The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981) TV series was made after the radio show and book versions of Douglas Adams’ satirical comedy sci-fi series. It stars Simon Jones and David Dixon. It follows the original pretty closely and concludes after the Golgafrincham crash on prehistoric Earth. There are six episodes of half an hour each.
It’s on DVD (region 1 and 2) with a making-of feature. It’s also on YouTube.
Douglas Adams said that the television version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was the worst version of his creation. (Remember, he died before the Disney movie came out.) With all due respect to the late, great Adams, I actually really like the television series. Yes, it’s extremely low-budget. (Simon Jones told me that they thought what they were doing was cutting edge until they brought it to America and realized how retro it looked and had to pretend like they did that on purpose.) Yeah, maybe it’s slow for modern audiences, maybe not all the jokes are delivered quite right, but think of it as a visual radio show with props. You’re not going to get much in the ways of special effects, but you are going to go for a nice ride.
Arthur Dent wakes up one morning to find that a big, yellow bulldozer is trying to destroy his house to make way for a bypass. Twelve minutes later, a big yellow spaceship shows up to destroy planet Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. One of few apocalyptic stories where the world is blown up in the first few minutes! Luckily, Arthur’s friend Ford Prefect turns out to be an alien and not from Guildford after all, so he helps Arthur hitchhike off the planet before it’s destroyed. From there, it’s excitement, adventure, and really wild things, including the infinite improbability drive, which does all sorts of wacky things like turn Ford into a penguin and Agrajag (who’s arch-nemesis is Arthur) into a bowl of petunias; they meet Ford’s semi-cousin Zaphod, who’s president of the galaxy and who just stole a spaceship with Trillion, who he stole away from Arthur at a party in Islington; they get to hear some Vogon poetry; Arthur learns that his planet is a giant computer trying to calculate the question of life, the universe, and everything; they dine at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe; they play Scrabble with a caveman; and some mice try to take out Arthur’s brain. Jolly good adventure.
The casting, first of all, is pretty good, unlike the film version Disney released in 2005. Simon Jones plays Arthur Dent. Not only did he do the radio version, but Adams claimed that he based Arthur on Simon Jones (though Jones told me Arthur’s a lot more like Adams than he is like himself). Jones has great vocal intonations and expressions. You really believe he is Arthur Dent. David Dixon did not play Ford Prefect in the radio show (that was Geoffrey McGivern), but I really like him as Ford. He’s got that mischievous grin and boyish glisten in his eyes that suggests you don’t know what he’ll do next–something crazy like jump out a window or something totally sane like stick a fish in your ear. Mark Wing-Davey will always be the only Zaphod Beeblebrox in my mind, and he plays him in both the radio and TV version. He embodies amazingness. Sandra Dickinson doesn’t really fit the model for Trillion, who was supposed to be sort of dark-haired and intellectual (she’s an astrophysicist), but Dickinson is more of a squeaky blond in red pleather that they hired because she’s Peter Davison’s wife, and clearly the casting department needed the fourth Doctor to play the Dish of the Day or the whole thing would fall apart. I don’t mind Dickinson in this role, personally, though. She seems like the type Zaphod would go for, and the story doesn’t go far enough to see that she’s too smart for him and goes off on her own. As much as I enjoyed hearing Alan Rickman play the voice of Marvin the paranoid android in the film, Stephen Moore is truly the greatest Marvin of them all.
The Book is played by Peter Jones, and the graphics are entirely hand-drawn in a sort of luminescent “ink,” giving one the impression that it’s writing on glass. Yes, it’s retro, but in today’s time, it’s so retro, it’s actually kind of cool. The Book interrupts the story frequently, which might bother the average television watcher, but it’s true to the book and the radio series, and some of the very best Adams lines come out of this. Case in point:
What’s great about the TV show is that it cuts very little out, so even though the pacing seems a little slow for a television adventure program, you get all of the jokes. This is science fiction comedy for clever people. And if you’re not clever, watch the show once a year until you get all of the jokes.
Personally, I think that the show is best viewed all in one go as a three hour movie rather than in six episode installments. I started watching this show on VHS as a kid and have seen it enough times where I have every word memorized, even if I haven’t seen it in years. Being exposed to it so young and before most of the other versions of H2G2, I do like it perhaps more than most people familiar with the canon. The radio show is still best, though.