Dirk Gently Changes for TV

Douglas Adams’ 1987 novel about a barking sleuth, whose breakout case is a missing cat investigation, has at last been honoured with a TV adaptation (Thursday 16 December at 9pm on BBC4). Harry Enfield played the detective when Dirk Gently was reworked for radio a few years ago. This time Stephen Mangan is the lead. He’s amusingly deranged, bovine eyes suit the sleuth imagined by Adams. And this one part, hour-long revision by Howard Overman (Misfits) is a pleasing, though simplified and heavily tweaked, ode to the story’s dead, funny creator.

Literature teaches us that every private detective needs a grounding sidekick and Dirk, though he breaks the Private Investigator mould in many ways, is no exception. Darren Boyd (Green Wing, Little Dorrit) plays his unwitting number two, Richard Macduff. He’s in domestic meltdown and reaches out to Gently, an old university friend, after an accidental reunion. Richard’s girlfriend, Susan (Helen Baxendale, Cold Feet) is a pretty doctor while he’s currently an unemployed, angry layabout. The relationship is about to bust apart but with some unconventional assistance from a certain detective, cohabiting bliss could soon be restored.

But Richard’s struggle is a trifling subplot (at least to begin with). The real meat is all cat. Henry is the beloved feline of a sweet old lady. When her darling pussy goes missing she calls in Dirk Gently--a “holistic” investigator, who believes in something he calls “the web of interconnected events.” So soon, a simple missing cat has ballooned into something holistically sinister and bizarre. Remember, Douglas Adams is the architect of this tale, so its resolution is destined to be a little different from something you might see on, say, Inspector Morse or Wallander. Even Sherlock Holmes’ cases are staid and routine compared to the sci-fi leaning weirdness unearthed by Gently.

You’ll leave Dirk tickled and content, so long as you haven’t read (and loved) the book. Devotees of original will miss the deliciously hectic plotting and intricate landscaping Adams worked into his manuscript. But the author’s version isn’t built for television (perhaps that’s why it’s taken over two decades for anyone to attempt an adaptation). So key strands have been removed and the ones that Overman decided to keep are shaved down, pinched in versions. Part of the problem was packaging it as a one off. Dirk Gently can’t be contained--he needs a whole series to shine. We hope that’s where the BBC’s newest detective is headed.

Comments (2)
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Dec 19, 2010
Show was great, enjoyed it alot.
Dec 17, 2010
This show was pretty rubbish. Shame.

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