The pilot for BBC Four’s Dirk Gently premiered in 2010, and it wasn’t until 2012 that three more episodes aired on the channel. Unfortunately for the series’ dedicated viewers, however, BBC Four thereafter declined to commission any further episodes. While this decision was met with significant fan outcry, their pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears. Whether the decision to axe the series was determined by licensing issues as BBC Four stated publicly or came in response to a post-pilot dip in quality, viewing the series’ four episodes in rapid succession reveals that the program’s quality indeed fluctuated wildly, perhaps lending some credence to the latter claim.
The series is loosely adapted from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-author Douglas Adams’ novels about the titular detective: 1987’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and 1988’s The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Even if you hadn’t read the novels, you’d rightly expect Dirk Gently to be a series of madcap mysteries augmented by no small amount fantastical, science fiction-y detail given its origins in the work of Douglas Adams. And you’d be right, at least where the novels are concerned. The series, on the other hand, only ever flirts with the fantastic, but never fully embraces it, as the second and fourth episodes forego science fiction entirely. As such, the series’ retooling of the novels never quite coalesces into unified whole and leaves viewers with the impression that significant portions of the series as presented just don’t belong somehow. And as much as I hate to say it, the offending parts seem to be those self-same science fiction elements, which are terribly brief and never fully conceptually-integrated.
That said, the influence of Douglas Adams here is impossible to deny. His hand is easily recognizable in the ludicrous figure of Dirk Gently, a self-proclaimed Holistic Detective who solves crimes by “investigating the fundamental interconnectedness between all things,” a method that invariably leads him by-and-by to the correct solution. Stephen Mangan’s performance as Dirk is every bit as amusingly over-the-top as the role requires, even though the series’ jaunty score tends to overemphasize the comedy of the character at times. Yet in spite of the occasional comic over-reaching, Mangan’s chemistry with co-star Darren Boyd, who plays Dirk’s assistant/partner, Richard MacDuff, provides the series with a genuine emotional core that draws us into the action. After all, the relationship between these two characters achieves a wonderful balance as Dirk comes to rely more and more on MacDuff– the only person who genuinely believes in him– even as MacDuff develops the confidence to stand up to Dirk, whose outlandish methods get them in heaps of trouble. It’s a take on the old Holmes/Watson model that would have invariably resulted in the two serving as virtual equals in the Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency had the series been allowed to progress any further. As a result of these adept characterizations, the series proves to be an incredible delight to watch from beginning to end, even in spite of its frequent generic shortcomings. So in that at least, I too can share in the disappointment surrounding its cancellation.
Dirk Gently is now available on DVD from Acorn Media.