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Series / The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

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The answer to the Great Question Of Life, the Universe, and Everything... is Forty-two.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) was a fairly straight translation of the radio series and first two books by Douglas Adams into miniseries form, keeping much of the original cast, including Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Peter Jones (no relation) as The Book, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Stephen Moore as Marvin. David Dixon replaced Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect, and Sandra Dickinson replaced Susan Sheridan as Trillian. As with its earlier incarnations, it followed the exploits of a hapless Englishman who is rescued from Earth by an interstellar journalist, seconds before the planet is demolished to make way for a bypass.

Its cult following admires it for its characters, dialogue and ingenuity, whilst admitting it is one of the more technically inept creations ever put on television; it was notorious even in its day for Zaphod Beeblebrox's animatronic second head, which looked like a lump of putty with a wig on. Far more effective are the amusing illustrated excerpts from The Book, which used traditional animation techniques to imitate complex computer readouts.

This series also cemented a number of the visual aspects of the Series Franchise which had not, at the time, been canonized in the books: most notably, it was not until writing the television series that Douglas Adams realized that Arthur Dent had spent the entire adventure in his pyjamas.

For all versions of the story, see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This show provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Nationality: Trillian is English in the original radio series, but American in the TV version. Adams later said that Sandra Dickinson could do a perfect English accent if asked, but production problems were such that no-one thought of it.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • In the books, Zaphod is blond and Ford is redheaded. In the TV series, they both have dark hair. Mark Wing-Davey is quoted as saying that he said he thought Zaph was "a blond beach bum" (with the implication that he'd have been quite happy to wear a wig), but the producer/director (Alan Bell) wasn't listening to anyone involved in the radio show.
    • Trillian was described with dark hair. When the series came to television, she was played by blonde American Sandra Dickinson. This was done on advice of Douglas Adams himself, who liked Dickinson on the role.
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • While suffering through his and Ford's session with the Infinite Improbability Drive, Arthur is (temporarily) detached from his various limbs, with one leg drifting scenically off into the sunset.
    • Also used in a Guide entry to underscore the importance of keeping all receipts when traveling.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...
    Ford: I don't believe you.
    Zaphod: Why not?
    Ford: You tend to lie a lot.
  • Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: The Captain of the Golgafrincham B Ark never leaves his bathtub, which is on the bridge of the space ship. He remains in his bath even after the crash, from which he chairs (rocks) planning meetings.
  • BBC Quarry: Magrathea.
  • Bill... Bill... Junk... Bill...: Parodied, deconstructed or just weirded, since Ford goes through many futuristic-sounding devices, laughing it all off as obsolete junk, then finds just what he needs... a towel. This moment originated in the book, and isn't in the radio series.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The final episode ends with Arthur and Ford discovering that the meaning of life is nonsensical. In addition, they're trapped two million years in Earth's past with no apparent way out of their situation. The radio and novel versions show that they get out of this predicament okay, but still...
  • British Brevity: Just one series of six episodes.
  • Bubble Pipe: The Golgafrincham captain constantly blows into one as he lounges in the bath.
  • Burp of Finality: At the end of the animated Guide entry on Vogon Constructor Fleets, when a Vogon grandmother is eaten by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, it burps.
  • The Cameo: Doctor-designate Peter Davison appears in heavy makeup as the Dish of the Day. And in the same sequence, Darth Vader portrayer David Prowse as Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard.
  • Cozy Voice for Catastrophes: Peter Jones as the voice of the Guide. In one particularly stressful scene, he assures the main characters' safety in advance while pleasant images appear on the screen.
  • Creator Cameo: Douglas Adams appears behind Arthur and Ford at the bar in the first episode, and again (much more obviously) as the depressed businessman who strips off and wades into the sea. His likeness is also used several times in the Guide animations: as one of the Sirius Cybernetics "mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came", in drag as the Guide illustration for the worst poetry-writer in the universe, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, and seated at a typewriter in the montage of humans suffering while dolphins splash about having a good time.
  • Cut Short: There were plans for another series, but sadly they never materialized.
  • Cute Machines: Marvin the Paranoid Android. More than anything, you can't help but want to hug him.
  • Darker and Edgier: Deep Thought sounds a lot more menacing in the TV series than he did in the radio series, perhaps on account of his original voice actor Geoffrey McGivern being replaced by Valentine Dyall. Dyall had previous played Deep Thought on the Original Records adaptation and they seem to have preferred his more gravelly voice.
