Every journey has to end somewhere. To mark the fortieth anniversary of Douglas Adams’ first interstellar hitch-hike arriving on radio and blowing the doors off the world’s imagination, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase – available now on BBC Audio – finished the Möbius strip of that long hike, some seventeen years after Adams himself died.
The Hexagonal Phase is based on the novel And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer, who did what Adams had been intending to do when he died: finish off the Hitch-Hiker’s saga on a more upbeat note than the somewhat bleak conclusion to Mostly Harmless. The Hexagonal Phase is also the end of the long journey of the Hitch-Hiker’s books being re-interpreted back into the audio medium from which the story began.
The new series brings back most of the cast: original radio show stars Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox are all there, along with Quandary and Quintessential Phase returnees Jane Horrocks as Fenchurch, Sandra Dickinson as Trillian, and Samantha Béart as Trillian and Arthur’s daughter Random. (Notably absent is the now-retired Stephen Moore, who is replaced by Jim Broadbent for a cameo appearance as Marvin the Paranoid Android.)
The guest cast is exquisite and exceptional, including original series writer (and good friend of Douglas) John Lloyd as The Book, Professor Stephen Hawking as the Guide Mark II (!), with Lenny Henry, Ed Byrne and Mitch Benn bringing hardcore stand-up talent to the Hitch-Hiker’s universe. Benn in particular is good value for money, doubling up as both Zaphod Beeblebrox’s second head, and as a rather more “Hitch-Hikey” incarnation of Thor than any you’ll see in the Marvel universe.
As you’d expect from Hitch-Hiker’s, the plot skitters about through time, space and the quantum instability of plural zones, this time focusing on a new plan (by the same old Vogons) to wipe out all possible versions of the Earth, and all its survivors to boot. The story is mostly centred around a kind of lifeboat planet (which exists for reasons that make commendably little sense), populated by credulous religious types who escaped from the original Earth before it went kablooey and led by Hillman Hunter (Ed Byrne), Irish stereotype and religious con man extraordinaire.
There are interviews for gods, a deeply unlikely love story for Trillian and an insulting immortal, and a knock-down drag-out wrestling match between the aforementioned Norse god and Trillian’s new love interest. There are tea gags and ape-man gags and people saying “What?” And there is, of sorts, a happily ever after note on which to finally leave the Hitch-Hiker’s universe behind.
The Hexagonal Phase feels like exactly what Colfer intended And Another Thing… to be: a romp with familiar characters in a universe created by Adams that brings the story to an end. However, it feels significantly different from most previous Hitch-Hiker’s audio, with the switch of principal author having a notable difference in the level of philosophical curiosity underpinning the story. It feels a touch breathless, and a touch desperate to impress with its Adams vibe – perversely falling short of precisely that, beneath a torrent of pleasantly funny mania, mad planets, absurd characters and peril, and consequences that are undoubtedly supposed to be thrilling, but somehow miss the mark.
If you’re a Hitch-Hiker’s fan, you have to get The Hexagonal Phase, just as you had to get And Another Thing… when it was released, because above all, this is how the great hitch-hike ends. But be prepared for it to be different from how you remember Hitch-Hiker’s being. Bear with the confusion of the Guide Mark II sub-plot, the purposeful mission of the crew of the Heart of Gold, and the last two episodes, with their immortal battle plot that rather drags on. This is it, it’s where the wonderful silly journey ends. Pick it up, listen, then finally hang up your towel. Pop your Babel Fish in a bowl. Retain all bodily fluids previously used to finance hyperspace travel. Have a happy Towel Day.
And then go back to the beginning and start all over again.