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Memories of Douglas Adams

I was a Douglas Adams fan before I knew who Douglas Adams was.

The year was 1979 and my earliest memory of watching Doctor Who was returning from the Edinburgh Book Festival in time for the first story of the new season, Destiny Of The Daleks.

It hasn’t been the most popular Dalek story but it has a special place for me due to it being the first Doctor Who story I remember seeing. What I later learned to be Adams’ humour shines throughout where he combines the absurd and the serious. In this story, an empasse between Movellans and Daleks is illustrated in a simple game of “paper scissors stone” and next time you watch it, have a look at the book the Doctor is reading while he is trapped under some colapsed rubble.

The next story is an all time great and one that gave me nightmares as a kid. City of Death is rightly remembered as a classic but, at the time, I wasn’t aware that the story’s author, David Agnew, was Douglas Adams (helped by then producer Graham Williams). If you watch this story and the unmade Doctor Who story, Shada (you can buy an audio version of Shada, with Paul McGann as the Doctor, with Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K-9 from Big Finish) you will find a lot of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency there.

Years later, when such things mattered to me, I discovered that he was the script editor for that year. It was also the year that his first book was published.

And so, unknowingly, I had encountered the genius of Douglas Adams before I’d heard of, or read, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

My first encounter was with the tv series and loved it. Peter Jones had a wonderful voice for the book and Simon Jones (no relation) made the quintissential Arthur Dent, a man struggling to come to terms with the demolition of his home. He can’t even get the computer of a futuristic and one of a kind ship to make him a nice cup of tea.

Over the years, I have come to love wordplay humour and I believe that HHGTTG ingnited that love with such wonderful descriptions such as that of the Vogon ship hanging in the air in exactly the same way that bricks don’t.

I admire the way Adams pays attention to details like “how come everyone in the universe speaks English” and then creates the remarkable babel fish, not merely a fish that can translate but the cause of more and bloodier wars than any other animal.

I thought the tv series was wonderful and was impressed by the book visuals. Having seen how the book animations were done, I’m even more amazed. They were truly a labour of love.

Then I heard the radio series. It was fabulous. It had the great characters from the tv series (and now Trillian had an English accent and Ford sounded a bit different) but the magic was there and I could create my own visuals. It was about this stage that I read the books. Although I enjoy all forms of HHGTTG, it is the audio version that I tend to go back to again and again and again. It might be an audio thing as I enjoyed the audio books, read by Douglas Adams himself.

The second radio series, I felt, lacked the brilliance of the first. There were great moments such as the total perspective vortex and the body debit card but it wasn’t until I learned how tight the timing was between the finished scripts and the broadcast that I realised that it was a small miracle it was transmitted at all.

The remaining books were dramatised for radio, and in a brilliant moment of genius, Douglas can be heard as Agrajag, the creature that’s always being killed by Arthur Dent. These were all broadcast after Douglas’ untimely death. Most of the original cast returned and if you haven’t heard these adaptations by the brilliant Dirk Maggs, please stop reading and go and get them.

A new book in the HHGTTG series has now been published and written by the excellent Eoin Colfer, and while I’m sure it’ll be an enjoyable read, I think I shall invest in the audiobook. It’s read by Simon Jones, what more could you ask?

The world, and I, still miss Douglas Adams. His genius is not easily replaced.

2 comments

  1. I have not seen many episodes of Dr. Who ~ either the original or newer television shows. It is a genre that I enjoy. I started reading science fiction and fantasy when I was 11, quite unusual for a girl back then. I wasn’t even aware that there ARE Dr. Who books. I did read “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” but so long ago I can’t remember much. Yet after reading your essay, I could cry for Douglas Adams being gone. I love your writing, Simon. And, yes, I will be checking all of this out soon!


    • When I was growing up (in the days before videos, DVDs & merchandising) the main source of Doctor Who, other than the tv series, was books. Some episodes (mostly from the black and white era)have been lost ~ it was BBC policy to wipe programmes so that VT could be reused. A lot of the stories that have been released on DVD have been stories that were copied to international distribution and have turned up in places like Nigeria, New Zealand and Hong Kong ~ and so the only way these stories could be enjoyed was by reading the novelisation of the story. One of the main authors for the series was Terrance Dicks, who was script editor for Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee era (1970 – 1974). I still have my collection of these books after all these years 🙂



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