  • Data Pad: The Guide looks something like an Amazon Kindle—kind of a dedicated tablet computer which can only access the Guide.
  • The Day the Music Lied: "No, wait! What's this switch?"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters, but Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent and the Guide most of all.
  • Detonation Moon: A description of the songs of the rock group Disaster Area:
    "[They] are, on the whole, very simple and usually follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon which then explodes for no adequately explored reason."
  • Dissimile: "They hung in the air exactly the way that bricks don't."
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Most of the venues mentioned by Ford when talking to Hotblack are named in the first episode during the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster entry from the Guide.
    • One of the Sirius Cybernetics employees is animated with a "Disaster Area" T-shirt before the band is introduced.
  • Eleventy Zillion: The TV series extends a line of dialogue from the book and puts in a new number:
    Ford Prefect: I think this ship is brand-new, Arthur.
    Arthur Dent: Why, have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?
    Ford Prefect: No. I just found this sales brochure on the floor. It says, "The Universe can be yours for a mere five quilliard Altairian dollars."
    Arthur Dent: Cheap?
    Ford Prefect: A quilliard is a whole page full of noughts [zeros] with a one at the beginning.
  • The End Is Nigh: A man is seen holding a board bearing this slogan before the Earth is destroyed. When he realizes the end actually IS nigh, he abandons his sign.
  • Exotic Equipment: According to Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic!, the costumer gave Zaphod's trousers a double fly, suitably padded.
  • Exposition Beam: Arthur is given this treatment during his trip to Magrathea.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Ford wears tacky abstractions of Seventies fashion.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: All over the place in the animations. There are lots of subtle jokes and Call Backs to previous adaptions of the series.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • A man grins over the beer Ford has bought, then looks dejected as he takes it away.
    • When Arthur mentions the workman who charged him a five to wipe his windows, the workman behind Prosser suddenly looks away as Prosser glances at him.
    • After Arthur angrily denounces Zaphod as Phil and Ford tries to reason with him, Zaphod can be seen in the background getting a new babelfish, convinced that his incomprehension is language based.
  • Fun with Subtitles: THIS NEVER HAPPENS.
  • Giant Mook: Dave Prowse plays Hotblack Desiato's bodyguard.
  • Grapes of Luxury: During the Guide entry about luxury planets, showed a typical luxury-planet-owner reclining on a couch surrounded by scantily-clad women, who were feeding him individually-plucked morsels. Being cleaned by kisses, breast-rubbing, and so forth may be sensual, but it wouldn't make the grape taste very good. The guy promptly yawns and feeds the thing to his dog.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The stereo remix places the narration of the Guide entries completely in one speaker, and the background music in the other.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: With her Green Skinned Space Dude paramour, in the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster entry from the Guide sequence.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: On the DVD.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: The hologram of Slartibartfast is a fuzzy, white monochrome image.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: The Vogon Captain reads his tortuously bad poetry to Arthur and Ford (who he previously threatened to have spaced) and asks them what they think of it. The two go at length about how good it is, noting the clever use of made-up poetry conventions. Once they're done, the Captain says they were completely wrong, and that his poetry being tortuously bad was actually his intent, to put other people in same bad mood that he's in.
  • Hope Spot: Parodied in the scene where Ford and Arthur are about to be blown out the Vogon airlock into deep space, and Ford suddenly says: "Wait a minute! What's this switch!", complete with a hopeful swell of music. But it turns out he's just being a jerk, there's no switch, and they do indeed get blown into space.
  • Human Aliens: In addition to Ford, several decidedly non-human races from the other versions are presented as looking exactly like humans. This gets weird in a few cases where these characters remark on what a weird monkey-man Arthur is.
  • I Don't Think That's Such a Good Idea:
    Arthur: I wonder what happens when I press this button?
    Ford: I wouldn't.
    Arthur: (after pressing button anyway) Oh...
    Ford: What happened?
    Arthur: A sign came on saying "Please don't press this button again."
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: Appears as a sight gag. Zaphod prepares two drinks, and Ford reaches for one of them, assuming it's for him, but it's snatched from his grasp as Zaphod drains them both with his two heads.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: Ford discovers some hagra biscuits baked by the Dentrassi and tells Arthur, "Your mouth will love you for the rest of your life." Unfortunately, the Dentrassi baked these particular biscuits for the Vogons; after one mouthful, Ford realizes just how much Dentrassi hate Vogons.
