It started with only two series (or "Phases") in 1978-1980. It was later mixed-and-matched into the first two novels. It was later revived in 2003 and spawned three more Phases based on the last three books by Douglas Adams. Another revival in 2018, the Hexagonal Phase, adapted Eoin Colfer's entry in the series, And Another Thing....
The cast was fairly consistent across the board, with only Peter Jones and Richard Vernon being replaced between the second and third series due to their deaths in the interim. Even death didn't stop Douglas Adams from putting in an appearance in the Tertiary and Quintessential Phases, despite the fact that he wasn't reprising a previous character.
The original two seasons contain examples of:
- Androids Are People, Too: Marvin the Paranoid Android was a prototype for robots fitted with Genuine People Personalities. He's never forgiven the Marketing Division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation (who defines a robot as "Your plastic pal who's fun to be with") for it.
- Bad Boss: A Vogon. Any Vogon. But Jeltz goes into a fit of mania and violence provoked by a crewman responding to him, which snowballs into him order half his crew to wipe one another out.
- Broken Record: The auto-pilot of the Brontital space-liner insists Zaphod and Ford return to their seats, even though they're not passengers, and more importantly, civilization on the planet has been and gone. It gets increasingly pushy and loud, until it's screaming it at them.
- Card-Carrying Villain: The Frogstar Prisoner Relations office takes a malicious glee in being one of the most evil beings in the galaxy.
- Chekhov's Gun: Arthur mentions in Fit The Fifth he has a travel Scrabble game on him. He and Ford use this to find out the question hidden in his brain waves in the next fit.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Arthur and Marvin punish Hig Hurtenflurst by making him listen to Marvin's autobiography. Damn.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hig Hurtenflurst only happens to be one for a shoe company, who try zapping people with rays to make them buy more and more uncomfortable shoes. Which, as it turns out, is pointless, since people do this anyway. The giant ray guns and jobs are just there to make the executives feel important.
- Credits Gag: Frequent. The first episode of the second series mentions where a person could buy a copy of Playbeing, for example, and Hig Hurtenflurst's actor only happens to borrow his verbal tic.
- Deadly Euphemism: Played with.
- Slartibartfast threatens Arthur that, unless Arthur comes with him promptly, he will be late — as in "the late Dent Arthur Dent".
- Hig Hurtenflurst explains his use of "revoked" to Arthur by spelling it out as "k-i-l-l-e-d". A subsequent episode reveals that this is part of a larger legal wrangle where (for various reasons) the representatives of a cloning agency were trying to get murder redefined in law. They'd managed to have the word legally changed, but not the spelling.
- Don't Ask, Just Run: The Guide's advice on what to do if you ever find yourself near a Haggunennon.
- Downer Ending: Both series.
- The first ends with Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin getting eaten by a Haggunennon, while Arthur and Ford wind up stuck on prehistoric Earth with the Golgafrinchians, who despite being a load of useless idiots are going to inherit the Earth, and gum up the attempt to solve The Question.
- The second has Arthur learn Zaphod signed off on the destruction of Earth, and storms off in The Heart of Gold with Marvin, leaving Zaphod and Ford stuck with the Ruler of the Universe.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Subverted with Prostechnic Vogon Jeltz. The first time we hear him, as he addresses mankind, his voice is clear and authoritative. Then, when Ford and Arthur are on his ship, it turns out to be much more nasal and high-strung, befitting a member of a race that is "not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious, and callous".
- Face Death with Dignity: As Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin are being eaten by the ravenous Bug Blatter Beast Of Traal:Trillian: Aaarrgghh, it's got us! If I ever survive this, I'll get a job as Moby Dick's dentist!
Zaphod: Can it Trillian, I'm trying to die with dignity.
Marvin: I'm just trying to die.
- Fantastic Racism: The shape-shifting Haggunenons hate all the "filthy rotten samelings".
- Foreshadowing: Ford mentions in Fit The Fifth that drunk-time traveling earns getting dumped on a prehistoric planet and being told to a evolve into a more responsible life form. Fit The Sixth ends with him and Arthur stuck on a prehistoric Earth.
