Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

This is the 275th entry in this blog so by way of something different this is not so much a ramble along my bookshelves as a wander through my record collection. But it does concern two books, specifically the two Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams in the form of the wonderful adaptations done by Dirk Maggs and John Langdon for B.B.C. radio in 2007 and 2008 and first released on vinyl by Demon Records in 2020 and 2021. Each is a triple album with an episode a side so a total of six hours of listening pleasure and boy is it a pleasure. Dirk Gently is a Holistic detective in that he uses apparently unrelated objects and experiences in order to solve his cases, the stories are also very funny. The pressings are high quality coloured vinyl which along with the design of the sleeves and liners add considerably to the joy when I first unpacked them.

The cast is also superb with Harry Enfield playing Dirk Gently, Olivia Colman is Janice his long suffering secretary, Billy Boyd is Richard MacDuff and Jim Carter is Detective Sergeant Gilks. These four appear on both sets of records with other cast members including Andrew Sachs, John Fortune, Jan Ravens and Peter Davison to name just a few. There are also several stalwarts of the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy radio series, the original scripts of which I reviewed here, such as Stephen Moore, Michael Fenton Stevens and Philip Pope who also wrote the incidental music for both Dirk Gently series. By the very nature of cutting both books down to three hours each when the Audible recordings of the books being read are just short of eight hours each clearly a lot has been lost, but this is true of any dramatisation and frankly I largely prefer the audio dramatisations to the books, especially The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul for reasons I will explore when I get to that section.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

This was probably originally Douglas’s attempt to get some use out of a script he had written for Doctor Who called Shada which had been abandoned shortly after filming had started due to a strike by B.B.C. technicians. The similarities between the two works are obvious and whilst Douglas removed the specific Doctor Who references and merged in part of the plot of City of Death, another Doctor Who serial he wrote, the central character of Cambridge professor Chronotis having a time machine and living for centuries remains the same. In Shada he was a Time Lord, in Dirk Gently it is never explained who or what he is but they do use his time machine, which is actually his rooms in college, to travel to an ancient spaceship orbiting the Earth and back in time four billion years to the start of life on the planet. The new material concerns a character Gordon Way who is killed right at the start but continues to appear as a ghost trying to contact the living and explain what happened and it is his death that Dirk Gently ultimately solves in proving that his client Richard MacDuff didn’t do it and Way was actually killed by an ancient and malfunctioning robot from the orbiting spaceship.

This adaptation is pretty faithful to the original book, which can not be said of the second recording for reasons explained below.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

The title of this book comes from another of Douglas’s works, the third of the Hitch-Hikers books, and is said of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, an immortal character who was not born to immortality and was therefore not prepared for it.

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

Life, The Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams

The original book is somewhat complicated and jumps around rather a lot as Douglas keeps track of the various characters and this meant that Dirk Maggs had to do a severe rewrite in order to produce something that would work in six episodes without completely confusing the listener. He also brought back Richard MacDuff, who doesn’t appear in the book, and made him a character in this version, there are also a lot of added Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy references as Dirk had recently adapted books three, four and five of that series into radio productions. It also features a fridge that has not been cleaned for months and eats the person who first tries to do so. A client for Dirk is later found ‘listening’ to an album but unfortunately it is jumping mainly because the arm is bouncing off his severed head which is now on top of the turntable. There are also major character appearances for Odin and Thor and the explanation as to where Asgard can be found in modern London and how Janice, now an innocent Heathrow airport check in clerk, became cursed and turned into a drinks machine.

Douglas Adams had been working on and off on a third Dirk Gently book intended to be called The Salmon of Doubt up until he died, and this work, along with other unfinished pieces was eventually published as The Salmon of Doubt in 2002. Dirk Maggs originally intended to dramatise this as well but plans were shelved by the B.B.C. before any work was done on this.


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