  • In-Camera Effects: An in-color version of the filter trick: Zaphod's color-changing sunglasses were made out of polarizing filters, with another polarizer on the camera lens. When all three were oriented the same way, light passed through freely and the glasses were clear. When the one on the camera was turned, it blocked the light that the glasses let through, turning them black while everything else appeared unchanged.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: "Journey Of The Sorcerer" by the Eagles. Famously chosen because Douglas Adams thought that the theme for a show about hitch-hiking should have a banjo in it somewhere.
  • Inventing the Wheel: The wheel that the Golgafrinchans invent is multicoloured and octagonal.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Zaphod says he thinks someone said something important shortly after Arthur described the restaurant as "not so much an afterlife, more a sort of après-vie" (a play on "après-ski"), Arthur starts "I said it was a sort of après..." only to be interrupted with "Yeah, and don't you wish you hadn't?"
  • Let's Meet the Meat: The Dish of the Day. The Dish merrily goes on to explain, "I'll just nip off and shoot myself. Don't worry sir, I'll be very humane." Arthur Dent was pretty freaked out at that point. He orders a salad, which causes the talking soon-to-be-entree to roll its eyes and remark that the vegetables wanting to be eaten are unable to express their feelings, and that's why "it was eventually decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly." Then, Arthur decides to order a glass of water. Which in turn can be read as ironic considering the joke from the first book: "It's unpleasantly like being drunk." "What's so unpleasant about being drunk?" "You ask a glass of water." And this is a universe where a bowl of petunias has sentience, so you never know.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Arthur Dent spends the entire series in his pajamas. Ford Prefect wears the same outfit throughout. Trillian, however, magically changes to a new outfit each time the Infinite Improbability Drive is used.
  • Matte Shot: The series pioneered Matte Shots within Matte Shots.
  • Million to One Chance: Arthur and Ford are rescued by the Heart of Gold seconds before they would have died after being ejected from a Vogon ship. Arthur states that the chances against it were astronomical after Ford tries to act as if he was counting on it as a certainty. Because Arthur had lived his entire life on Earth and Ford had been stuck there for over a decade, the ensuing weirdness such as an infinite number of penguins with a revised script for Hamlet didn't tip them off to the fact that they had an advantage in the form of the Infinite Improbability Drive.
  • Mistaken for Afterlife: When the group arrive at Milliways:
    Barman: It's not unusual for customers to be disoriented after the time journey.
    Trillian: "Time journey"?
    Ford Prefect: You mean... this isn't the afterlife?
    Barman: The afterlife? No, sir.
    Arthur: So... we're not dead?
    Barman: Sir is most evidently alive, otherwise I would not attempt to serve sir.
  • Money to Throw Away: The opening of the second episode describes how the planet Earth had a problem - that most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were posed for the problem, most of which involved the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. A businessman (Creator Cameo by franchise creator Douglas Adams) is shown going to a bank and acquiring a number of said small green pieces of paper. The narration continues that many were increasingly of the idea that they'd made a mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. Some said that even the trees had been a bad move and that no one should ever have left the oceans. At which point the businessman (shown stark-naked from the rear), heads into the ocean, tossing away his small green pieces of paper as he goes.
  • Multiple Head Case: The series had to try and portray Zaphod Beeblebrox with the special-effects technology of the early 1980s and the budget of a BBC science-fiction series. The result was not terribly successful.
  • Mythology Gag: The Guide animations contain several shout-outs to the other versions of "Hitchhiker's" such as the Frogstar scout in the "robot" entry.
  • Narrator: Peter Jones as The Guide.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: Trillian's outfit has a plunging neckline that reaches her abdomen.
  • Ninja Prop: Episode 3 begins with a potted history of the Galactic Empire, signified by the coat of arms of the Empire floating in space. Then a spaceship containing a Real Man, a Real Woman and a Real Small Furry Creature from Alpha Centauri crashes into it.
  • No Mere Windmill: A man with a placard reading "The End of the World is Nigh" is among those seen panicking in the street when the Vogons arrive.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The opening shows the sun rising over a lovely landscape. Many viewers wrote in asking where it was, except for the model railway enthusiasts, who recognized the commercially available trees.
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: The producers looked at what The BBC's own effects department offered for the guide. It wasn't pretty. So they averted this by using very painstakingly detailed cel animation and clever rear projection tricks to show "advanced" computer displays (such as the tiny non-flat flatscreen of the guide, the gigantic widescreen display on the Heart of Gold, etc).
  • Palette-Swapped Alien Food: Hagro biscuit looks like a blue panini topped with guacamole.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: The sequence demonstrating the effect of drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster ends with a close-up of the stuff, having been spilled when the drinkers succumbed to unconsciousness, eating a hole in the floor.