- Funny Background Event: Zarniwoop's attempts to explain what's going on to Zaphod are spoiled by Ford getting merrily pissed in the background, and his subsequent drunken singing over Zarniwoop.
- Gambit Roulette: In this version, Frankie and Benjy Mouse planned Arthur and Trillian's escape from Earth ahead of time as a back-up plan. This would involve them knowing about the Vogons' demolition plans, Ford's presence on Earth and his willingness to save Arthur, and Zaphod teleporting into a particular party and successfully wooing Trillian into leaving Arthur and going following him to the Heart of Gold.
- Giant Flyer: The Brontitall. Of the Deus Ex Machina Airlines variety. Not really that much of a spoiler.
- God Is Inept: At the very start, we are told that the Guide is more controversial than Oolon Colluphid's philosophical trilogy "Where God Went Wrong," "Some More Of God's Greatest Mistakes," and "Who Is This God Person, Anyway?" Colluphid would go on to write "Well, That About Wraps It Up For God" after He disappears upon learning that the Babel Fish's existence cancelled Him out.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Fit the First, Fit the Second, etc. This is a reference to Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.
- I Need a Freaking Drink:
Zaphod: Oh, god. [rapidly] Ford, this is Trillian, Hi. Trillian, this is my semi-cousin Ford who shares three of the same mothers as me. Hi. [...] Zaphod Beeblebrox, this is a very large drink. Hi.
- When it's established that (due to the effects of the Infinite Improbability Drive) Ford and Trillian are the only two members of the core cast who haven't coincidentally met before:
- At the beginning of series 2, we see what Arthur and Ford have been up to since getting stranded on pre-historic Earth: Stuck with the Golgafrinchians for the last two years, they're getting drunk.
- In-Universe Nickname: Marvin is first dubbed "The Paranoid Android" in Fit the Third, where the Heart Of Gold lands on Magrathea.
- It's a Long Story: Lintilla says this when asked by Hurtenflirst why there are duplicates of her running around. When asked for a quick précis, she crams it all down to "Because."
- Large Ham:
- Zaphod, played by Mark Wing-Davey, was written as such specifically because he was played by Mark Wing-Davey.
- Also Mark Smith, who just happens to chew the scenery as Hig Hurtenflirst!
- Message in a Bottle: Arthur and Ford are stranded on prehistoric Earth, and attempt to attract the attention of a passing spaceship by waving a towel at it. A volcano then erupts, covering the towel with lava. When the Earth is blown up six million years later, the now-fossilized towel gets launched into space and found by Zaphod Beeblebrox in the spaceship Heart Of Gold, who travels back in time and rescues them. (Things like this tend to happen whenever you use the Heart Of Gold's "Infinite Improbability" drive.)
- Mind Screw: The last episode of series 2 reveals that everything's been taking place inside Zarniwoop's office, including the events on Brontital. Working out how that works is anyone's guess, but apparently Lintilla is real.
- Morton's Fork: A profoundly irritated Jeltz tells his crew that if anyone speaks up again, they'll all get it in the neck. The understandably terrified Vogons don't respond, and he demands they answer...
- Motormouth: A space-freighter co-pilot flying to the Guide production-office's homeworld goes on a long-winded rant about what a bunch of sell-outs the Guide management is. The pilot's reply: "...Talk a lot, don't you?" Which provokes another long rant about how there's nothing to do on this kind of long super-automated trip but talk.
- Moving Buildings:
- In the scene where Arthur and Ford are first exposed to the Infinite Improbability Drive, they briefly see an apparition of the holiday resort of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where the sea remains steady as a rock but all the buildings on the seafront roll up and down, like waves.
- The h2g2 building in which Zaphod and Marvin have taken refuge is bodily uplifted by the dread Frogstar Fighters and transported through space to the world of the Infinite Perspective Vortex.
- Noodle Incident:
- The narrator/Guide mentions in passing that Arthur's only brother was somehow nibbled to death by an Okapi.
- Marvin survives being eaten by a Haggunennon and makes his way to the publishers of the Guide via means he apparently was never able to satisfactorily explain, but which he almost assuredly finds depressing.
