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In Association with
Dirk Gently (2010)
Director: Damon Thomas

review by J.C. Hartley

My surprise at finding this little stowaway in the BBC4 schedules was not that someone had thought that they could condense Douglas Adams down to an hour, but that someone at the BBC had thought to offer something to starved SF fans. In the event of course my surprise was based on entirely the wrong premise. This is not Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency but a pale imitation dependent upon the considerable charm of lead actor Stephen Mangan to carry it along. It looks suspiciously like the pilot for a series. A disturbing part of the opening credits was the 'created by Howard Overman' bit, which seemed a bit cheeky under the circumstances. Overman is responsible for Misfits, which I have never seen, but which has won awards, and which my daughter enjoys, and I generally accept her judgement. Overman has also created the very excellent and misunderstood Vexed, so he's a busy lad.

The problem with these adaptations is that if you're at all attached to the original you are going to sit in judgement of the version. Adaptation is a thankless task and Overman's decision to start again from a slightly different angle was probably the right one. Given that Mangan suggested that the book was un-filmable due to it containing 'too many ideas' just goes to show that there is no will to commit budget to have a go on something with limited appeal. And yet, this may be the pilot for a series. Budget has been found for Misfits and for Being Human and for the upcoming Outcasts SF series. Should the BBC be spending money on say a three-part or two-hour (to do it justice) adaptation of an existing book with relatively limited appeal, or creating a new series based on the book that might garner a decent audience because of the appeal of its cast and the track-record of its writer?

Jimmy McGovern has said what is Doctor Who for? Someone else in a recent interview said yeah it's great but does a 50-year-old kids' programme merit such a wodge of the BBC's budget? Elsewhere I have questioned whether British TV will ever regain the insouciance of the 1960s when we made outrageous and stylish programmes like The Avengers and The Prisoner, not to mention Quatermass, and A For Andromeda, with mass appeal and full of ideas. I would feel better about Dirk Gently if it had been any good, which has to be the final arbiter of critical debate.

Gently (Mangan) is retained to find a missing cat. He comes across an old school friend (the ubiquitous Darren Boyd, of Hippies, Smack The Pony, and Green Wing, etc.) who asks him to remove an offensive message from his girlfriend's laptop. The girlfriend (Helen Baxendale, the curse of Friends), is missing her new boyfriend. There's a time machine, and a murder, and a certain amount of quantum flummery to justify the show's creative roots. Mangan's Gently is more of a wide-boy ducker and diver than the character in the book, and as watchable as always. It may be that I was just too familiar with the original, and let's face it, there's a lot of original to be familiar with. Adams, a hero to idle writers the multiverse over, recycled a plot from the missing Shada episode of Doctor Who, both for City Of Death in that series, and for Dirk Gently.

My wife enjoyed this, and she's read the books too, so maybe I'm an old stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy. I've have liked it better if it had been funnier and more outrageous. Maybe if it does make a series and they have to come up with new stuff, rather than loot an existing plot, I'll like it more.

Dirk Gently main cast

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