There’s no doubt Douglas Adams had seen Star Wars, is there? It would have been extraordinary if he hadn’t. I think there’s a hint of it in the psychic-powered monks who take away a young man as his Force awakens; the cyborg villain and his cowering military, who dress like the Death Star crew, and obviously the planet-sized, planet-killing spaceship. If this were post-Return of the Jedi you could even draw a semi-convincing analogy between Emperor Palpatine and the decrepit Queen Xanxia.
Star Wars with a script by Douglas Adams would have been a thing to see. Except he wouldn’t have been able to take the Joseph Campbell stuff seriously. This continues to provide loads of brilliant one-liners: ‘I save planets mostly’; ‘Your manner appeals only to the homicidal side of my nature’; ‘I’m only his assistant. He’s the one you should be talking to. Or rather, listening to, if you have the stamina. Every bit of exposition is accompanied by something witty. At the start of his career, Adams still has something to prove: this is more densely packed with jokes than some seasons.
It’s not just jokes, though, it’s ideas and characterisation as well. Adams was a well-known destroyer of worlds, and the planet-eating planet is appalling and fascinating. The Doctor’s boggling in horror at the fate of Bandraginus Five (‘A planet of a thousand million souls, Captain fodder’) gives him a motivation beyond the White Guardian’s arbitrary quest. The Captain, the scourge of the galaxy, is oddly in thrall to his nurse (Bruce Purchase’s sad little, ‘Postpone?’ when she denies him the chance to croak Romana is wonderful). And Mary Tamm actually gets some material, with an Emma Peelish ability to remain completely unbothered by her capture, asking a guard ‘shall I drive?’ and showing off her knowledge of air cars, and even remaining in control even when she’s brought to the Bridge. While previous companions might have swooned or been bravely defiant, she gives every impression that this is only a mild inconvenience.
Next episode: The Pirate Planet – Part Three