Today, I will mostly be carrying a towel.
SJ has blogged elsewhere about her love for Douglas Adams, and a better introduction to the series you could not wish for, so I suggest you open up that post in a separate window and read it after you’ve finished with this one. In the meantime, to celebrate 25 May, I bring you this.
I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as a teenager. At the time I don’t think I realised what I had. Here was the satirical science novel to end all satirical science novels and all I could think about was how it related to the Discworld, in which I was ensconced, if that’s the right word. I enjoyed the adventures of Arthur and Ford but was far more interested in Death and his granddaughter Susan. Then I went to university and immersed myself in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf because we were supposed to. Then I grew up, and stopped reading the classics precisely because that’s what I’d been told to read for the past thirteen years, and ever since then I’ve read little except comic books, music biographies and science fiction (and Dan Brown). Sci-fi aside, my world is one great big ocean of trash lit, and I love it.
I first saw the series years ago, but I can’t remember at what point I figured out that Marvin the Paranoid Android was ripe for a smash-and-grab redub. I was probably showering or driving. Nonetheless, some sort of mashup seemed inevitable. Marvin is a work of unparalleled genius, the sort of chap you’d be happy to have along for the ride purely for comic relief and so long as you can mute him, voiced to perfection by Stephen Moore (who also turned up in Doctor Who some years later, playing an elderly Silurian in the otherwise forgettable ‘Cold Blood’). He remains so popular years after the fact because there is something inherently British in his misery; he’s like the pensioners I encountered on the bus after days of continuous rain who were complaining about the heat. Marvin is never satisfied with his lot, and we love him for it.
Earlier this year, Emily and I watched ‘The Robots of Death’, which also features robots getting slightly miserable. D84 lacks Marvin’s sour perspective, but does have one of the most fragile voices ever to grace artificial intelligence, practically shedding tears when he laments of his failure, before gasping “Goodbye…my…friend”, with pauses that would have impressed even Harold Pinter, as he (metaphorically) breathes his last. He also gets one of the story’s funniest scenes (along with Borg’s reaction to the Doctor’s offer of a jelly baby), when Leela takes him for an attacker and hurls a spare appendage from a previous assassin in his direction, causing D84 to respond with “Please do not throw hands at me”. It’s a masterful performance from Gregory de Polnay, to the extent that I was hesitant to mess with it, but in terms of redubbing Marvin, it seemed an obvious choice.
Stephen Moore provided the definitive Marvin, of course, but not the only one. Emily and I met at the cinema, some ten years ago now, and for a while we marked the occasion with annual visits to the same cinema, every May bank holiday. In spring 2005, when she was thick with pregnancy, we saw the remake of Hitchhiker’s – hopelessly miscast and structurally uneven, the net result was a film so bad it made Douglas Adams seem dull, which I’d hitherto thought impossible. It’s so atrocious that no one seems to even care that it’s on YouTube as a full-length stream. The best thing about it, of course, is Alan Rickman, who brings a sardonic whine to Marvin that suits him well, particularly in his new, squat form.
But you can’t use the film, because it’s covered in score, so I went back to the classic series. This involved watching it again (along with Emily, who was seeing it for the first time – I really should have done a Wife In Space type thing) and ripping out the dialogue later. Then I basically put the thing together over the course of one very long evening, surviving on coffee and M&Ms (and coming up with the idea, just now, for coffee-flavoured M&Ms, which I know would be a work of genius).
The first time I viewed the rough cut, it was a disaster. It didn’t gel at all. Then I added a single sound effect – the drone-like hum that you can hear throughout – and something clicked. The only thing I wish I’d changed is a contraction of the opening credits, because while it feels more episode-like as a result, you need to get in quick if you’re going to hook an audience, and I worry about wandering attention spans. The ending, of course, also differs from ‘The Robots of Death’ because I couldn’t bring myself to let Marvin / D84 stay dead, which is why he pops up just before the Doctor and Leela leave in the TARDIS.
One thing that came out of this was the decision that from this point forward, Gareth would be the arbiter of quality before I went public with anything. He it was who suggested that the ‘Don’t Splink!’ video I produced a while back would arguably work better without the tacked-on coda, and I also wish I’d listened to him about the Yoho Ahoy! redub, which seems a little messy with Cybermen that don’t really fit. When I showed him the first (and now deleted) version of this, his reaction was that it would be improved if Dask or Leela sounded more like Frankie and Benjy. (And yes, I know that video is from the film, but I couldn’t find an appropriate TV series equivalent.) Dask couldn’t be touched without also tainting the score, but I did manage to rework Leela (although, as Gareth then pointed out, “It’s now rather hard to work out what she’s actually saying!”. I should have included subtitles.
For the benefit of younger or non-UK readers, the “You Have Been Watching” credit style is a gimmick of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, two British sitcom giants. It might have worked better with applause. But you spend all your time looking back at these things and working out ways to improve them, and there has to be a point at which you stop, and admit that what you’ve done is good enough. There is, I’m convinced, a far more coherent version of this that could be made using Marvin’s dialogue from the radio series – a series which encompasses the later books – but I do not think this will be produced by me. What I’ve done is probably good enough, and I am happy to make the expanded version Somebody Else’s Problem.
Now, where did I put that towel…?