One key element is left unresolved in Series 2 of the BBC radio series (the Secondary Phase), originally aired in 1980.

At the end of this Phase, Zarniwoop reveals to Zaphod Beeblebrox that at some point the starship Heart of Gold has entered the pocket universe which exists within Zarniwoop's office on Ursa Minor. But it is never made clear at what point this occurs.

As none of the events which happen within the pocket universe have really happened, an element of confusion exists as to how much of Series 2 really took place, and which parts of that series didn't really occur.

It seems certain that Zaphpod's visit to the headquarters of Megadodo Publications, in episode 1 (Fit the Seventh), must have happened in reality, because he is given details there about Zarniwoop being on an inter-galactic cruise in his office: logically, Zarniwoop and the cruise must be real, as when Zaphod meets Zarniwoop in episode 6 (Fit the Twelfth) the latter admits to being on such a cruise.

Ford is present with Zaphod in episode 6, at the meeting with Zarniwoop, so Zaphod's rescue of Ford and Arthur must also have been real.

As Zaphod does not return to the starship Heart of Gold between fleeing Zarniwoop's office and arriving on the Frogstar, that incident - and hence his being plugged into the Total Perspective Vortex - must also be real events. This is logical, as these events preceed the rescue of Ford and Arthur.

So at what point do Zaphod, Ford and Arthur become unwitting guests in Zarniwoop's pocket universe?

And do they ever leave it? The Ruler of the Universe, in episode 6 (Fit the Twelfth), seems to be aware that there is some doubt as to whether the universe he rules is real or not. This occurs after the meeting with Zarniwoop, such that Series 2 ends on an ambiguous note: have they actually exited the pocket universe -- or not?

Note to interested parties: I am (reasonably) well aware that many strange occurrences occurred in the 2nd novel written by Douglas Adams, which he based (loosely) on the 2nd radio series. But that novel has a radically different plot to the original radio show. What I'm asking about is the radio show, not the impenetrable plot of the novel.

EDIT - This question is not the same as the question it supposedly duplicates, which talks mainly about the novels. But I am asking about the radio show -- there are enormous differences of plot between the second novel and the 1980 radio series it is (loosely) based on. Also, the other question only deals with when he entered the pocket universe, but my question is asking also about the point at which he got out, and, indeed, is asking whether - on the radio- he ever did get out, since the "Man in the Shack" says things in the radio episode which imply that they are still trapped in the artificial universe, after Zarniwoop has supposedly released them from it.

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    Although it's pretty explicit in the radio series that they do leave the artificial universe before travelling to the Ruler. There's the whole bit with the echoing lines from different episodes, and Marvin commenting "Oh dear, I think you'll find reality is on the blink again" which is confirmed by the narrator as they flip back to Zarniwoop who says "we can dismantle this universe, return to the real one, and find what we’re after". Apr 30, 2018 at 13:47
  • The only point I'd make is that - on the radio show - the Ruler of the Universe isn't given just one line as a throw-away comment, but has entire paragraphs of dialogue, rabbiting on and on about whether his belief of being in charge has any objective reality or not. He spends about 2 minutes trying to undo the impression that we've jumped back into reality. And Zarniwoop talks about the improbability drive, implying that it's by the use of that that they entered the pocket universe, not - as the novel might suggest - by the use of the body-debit card or back at some point in series 1.
    – Ed999
    Apr 30, 2018 at 16:01
  • I don't understand either your comment or your objection to this being a duplicate. My linked question is explicitly about the radio series; the body debit card doesn't even exist in the books; and there's even more description of the Ruler's solipsism in the book than in the series - a whole chapter, including what happens after the others leave. Apr 30, 2018 at 16:06
  • I think I can sum up my objection in a sentence: the related question doesn't even allude to them exiting the pocket universe, it only asks about what point they got into it. My question raises the more fundamental issue of whether they ever got out of it -- a matter with implications for everything which follows. I am asking whether all the three subsequent series take place in the artificial universe, and you are meanwhile busy strengthening the role of the Man in the Shack, who is the main character loading on the doubt by implying that they are still within the pocket universe!
    – Ed999
    May 2, 2018 at 9:57
  • @Ed999 it's very explicit in the radio series when they exit. You are misunderstanding the entire Ruler scene. Your question about the three subsequent series is also explicitly answered in Fit the Thirteenth: the entire secondary phase was a dream (both the real and pocket universes).
    – OrangeDog
    May 2, 2018 at 12:13

1 Answer 1


In the novel (which actually makes a lot more sense) Zaphod enters the pocket universe when he enters Zarniwoop's office (before the Frogstar attack) and leaves when Zarniwoop switches it off before they go to see the Ruler.

The only reason he survives the vortex is because he is the most important being in that universe, because it was designed precisely in order to allow him to survive being put in the vortex.

While there's a lot of hinting in the radio series that this is what happens, it's never actually stated. The plot of the radio series is therefore left in quite a confusing mess, possibly not helped by Adams' well-documented approach to deadlines.

The line "You didn't notice? Well, I'll let you work it out for yourself." is lampshading the fact that they forgot to write any way for them to get in.

  • It seems to me there is a vast amount of scope for analysing the differences between the 2nd radio series and the 2nd novel. And those differences include losing entire scenes (such as the body debit card). But, logically, only one version can be canonical (i.e. true). In support of the radio series, I would point to one glaring inconsistency in the novel: as Ford and Arthur never enter Zarniwoop's office, i.e. in 'Fit the Seventh', they could not logically be within the pocket universe, yet the novel includes them in nearly everything that follows. Can that be explained?
    – Ed999
    May 2, 2018 at 10:13
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    @Ed999 in a series with an infinite number of different Earths (across multiple probability axes) and a starship powered by "infinite improbability", you're asking whether something can be explained?
    – OrangeDog
    May 2, 2018 at 12:11
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    @Ed999 "logically, only one version can be canonical" - that is not Adams', nor anyone else's approach. There are multiple versions of the story, and they all contradict each other. None are more "true" than any other.
    – OrangeDog
    May 2, 2018 at 12:18

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