Dirk Gently and Richard MacDuff, of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, may be the definite B-list (maybe even C-list) detective duo at the BBC, but I’m always excited to read or watch one of their few adventures. Way back in 2010, The BBC commissioned a one-off “pilot” episode of a show starring Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd based on the popular Douglas Adams story. It was successful, and a three episode series was later commissioned in 2012. I’m sad that there will only ever be FOUR TOTAL episodes of this show, and it was seemingly canceled last year. I guess that’s how it goes for experimental shows on BBC4, don’t get too attached, I suppose.
As you may or may not be aware, Dirk is on a quest to understand the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”, a philosophy that has crept into his job as a private detective of sorts. He basically thinks that EVERYTHING is connected, no matter how tenuous the bond, and no matter how preposterous it all seems. This has lead to stories involving outlandish things like time traveling cats! Dirk comes across as either completely insane or some kind of sociopathic con-man when he is out “detecting”, but he always comes through with a solved case, no matter how preposterous the whole ordeal is. It seems there really is a method to his madness.
People like to compare this show to Steven Moffat‘s Sherlock, and in many ways I see the coincidental similarities, but see the show as totally different. Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently might be zany, but he never comes across as a candidate for a future serial killer like the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Mr. Holmes. He’s not a know-it-all, smarter than everyone else character, he’s a spinning ball of random ideas that seem to click into place when one least expects it. In this way, he more resembles The Doctor, from Doctor Who of course, a character I could definitely see Mangan doing a good job with someday if BBC comes knocking on his door. When I mentioned this show’s cancellation, it sort of bugs me that many did in fact see this as a “rip-off” of sorts to Sherlock, and I wonder if that lead to the early demise.
In this second of three episodes (aside from the pilot), Dirk and MacDuff are called back to Dirk’s old University – St. Cedd’s Institute of Science and Technology, Cambridge (fans of the “lost” Doctor Who serial “Shada” might recognize this fictional school!). They have been summoned by a man named Professor Jericho to provide specialist security detail for his new creation. It seems Jericho has created a VERY sophisticated new artificial intelligence and autonomous robot named Elaine, and Jericho is paranoid about someone stealing Elaine or the A.I. program. When this happens almost immediately (both are stolen!), Dirk investigates the crime seeing Jericho’s colleague Emelda as the prime suspect. MacDuff meanwhile is tempted to leave Dirk’s agency as his girlfriend, Susan, has applied for a job in Cambridge.
The best thing about this episode is that it really starts to peel back the goofy layers of Dirk’s character and reveal who he truly is. I loved how they even introduced a love interest for our would-be Sherlock of the holistic variety. While Dirk’s back-story isn’t exactly hidden (we’ve seen bits of it referenced in each episode now), finding out about little gems such as his relationship to Professor Jericho (his mentor essentially) and what led to his expulsion from St. Cedd’s is great and really allows for one to understand his bizarre way of looking at the world.
Unfortunately, Richard MacDuff seems slightly under-utilized in this adventure, and really takes a back-seat in the overall narrative. It’s not like he disappears or anything, he is just dealing with his possible life changing situation with his significant other, Susan. The prospect of possibly being forced to move, and leave the agency, has “bummed him out” and left him with little to do while Dirk runs around like a crazy man.
Unlike what we saw in the last episode, the mystery at hand was actually a lot more fleshed out this time around. There was a stolen robot, a dead body, and even some decent red herrings put there to confuse us. Then again, that isn’t hard in this show, as the answer to the “puzzle” is always something totally crazy that comes out of left field. So far, this may be the best episode of the three I’ve seen so far writing-wise, although the pilot was so wacky that it has a permanent residence on my list of awesome TV episodes.
One thing that stuck out to me in this episode was the director’s use of random horror trappings to set the mood of the episode. At one point, we are almost led to believe that the robot herself may be the murderer, thus preparing the viewer for an apocalyptic fight between man and machine that never happens. There are also weird camera angles, mysterious shadows, and even a hidden child’s room – all things that one might recognize from horror cinema.
This episode had an amazing guest cast, and I was particularly fond of Lydia Wilson as Jane, the aforementioned love interest. She comes across as just about the only person even weirder than Dirk with her crutches, obsession with sea salt flavored chips, and Scandinavian accent. She is VERY smart, but somehow not exactly all there. A tip of my hat also goes to a character named David Cho (as played by Will Sharpe). Cho starts out as the most likely perpetrator of the entire case, a link to a Chinese plot to steal jericho’s work. Little do we know, Cho is actually a lovesick World of Warcraft enthusiast who’s “lost his heart to an Elf and his man to a Gnome.” totally weird stuff here guys!
This second episode is definitely the best one so far, and really makes me want to quickly finish the series up as quick as I can. I enjoyed just about everything in here, minus MacDuff basically being a glorified prop for Mangan to interact with. The regular cast are great as always, the guest cast is superb, and the plop is totally bonkers and yet makes perfect sense. Sadly, after this there is only one more episode of Dirk Gently left to consume.