and everything, I always end-up coming back to.
Okay, and towels. In fact if there’s one thing that the TV series and the series as a whole has managed to do, at least from the perspective of the first two books, is become well remembered for odd lines and iconic themes and things that have become most quotable in geek culture. From Marvin the paranoid android to Pan Galatic Gargle Blasters – there are many elements that people will frequently recall. The big one, of course, being the number forty two.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is, to me, Douglas Adams holding up a mirror to our culture and society (with a heavy UK bias) and going, “WTF people? WTF?!” Sure, there are lovely bits of comedy and humour in the series, but there is a sense of societal desperation in its opening scenes with Arthur having a showdown against workmen intent on bulldozing his house, and the revelations that take place during the final episode in regards to the origins of man. If there’s something that doesn’t come off well in the TV series, it’s bureaucracy and middle management.
In fact the worst, yet most astute, representation of the kind of bureaucratic, mindless meddling that has become endemic in British life since the 1970s is most horrificly depicted within the folds of the Vogon ship crew that demolish the Earth. The Vogons as a whole, for me, offer up a twisted and truthful mirror of British life that has persisted since my childhood and doesn’t show any real sign of going away. To me it is the Vogons, more than the humans of episode six, that show a mirror to life in the UK today.
Just be thankful that no one’s found Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings’ poetry book yet.