- Pardon My Klingon: Discussed in the second series, with an explanation that a lot of phrases formerly banned in polite society (with reactions ranging from being shunned to being shot) are now seen as the sign of a healthy, non-[bleep]ed up mind, except the most heinous of all phrases, only one planet of which uses in cold blood: "Belgium"
- Puff of Logic: God vanishes like this, thanks to the Babel Fish's creation."I refuse to prove I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "The Babel Fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it. It proves you exist. Therefore, you don't. Q.E.D."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
- Put on a Bus: Trillian for the Secondary Phase is in an Arranged Marriage in some distant part of the galaxy.
- Relax-o-Vision: During the approach to Magrathea where, supposedly in order to help combat rising stress levels in the galaxy, it was carefully explained to the audience that no one was going to get killed in the ensuing confusion — although one unidentified person would be bruised on the arm. It's Arthur.
- Retronym: It wasn't until the radio series were released on tape that the seasons began being referred to as Phases. (This only applies to the first two seasons, the rest were labeled Phases right out of the gate.)
- Ripple Effect Indicator: While trapped on prehistoric Earth, Ford and Arthur encounter a hovering spacecraft that keeps appearing and disappearing as they discuss how to react to its presence. They eventually figure out that it has traveled back in time, and that whatever they do next will determine whether the future will be one in which the spacecraft exists and makes the journey; as long as they can see it, they're on the right track, but if it disappears, that's a sign that whatever they're planning to do will result in a future where the spacecraft never visited them in the past.
- Second Episode Introduction: Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin.
- Shaped Like Itself: Zaphod and Ford find themselves in a cave made out of marble, very slippery marble. Zaphod tries to compare it to the slipperiest thing Ford can think of. Unfortunately, the slipperiest thing Ford can think of is the marble, leading to the statement "This marble is as slippery as this marble."
- Significant Double Casting: Bill Wallis plays both Prosser (the man in charge of demolishing Arthur's house) and Jeltz (the alien in charge of demolishing Arthur's planet).
- Take That!:
- Shooty and Bang Bang, the two trigger-happy but sensitive cops who go after our heroes on Magrathea, are a cruel parody of Starsky & Hutch.
- The most hideous word in the galaxy, used only by the most loose-tongued people in times of extreme stress, is... Belgium.
- Tricked Into Signing:
- The Frogstar Prisoner Relations Officer pretends he wants Zaphod's autograph to trick Zaphod into signing a release form agreeing to be shoved into the Total Perspective Vortex.
- A cloning machine accident results in a large number of clones of a young woman named Lintilla. The company's clean-up plan involves an equally large number of attractive male "anti-clones" and a set of "Agreements to Cease to Be" disguised as marriage certificates.
- Unstable Genetic Code:The Haggunenons of Vicissitus Three have the most impatient chromosomes of any life form in the Galaxy. Whereas most races are content to evolve slowly and carefully over thousands of generations, discarding a prehensile toe here, nervously hazarding another nostril there, the Haggunenons would do for Charles Darwin what a squadron of Arcturan stunt apples would have done for Sir Isaac Newton. Their genetic structure, based on the quadruple sterated octohelix, is so chronically unstable that, far from passing their basic shape onto their children, they will quite frequently evolve several times over lunch.
- Vengeful Vending Machine: Arthur Dent, sick of getting a drink which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea from the Nutri-Matic machine, gives it a lengthy lecture on the nature and history of real tea. The machine hijacks the starship's entire computing power to work on the problem of why on earth someone wants dried leaves in boiling water, leaving the ship defenceless against a missile attack. Arthur gets his tea in the end, though.
- Weird Trade Union: The Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Professional Thinking Persons, which opposed using the computer Deep Thought to find the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything because, under law, the quest for Ultimate Truth was under their prerogative, and not the computer's. They even threatened to go out on strike, though they dodged the question of who, exactly, that would inconvenience.
- What Does This Button Do?: Lampshaded.Arthur Dent: What happens if I press this button?Ford Prefect: I wouldn't—Arthur Dent: Oh.Ford Prefect: What happened?Arthur Dent: A sign lit up, saying "Please do not press this button again."
The three revived seasons contain examples of:
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: The final fate of Wowbagger.
