TV series review: Dirk Gently: Series 1 (2012), directed by Tom Shankland
The pilot episode of Dirk Gently left me cold, but as a big fan of everything Douglas Adams, the news that they were making a whole series (well, okay, only three episodes) was still more than welcome.
And this time it actually worked – hooray! What I really didn’t like about the pilot and wanted them to have done differently was done differently. That is, they weren’t trying to adapt either of the two books, they just took the character of Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and let him do his own thing. They have plots specifically written for this series. Thank you!
Okay, they’ve still got Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd) as his bemused sidekick, which is a step away from the books, but is in keeping with the pilot episode, so I don’t really mind, to be honest. At least they’re not trying to be creative with the books and make a complete mess of it.
Janice the surly secretary (Lisa Jackson) is back, and Richard’s other half Susan (Helen Baxendale) shows up in the periphery too. And then there’s DI Gilks (Jason Watkins), who, for lack of a better way of putting it, is to Dirk and Richard what DI Lestrade is to Holmes and Watson in Sherlock. Sort of.
You see, there’s a very good reason for pointing out that show in particular and not Conan Doyle’s characters in general. Reason being that Dirk Gently is basically Sherlock, cross-bred with Doctor Who. Heck, the two eponymous sleuths even have great, curly hair, but they’re also highly skilled in their sleuthing, and ever so slightly eccentric … like the Doctor. And, of course, both Dirk Gently and Sherlock Holmes have bemused sidekicks who try to kick their asses in gear.
Sherlock is brilliant, no question, but is it a good idea to make Dirk Gently so similar to it? I’ve not made up my mind yet. The Doctor Who vibes, particularly noticeable in the second episode, work, though. Especially if you consider that Douglas Adams worked as a script editor on Doctor Who back in the day. Nice nod, there.
Adventure-wise, the episodes are barmy but delightful. Episode one guest stars Miranda Raison, and is about dangerous (to national security) computer software, and a man who insists his horoscopes are all coming true. Are the two cases connected? That’s what the word “holistic” in “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” implies …
Episode two, where we meet Bill Paterson as one of Dirk’s old college professors in Cambridge, means Dirk meets his match in a female college student, however bizarre a notion that seems. (Dirk Gently having a love interest? Really?!) Dirk and Richard get to try to keep a robot safe, but of course, things aren’t as straightforward as they might first appear.
The third and final episode, although hopefully there will be more, guest stars Lisa Dillon as a woman Dirk has taken to stalking for an experiment. She hires him to find her stalker. Meanwhile, a man Dirk helped put in prison years ago has been set free, and he might just be a tiny bit vengeful … Not to mention the cleaning lady, with whom Dirk has waged a cold war.
Either way you look at it, taking Dirk Gently the character away from the storylines of the Dirk Gently novels makes the show work. Really work. Perhaps there should be slightly less focus on it being “Comedic Sherlock Alternative”, and while keeping Richard MacDuff on as a main character isn’t according to canon, at least it works for this setting. Perhaps Dirk Gently needs an average man to keep his flights of fancy under wraps a little.
I hope there will be more episodes produced, even if it’s only in short bursts like this. Well worth it, and I’d rather have a Sherlock Who Dirk Gently than no Dirk Gently on TV at all.
4 out of 5 missing cats.