If you’re not yet convinced by the BBC’s current inclination to release Blu-ray HD editions of SD TV material recorded (often on videotape) in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s unlikely that this new 3-disc ‘special edition’ of the 1981 six-part Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series will change your mind. The slipcover of the new release proudly proclaims “remastered and restored” but, in all honesty, you’re not likely to see much improvement in the picture quality from the long-available DVD release of the series, although the sound has been beefed up for those with real high-end hardware.
We’re not going to insult you by recapping the story of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here; if you’re not familiar with Douglas Adams’ groundbreaking 1970s radio sci-fi comedy (and this subsequent TV serialisation) then you’ve really no business reading Starburst at all. The TV episodes are no better or worse than you might expect from a BBC sci-fi series from the early 1980s, especially one produced by a man best known as producer and occasional director of the long-running rolling-down-the-hill-in-a-tin-bath codgers comedy Last of the Summer Wine – you can’t help but wonder just how far out of his depth he was here. The visual effects are shonky but well-meant, the acting is brutally plummy, and the humour is unavoidably shot through with post-Python Oxbridge smart-arsery. But the ideas are great, and there are loads of them, Adams’ prodigious imagination throwing out concepts and gags which roll and bounce, shooting off in all directions before being replaced with something even wilder and more brain-boggling.
Hitch-Hiker’s is fine and dandy then, with the proviso that it’s approached as an under-budgeted period piece which was never really going to do justice to its creator’s vision. Is this new Blu-ray package worth your time and cash? The first two discs contain all the material from the 2002 DVD release. If you’re going to buy this new edition, you’ll be doing it for disc three which is full of previously unreleased material, the best of which is a lengthy reel of studio footage from the production which sees the cast relaxing, pulling faces and suffering for their art between and during takes, and the show’s admittedly excellent hand-drawn ‘Guide’ animation presented in HD. Everything else is a ragbag of often dodgy quality off-air recordings of old BBC TV shows (some of which see Adams excitedly demonstrating a thrilling new text computer game in 1985), pompous Robert Kee telling Adams he didn’t think his second Hitch-Hiker’s book was as good as the first, Marvin the Paranoid Android ‘performing’ his Top 52 hit single on Blue Peter, ten brief films largely taken from an ancient Adams interview, and several items from the recording of recent audio dramatisations which are little more than adverts for their commercial releases. The most recent piece is an appearance from Simon Jones on BBC’s Breakfast programme in 2012.
Despite its nicely-designed packaging and what can most generously be described as a minuscule improvement in visual quality, Hitch-Hiker’s on Blu-ray disappoints because there’s nothing new here at all, just a lot of old archive baggage exhumed and rammed onto the third disc. There’s nothing here you’ll need to see again. We’re equally ambivalent about the BBC’s Blu-ray releases of ‘classic’ Doctor Who, but at least those sets have some new features, interviews and FX sequences. There’s a whiff of the cash-in about the Hitch-Hiker’s set which, in the end, is only really going to appeal to completists who can’t live without seeing a 1980 clip of Douglas Adams on Nationwide and really aren’t too bothered that the TV show itself looks little better than it ever has.
THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ALAN JW BELL / SCREENPLAY: DOUGLAS ADAMS / STARRING: SIMON JONES, PETER JONES, DAVID DIXON, MARK WING-DAVEY, SANDRA DICKINSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW