Hyperland is a 50-minute-long documentary film about hypertext and surrounding technologies. It was written by Douglas Adams and produced and directed by Max Whitby[2] for BBC Two in 1990. It stars Douglas Adams as a computer user and Tom Baker, with whom Adams had already worked on Doctor Who, as a personification of a software agent.

Written byDouglas Adams
Presented byDouglas Adams
Tom Baker
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series1
No. of episodes1
ProducerMax Whitby
Running time50 minutes
Production companyBBC
Original release
NetworkBBC Two
Release21 September 1990 (1990-09-21)[1]

In hindsight, what Hyperland describes and predicts is an approximation of today's World Wide Web.[3]



The self-proclaimed "fantasy documentary" begins with Adams asleep by the fireside with his television still on. In a dream that follows, Adams, fed up by game shows and generally passive, non-interactive linear content, takes his TV to a rubbish dump, where he meets Tom, played by Tom Baker. Tom is a software agent, who shows him the future of TV: interactive multimedia.[4]

Tom Baker plays a "software agent," whose appearance can be manipulated by Douglas Adams. Here, Adams has (temporarily) configured Tom to look like a stereotypical Neanderthal.

Much like Apple Inc's Knowledge Navigator concept, Tom acts as a butler within a virtual space populated with hypermedia: linked text, sound, pictures and movies represented by animated icons. The documentary is centred on Adams browsing these media and discovering their interconnectedness.

This process leads him, for example, from the topic Atlantic Ocean to literature about the sea to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the poem Kubla Khan by the same author to Xanadu and back to the topic of hypertext via Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu. The references to Coleridge and to Kubla Khan are rather knowing nods to Adams' own book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, where they play significant roles in the plot. Dirk Gently was published in 1987 and also touches on the themes of interconnectedness, suggesting that this was a subject Adams had thought about at some length and for some time.

Many aspects of the documentary demonstrate Adams' noted enthusiasm for technology, and for Apple computers in particular. At the beginning of the documentary a Macintosh Portable can be seen, and most of the projects presented run on Apple hardware. Even the general design of the animated icons and environments featured in his dream is inspired by pre-OS X era Mac OS icons and design cues.


Adams navigates through the interviews and explanations in the documentary using animated icons. Playback controls shown in the bottom right corner during each interview convey an additional sense of interactivity.

While Adams is browsing, many people and projects related to the general theme of hypertext and multimedia are presented:

The dream (and the documentary) ends with a vision of how information might be accessed in 2005. In hindsight, Hyperland does describe a number of features of the modern web and, apart from some underestimates of graphics and processing power available, the documentary paints a not inaccurate picture of hypermedia and hypertext and how they are used today. This is especially noteworthy considering that it predates the public release of the first Web browser by about a year.


  1. ^ TheTVDB.com
  2. ^ Ted Nelson: Possiplex. 2010, page 272f.
  3. ^ "The Internet – the last battleground of the 20th century". BBC. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Hyperland". douglasadams.com. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  5. ^ Vannevar Bush (July 1945). "As We May Think". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  6. ^ Robert Epstein (29 January 1991). "'Future Tense': The New Link Between Arts and Technology". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 May 2012.