- Back for the Finale: The ending sequence of the final episode of the Quintessential Phase (and the final episode of the radio series altogether) has the return of Fenchurch and Marvin, as well as Max Quordlepleen, the Great Prophet Zarquon, Wowbagger, Lintilla, Prosser, and a few other bit players.
- Book-Ends: Played with. One of the alternate Earths features Arthur lying in front of a bulldozer ready to demolish his house, but Fenchurch is with him this time.
- Brick Joke: It is said that God's Final Message to His Creations, when seen, makes those who see it feel good. Sure enough, when Marvin sees the message, which is "we apologise for the inconvenience", his response? "I think I feel good about it."
- Comic-Book Time: The original two series, broadcast from 1978 - 1980, were intended as a contemporary piece. While the narrative quickly left Earth and there is not much to date it, it can still be a bit jarring when the later three series have scenes on or in reference to Earth that make more modern cultural references, or include as common technology things that would not yet have been common or even have existed. Of course, when dealing with possibilities such as different versions of Earth existing across multiple planes of reality, one supposes that such things may be relative.
- Content Warnings:
- One episode of the Tertiary Phase finishes with the warning: "The preceding program contains scenes of extreme violence which may be disturbing to some viewers. Time travellers of a nervous disposition may wish to consider listening to something else for the previous half-hour."
- Played straight when the episode featuring the destruction of the Guide offices was broadcast on Radio 4 shortly after 9/11.
- Everybody Lives: All the core cast manages to survive at the very end of the series, including Trillian and her alternate self (who merge into a single being), Marvin (who was still under warranty when he expired), and Fenchurch (who had been waiting at Milliway's since she seemingly ceased to exist). And the Vogons fail to eradicate every Earth.
- Oddly Named Sequel: The original two series and the later adaptation of "Life, the Universe and Everything" were released as the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Phases. The adaptations of the last two books became the Quandary and Quintessential Phases — more accurate titles would be the Quaternary and Quinary Phases.
- Retcon: The entire Secondary Phase is All Just a Dream Zaphod had, to cover for the Tertiary Phase opening with Ford and Arthur still being stranded on prehistoric Earth. Subverted when Zaphod discoverss it did all happen. Inside Zarniwoop's office. Meaning the time in the Secondary Phase spent in Zarniwoop's office was inside Zarniwoop's office.
- Sound Defect: In the Tertiary Phase, the insertion of the key into the Slo-time lock is interrupted by the Guide, which digresses on the subject of sound effects and why that one didn't "cut the mustard" before substituting a second sound effect.
- Sound-Effect Bleep: Fit the Sixteenth from the Tertiary Phase. The book Life, The Universe And Everything on which the Phase was based featured an award for "The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word Fuck in a Serious Screenplay"; since it was scheduled to be broadcast at 6.30 pm the word was still uttered by the actor but completely masked by the sound of a starship engine.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The final episode has a bit where the radio announcer tries to reassure the audience that the Vogon ships they are seeing are only illusions.
The sixth season contains examples of:
- Back from the Dead: Though Marvin remained dead in And Another Thing..., he appears outside Arthur's shack in Episode 1 (the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation took his personality and put it in another body). Subverted when it turns out to only exist in the Guide Mark II, then double-subverted in Episode 6 when Arthur finds him in the same place in reality.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The ending of And Another Thing... plays out mostly as it originally does, with nearly everyone getting some sort of happy ending, but Fenchurch is present at the shack (to Arthur's surprise), having filled out the permit that staves off the Vogons. After everything he's been through, Arthur finally gets a happy ending. Oh, and Marvin lives, too.
- Happy Ending Override: It turns out that the ending of the Quintessential Phase was little more than a virtual reality created by the Guide Mark II, as a means of persuading the cast to return to Earth before its destruction — which, by the by, is still moments away from occuring.
- Oddly Named Sequel: Just like the Quandary and Quintessential Phases, this series is the Hexagonal Phase, and not the "Senary Phase".
- Special Guest: The late Stephen Hawking provides the voice of the Guide Mark II in Episode 1. Random even mentions it sounds like him, but is cut off before she says his name. The Guide Mark II even implies that in other timelines, it was the man himself.