DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY
BBC Audiobooks CD Review
Enfield, Billy Boyd, Andrew Sachs, Robert Duncan
co-produced and directed by Dirk Maggs
From the novel by Douglas Adams
Reviewed by Ceri Laing
It was inevitable, following the success of
Dirk Maggs’s adaptations of the final three Hitchhiker’s Guide To The
Galaxy novels for BBC Radio 4, that Douglas Adams' other, far less
well-known, series of novels, featuring the adventures of downtrodden
gumshoe Dirk Gently, would be the next project tackled.
Originally published 1987, Douglas Adams’s
tale involving ghosts, Cambridge Dons, Coleridge, time-travel, evolution,
Electric Monks and a detective who detects through understanding the
inter-connected causality of the universe, is standard fare for the
writer. Never one to casually discard a good idea, Adams’ novel recycles
plot strands and characters from his time as script editor of Doctor
Who, including liberal use of elements from his un-transmitted 1979
Tom Baker story, Shada. Whatever the source, these elements work
extremely well, and make for a very entertaining novel. Adams only
completed two Dirk Gently novels. The second, The Long Dark Tea-Time of
the Soul followed uncharacteristically quickly, in 1988. Adams was
working on a third Dirk Gently novel, The Salmon of Doubt, at the
time of his untimely death, in 2001. There are plans for both to be
adapted for further radio adventures.
Dirk Maggs has brought together a lot of
talent for his adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
Billy Boyd, best known as Pippin in the film adaptations of The Lord of
the Rings, appears as computer programmer Richard MacDuff. Robert
Duncan, star of Drop the Dead Donkey and Radio 4’s Old Harry’s
Game, is Richard’s boss, Gordon Way. Actress Olivia
Coleman, a mainstay of Radio 4's comedy output, but perhaps better known as
Sophie in Peep Show, appears as Gently’s secretary, Janice Pearce. All-round voice artiste, Toby Longworth, known also for his work on Radio 4
and for many Big Finish audio adventures (including the title role in their
Judge Dredd series), is The Electric Monk. Andrew Sachs, fondly remembered for one role in a long and full career:
that of Manuel in Fawlty Towers, appears as Professor 'Reg'
Chronotis. Technically, Sachs is reprising the
role: he previously played Chronotis in Big Finish’s adaptation of Shada.
Finally, starring as Dirk Gently himself, is well-known comedian Harry
Continuing the trend of the previous releases by BBC Audiobooks of Maggs’s
adaptations of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker stories, the episodes on CD
aren’t the broadcast versions as they appeared on Radio 4. There is nearly
an hour of previously un-broadcast material included throughout the six
episodes, which were cut to fit Radio 4’s standard twenty-seven minute
‘half hour’ time slot.
The episodes are spread over three discs, 2 episodes per disc.
Disc 1 runs to 72 minutes
Disc 2 runs to 75 minutes
Disc 3 runs to 70 minutes
All the episodes sound clear and fine and are encoded in stereo with full
I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a great fan of Dirk Maggs’ radio
production style, which is perhaps best described as “wall of sound” or
cinematic. With that age-old cliché of the “pictures being better on the
radio” I find his full soundscapes distract my imagination rather than
enhance it. However… this style is what Douglas Adams and the production
team behind the first two Hitchhiker radio series were striving to achieve
in the late 70s, albeit with limited time, money and resources. Maggs was
also Adams’s choice for the director’s chair for the further phases of
Hitchhiker, so, I accept that Maggs is the most appropriate choice.
always enjoyed Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency as a novel. I think
it’s one of Douglas Adams’s best, even better than some of the Hitchhiker
books. It has an enjoyable, fun set of plot strands, utilising well the
material originally written for Doctor Who, all permeated with a pleasant
melancholic atmosphere. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached
listening to this adaptation, particularly when I heard that Harry Enfield
had been cast in the eponymous role. Not that I had anything against
Enfield, I just feel he wasn’t right for the character in the novel.
However, I do think this is a very good radio adaptation of the novel – in
keeping with the Hitchhiker tradition, each adaptation is a good work in
its own individual way. For example, the adaptation starts with a
pre-credit scene which isn’t how the novel begins, but is one that Doctor
Who fans will immediately recognise. This is initially a little unnerving.
Immediately afterwards though the warm, reassuring tones of John Marsh
(the announcer most associated with the radio versions of Hitchhiker) kick
in, and everything is alright. Maggs and his co-adaptors have done well
with taking the essential plot strands and characters of the novel and
weaving them together to make a coherent, listenable experience. My
reservations about Harry Enfield aside, the rest of the casting is spot
on. Billy Boyd is perfect as Richard MacDuff, as are Andrew Sachs, Robert
Duncan and Olivia Coleman in their respective roles. I still don’t think
Harry Enfield was right for the character of Dick Gently, as he appears in
the novels (he needs to sound younger for me), I was completely won over
by the character as created for this radio adaptation, and welcome his
return for planned adaptations of the other Dirk Gently novels. Overall I
found this a more satisfying and enjoyable adaptation than Maggs’
If you are a fan of Douglas Adams’s or Dirk Maggs’s work then you are
going to find much to entertain you here. If you caught the recent Radio 4
broadcasts and enjoyed what you heard then I would heartily recommend you
pick this release up as the longer cuts of the episodes greatly enhance
the listening experience.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
is much better than I expected,
and I await the following adaptations with great interest!