  • Race Lift: Trillian is described in the books as "vaguely Arabic". In the series, she's played by blonde American Sandra Dickinson. According to Douglas Adams, they were just delighted that they'd found an actress who could do something with the part, which he didn't think he'd written very well.
  • Re-Cut: The home video releases featured the score remixed in stereo.
  • Religion Is Right: God refused to prove he existed "because proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing". The existence of the Babelfish, which instantly translates any kind of language for its user and whose evolution was frankly impossible, proved he existed; therefore, by his own argument, he doesn't. God promptly vanishes in a Puff of Logic. Following which, "Man" proves that black is white, and is run over at the next zebra crossing.
    "Most theologians consider this argument a load of dingoes' kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid from making a small fortune when he used it at the centerpiece of his best selling book Well, That About Wraps It Up For God. "
  • Resistance Is Futile: This is the Catchphrase of the young Vogon guard. He really loves to shout it and considers it a major job perk. (OK, he goes with "useless" rather than "futile", but you get the idea.)
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Ford Prefect wears a carefully clashing outfit involving a striped cricket blazer, a Hawaiian shirt and an Argyle sweater.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sistine Steal: The subsection of the Babel fish entry on the non-existence of God represents God and Man using the famous Sistine depictions.
  • The Slow Path: When the others are blasted into the future, Marvin has to take the slow path and wait billions of years to meet up with them. He spends the last several thousand years parking cars at the site where the Restaurant At the End of the Universe was eventually built.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Instead of the theme music, the last episode ends with "What a Wonderful World" playing as Arthur and Ford, displaced in time, wonder at how beautiful the prehistoric Earth is, conscious that it'll be gone in two million years. The credits then shift into a readout on the Guide, floating through space, to explicitly remind us that in the show's "present", the Earth is destroyed.
  • Space Clothes:
    • Zaphod Beeblebrox wears a suit apparently made of dayglo circuit boards. Granted, he was voted "Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe" seven times running...
    • An interesting aversion comes from the fact that Douglas Adams originally scripted a scene where the Heart of Gold ship creates a jump-suit for Arthur. The producer, however, realized that he would have been in his pyjamas until this point and kept him in them.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: A comparatively light version occurs at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. How light it is depends on your point of view. The entire universe is coming to an end... for the entertainment of those who traveled in time to visit a restaurant with a view of it.
  • Starship Luxurious: The Heart of Gold. As Arthur puts it:
    Now this is my idea of a space ship—gleaming metal, flashing lights...
  • The Stinger: Episode three did this, explaining which character bruised their arm in the attack. (This was the same stinger as in episode three of the radio series, from which it was adapted.)
  • Stuff Blowing Up: "[Disaster Area's] songs are, on the whole, very simple and usually follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon which then explodes for no adequately explored reason."
  • Sudden Video-Game Moment: When the Vl'hurg and G'gugvunts battle.
  • Suicide by Sea: The second episode has a man walking naked into the sea throwing money away.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: In the third episode, when Zaphod calls for Eddie the computer to tell him what planet they're in orbit around, Ford gives a fantastic expression of eyes shut wincing pain and anguish at what he knows he's about to hear.
  • Time-Passage Beard: In the final episode, there's a time skip during which Ford and Arthur go off to explore the planet they've been marooned on, and grow beards.
  • Tinman Typist: Marvin sometimes uses vocal commands. He opens the black spaceship's airlock by saying "Abracadiodularservosystems"; of course, in that case he knew the password because he parked it for them. It would be hard to judge whether he would find a plug in or voice control easier. He'd certainly be depressed by either option.
  • Translator Microbes: The Babel fish.
  • Trapped in the Past: Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect end up stuck on prehistoric Earth with the idiotic Golgafrinchans.
  • Unreadably Fast Text: The series has faux computer graphics that were deliberately too detailed to read in full unless one paused one's VCR (as was then in vogue).
  • Weird World, Weird Food: Ford tries to tempt Arthur with some extremely weird-looking alien food on the Vogons' ship. Except it backfires: Dentrassi (the cooks) really don't like Vogons, you see.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out where Zahpod and Trillian ended up. Not in this continuity, anyway.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy


Infinite Improbability Drive

In "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the Infinite Improbability Drive, which can transport starships huge distances in a very brief time without all the tedious mucking about in hyperspace is powered by tea, something called a Sub-Meson Brain and a calculation of just how improbable its own existence is.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / ItRunsOnNonsensoleum

Media sources: