The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a BBC television adaptation of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy broadcast in January and February 1981 on BBC Two. The adaptation follows the original radio series in 1978 and 1980, the first novel and double LP, in 1979, and the stage shows, in 1979 and 1980, making it the fifth iteration of the guide.
The series stars Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, David Dixon as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox and Sandra Dickinson as Trillian. The voice of the guide is by Peter Jones. Simon Jones, Peter Jones, Stephen Moore and Mark Wing-Davey had already provided the voices for their characters in the original radio series in 1978/80. In addition, the series features a number of notable cameo roles, including Adams himself on several occasions.
Although initially thought by BBC executives to be unfilmable, the series was successfully produced and directed by Alan J. W. Bell and went on to win a Royal Television Society award as Most Original Programme of 1981, as well as several BAFTA awards for its graphics and editing.
Episode 1 begins with a pre-credits sequence, the only one of the TV episodes to have one. A countdown to the end of the world is displayed through animation, and the narrator begins telling the story of the Guide and Arthur Dent’s connection to it as the sun rises over the English countryside for the final time. Arthur wakes, discovers the threat to his house from a yellow bulldozer by looking out the window, and the camera pulls back to the credits. This episode closely follows the plot and dialogue of the first episode of the radio series, cutting the speech by Lady Cynthia Fitzmelton. It ends at a slightly earlier point than the radio episode, after Ford’s line “he might want to read us some of his poetry first”, and on a cliffhanger that Arthur and Ford are about to be discovered in a Vogon storeroom, but before the Vogon poetry is actually read.
The episode opens with a recap of the story, with Ford and Arthur about to be captured. After being read Vogon poetry, they are thrown out of an airlock and improbably rescued by the Starship Heart of Gold, which has been stolen by Ford’s semi-cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox, accompanied by Trillian, a young woman who Arthur once met at a party. Ford and Arthur are escorted to the bridge by Marvin the Paranoid Android and meet Zaphod and Trillian. The episode ends after they are introduced, with no cliffhanger.
The episode opens with a guide entry explaining the legendary planet of Magrathea, which manufactured planets millions of years ago, until the Galactic economy collapsed. Zaphod has been explaining to Ford that he has found the legendary planet of Magrathea, whilst Trillian tends to a pair of white mice. Zaphod orders the computer to land on the planet surface.
Before long, they receive a transmission from the Commercial Council of Magrathea, informing them that the planet is closed for business and asking them to leave. They ignore this and later receive another message, noting that nuclear missiles have been sent at the ship. Attempts to evade the missiles fail, and Arthur uses the ship’s Infinite Improbability Drive, which ends up turning the missiles into a very surprised looking whale and a bowl of petunias. Trillian discovers that during the chaos, her mice escaped.
The five characters go onto the surface, where they find it desolate. Zaphod suggests that the Magratheans lived beneath the surface of the planet. They split into two groups — Trillian, Zaphod and Ford explore a tunnel, whilst Arthur and Marvin remain on the surface. Trillian, Zaphod and Ford’s thread ends on a cliff-hanger, with them seeing something alarming at the end of the corridor.
Meanwhile, Arthur and Marvin watch the sunset. Eventually, Slartibartfast arrives, and asks Arthur to come with him. He explains that the Magratheans were in hibernation for the last five million years. They get into his air-car, and descend deep into a tunnel.
A guide narrative intervenes, explaining that whilst humanity had always assumed that it was the most intelligent species on Earth, in fact the dolphins were more intelligent, and had left the planet some time before. However, both the dolphins and humans were less intelligent than the mice.
Meanwhile, Slartibartfast shows Arthur the vast tract of hyperspace that acts as the Magrathean’s “factory floor”, and that they have been brought out of hibernation for a special commission — “the Earth Mk 2, we’re making a copy from our original blueprints”. The Earth was originally made by Magrathea for mice; and it was destroyed five minutes too early. The episode ends here.
Slartibartfast shows Arthur the archive tapes of Deep Thought being given the “Search for the Ultimate Answer” and of the result reported by the computer seven and a half million years later. After learning that the Earth was set up to search for the “Ultimate Question,” Slartibartfast and Arthur join Ford, Trillian, Zaphod, and Trillian’s mice, who had guided them to Magrathea.
The mice dismiss Slartibartfast, then express their desire to extract the “Ultimate Question” by first extracting Arthur’s brain. While the mice attempt to strike a deal, the Galactic Police arrive, and Ford, Arthur, Trillian and Zaphod flee the dining hall, only to be cornered by the police in a large bay. After a misunderstanding, the police continue to fire on a computer bank behind which the four are hiding, which explodes, ending the episode on a cliffhanger.
After an initial period of confusion, the four travelers find they have been transported forward in time to just before the end of the universe. They are in Milliways, the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” which was built on the ruins of Magrathea. So, as Arthur says, they have traveled through time but not through space. Waiting for them is Marvin the depressed robot, who they left on Magrathea millions of years ago. He’s now an attendant at the car park, and still depressed. Just before the universe ends, Zaphod and Ford get Marvin to help them steal a supercool all-black spaceship, which turns out to be the property of a very loud rock band called “Disaster Area.” The episode ends on the cliff-hanger as the black ship is about to start a dive into the sun of Kakrafoon.
Just before the supercool all-black ship crashes into a sun, Zaphod, Trillian, Ford, and Arthur escape in a teleport module that they convince Marvin to stay behind and operate. He is still on the ship when it heads into the sun. Ford and Arthur arrive without Zaphod and Trillian on a spaceship carrying millions people in cryogenic pods. The ship’s inhabitants are from Golgafrincham; they are all “middle men”; i.e. the people that the smart Golgafrinchams (the “thinkers” and the “doers”) back home wanted to get rid of.
The ship lands on pre-historic Earth. Ford realizes that the Golgafrinchams, not the primitive cave dwellers already on the planet, are the ones that will evolve into the human race. The episode ends with the two friends lamenting the eventual destruction of the Earth. The regular theme music follows the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this television series: