I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. There are little milestones every now and then on this journey – stories that I’ve heard of because they mark the first or last occurrence of something or other. Having been a fan of Hitchhikers long before Who, and this being the first time I’ve watched anything from these couple of seasons, I’ve long been fascinated with how Douglas Adams’s unquestionable genius would translate. It’s mainly his tenure as script editor that excites me – to see a whole run of episodes with his ideas sprinkled throughout – but this serial provides a first glimpse as to how well it works.
And the answer is: pretty bloody well. A lot of sequences are very recognisably Douglas, particularly in the first couple of episodes – The Doctor wandering around unable to get anyone to listen to him, but Romana having no problems whatsoever. The Doctor even did a variation on the “I’ll never be cruel to a gin and tonic again” joke. The interactions between The Captain and Mr Fibuli were very Hitchhikersy, and it was always entertaining while they were on screen.
There are arguably a few too many ideas in the mix, with only four episodes to deal with them all. The concept of a time-travelling empty planet gobbling up other planets is brilliant, and the addition of the perpetrators being tyrannical pirates with a robot parrot would probably be enough. But then you’ve got the psychic fellas, and the compacted planet corpses, and the reveal that some old woman, suspended in time, is behind it all… none of these extra elements had enough time to be used satisfactorily.
All of which lead to a real disappointment of an ending, with The Doctor’s heroics all taking place off screen, and everything explained to us verbally afterwards. For one thing, the explanation was just a blur of long words and bollocks, which left me so confused I had to look it up afterwards. But even if the resolution had been satisfying in itself, it would have been so much nicer to have seen it rather than be told about it. We didn’t even get a nice, neat coda of them retrieving and converting the key segment, just “oh, we’ll pick it up later”. What a swizz.
But still, it was an always entertaining set of episodes thanks to the sizzling dialogue – no surprise given the author – and great performances from all three regulars. Two serials in, I really like Tom Baker and Mary Tamm together, plus of course K-9 keeps getting better and better. Not quite the uncovered Douglas Adams masterpiece I was unrealistically hoping for, but it will very much do.