Dirk Gently

What have Arthur Conan Doyle and Douglas Adams got in common?

Well, they’re both authors- that’s a given. And both, very very sadly, are no longer with us. Well, it’s very very sad in the case of Douglas Adams who passed away at the relatively young age of 49 in 2001.

Not so much for Conan Doyle, who would be 153 years old if he were still kicking around today.

I think we can all agree he had a good run.

But apart from that, there aren’t really that many similarities. Something that may cause cynics to wonder why, then, this comedy drama about an unusual detective who solves crimes using the concepts of holism, interconnectedness and organised chaos is being accompanied by the same jingly jangly incidental music as the recent incarnation of Sherlock.

Also Richard Macduff (who, in the original Douglas Adams novels was a hapless computer programmer who spent most of his time creating simulations in an attempt to figure out how a sofa became lodged in his stairwell) seems to have been elevated to partner/sidekick status for the purposes of this three part series.

You can almost hear the executive producer chomping a cigar and saying “yep, this is good, but we need a Watson”.

That’s fine of course- books have the advantage of narration, TV needs someone for the main character to talk to- but you don’t need all BBC detective programmes to follow the same formula. There also seems to have been a stripping away of the books’ rather outlandish sci-fi and fantasy elements.

For example- in last night’s episode, Gently and Macduff investigated the (interconnected) cases of:

a) A man who’d invented a piece of software that justified any countries case for war (and who seemed to have been murdered by the Pentagon)

b) A wife who thought her husband was cheating and…

c) Said husband’s belief that his horoscopes were coming true- something that was explained away at the end by his having a brain tumour.

The books are a lot more eccentric. Dirk encounters the Norse gods, seven foot tall, scythe wielding monsters, aliens and electric monks.  Admittedly, it’s unlikely the Beeb can stretch to expensive cut-scenes featuring Valhalla in these straitened times, but the novels were primarily fantasy based and without these out-there elements the series has a very different feel.

But it’s certainly not a bad feel. Also, there’s not much value in banging on about how similar (or not) a series is to its novelly roots: a TV programme is its own kettle of fish.

After all, Sherlock wouldn’t be half as entertaining if it were set in the Victorian era and featured endless shots of hackney carriages, fog, more fog, urchins and men with handlebar moustaches…rather than, say, iPhones.

Judging it on its own terms, DGHDA (as all the cool kids are calling it) is  enjoyable, watchable, clever and very witty. It was also good to see the whole zen navigation idea getting plenty of airtime: when you’re lost, just follow the first person you see who looks like they know where they’re going. You’ll not end up where you intended to be, but you’ll end up where the Universe thinks you should be.

Or, if you’re particularly unlucky: at a Conservative Party Conference, the scene of a violent gangland killing or a 5 hour lecture on the history of owls.

The only real sticking point (apart from the lack of Norse Gods and I Ching pocket calculators that represent anything greater than four as “A Suffusion of Yellow“) is Macduff The Sidekick (Darren Boyd). He’s as flavourless as a water and polystyrene cocktail. He rarely seems to get any good lines and just lumbers around in the background reminding people he’s actually a partner and occasionally getting thumped in the face.

The rage-filled Janice the secretary (Lisa Jackson) seemed to have a lot more promise, but sadly her character barely appeared. A disgruntled, unpaid secretary-sidekick would have been far more entertaining. She could have followed Dirk round hammering nails through pigs and swearing (which, to be fair, is what I do at work all day too).


Dirk Gently is on BBC4, Mondays at 9pm. You can catch up on iPlayer here


About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

3 Responses to Dirk Gently

  1. But if Janice did that, wouldn’t it just ebcome Doctor Who instead?

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      hmm, not sure if any of the Doctor’s companions actively detest him, and also they’d be based on planet Earth, but good point!

  2. Gerald says:

    Been doing Zen navigation for years – ever since stuck in the first queue of traffic on a diversion on the sensible basis that if the majority are heading in one direction then it is likely to be way around and if not then you have several equally lost drivers to work their way back on track.

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