The story starts when Englishman Arthur Dent discovers his friend Ford Prefect is actually from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. The Earth is about to be destroyed by the Vogon Constructor Fleet, crewed by interstellar civil servants.
The great SF idea here, a wonderful parody of the Universal Translator, is the Babel Fish.
This was made in 1981 by the BBC. The visual effects that would not be out of place in Dr Who . The story is narrated by the Book, which in turn is illustrated by film clips (featuring the babelicious Cleo Rocos ) and computer graphics (actually cartoon-type animation).
Inside the Vogon space ship, Arthur and Ford get to meet the cliched Space Monster/Security guard. His cry of Resistance is Useless, intended as a parody, was later revamped for Star Trek: TNG as the Borg's Resistance is Futile.
The rest of the episode consists of introducing the rest of the main cast. The most eye-catching is the scantily-clad Trillian ( Sandra Dickinson ). She is at best an air hostess, but in no way at all could she be taken seriously as the character from the books.
Her boyfriend is the 2-headed, 3-armed Zaphod Beeblebrox. His mix of selfishness and shallowness seems to have influenced The Cat in Red Dwarf.
Finally, we get to the most-loved character of the series - Marvin the Paranoid Android.
Our heroes discover the ancient planet of Magrathea, and promptly come under attack from missiles. They then land on the planet, and discover that it's not as dead as they think.
Slartibartfast gives Arthur (and us) the background info. We get exposition in the form of dramatic scenes, including Trade Unionists making outrageous demands. This is a deliciously dated concept, and makes the show seem a product of the Golden Age ...
Cornered by the cops, our heroes manage to end up at Milliways - The Restuarant At The End Of The Universe.
There are a couple of great cameos: Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) as The Bodyguard and Peter Davison ( Dr Who ) as The Cow. In reality, Davison was married to the actress who played Trillian!
Ford and Arthur get stranded aboard a space-ship filled with colonists. These colonists are the entire service-sector economy of a whole planet. Yes, the planet decided to rid itself of people who don't actually make anything - you know, hairdressers, security guards, telephone sanitisers, movie producers and the like. Adams gives a satire worthy of Jonathan Swift as he parodies the post-industrial world that would emerge in the following decades. He forgets that the Service Sector includes Doctors and other health-care professionals. After all, what use is building something if you cannot maintain it? However, Adams managed to undermine his satire with a bit of logic: the planet's civilisation is eventually destroyed by a virus spread through unsanitised telephones.
Return to the August 2001 Special