** Original Writeup

Author: Douglas Adams
Title: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Published: 1987 by William Heinenmann Ltd.
ISBN: 0 330 30162 4

Writer Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, master of British wit, brings to his reader a mystery that transcends the bounds of space, time, and common logic. Again. From the campus of St Cedd’s College Adams introduces us to the unsuspecting, talented, Richard MacDuff. Graduate, programmer for WayForward Technologies, keener on recursive algorithms and owner of an unmovable couch. Richard, and the reader, unsurprisingly to Adams fans, find themselves brutally beaten down the rabbit’s hole through a series of events connecting the endangerment of the creation of Man with an unhappy horse and Richard’s stripping naked and jumping in a canal. Detective Svlad Cjelli, aka Dirk Gently (changed to disassociate himself from “past events”) unravels this beautifully.

With a bevy of support characters portraying a farce of their real world counterparts, and some murder thrown in for good measure the book makes for excellent trans temporal light reading. Meshing science fiction with a touch of fantasy this books belongs in neither genre. The world lacks hardcore technological components one would find in William Gibson’s Cyberpunk and the fantasy world as told around campfires nationwide during the summer far exceeds that of Adams. The books whimsical nature is both its pleasure and its undoing. All extreme aspects are sacrificed to the joy of humorists and the dismay of genre fans.

If you have previously enjoyed Douglas Adams, British comedies such as Red Dwarf, or Monty Python then this book will make for a most pleasant read.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency owes a lot to two Doctor Who episode Douglas Adams wrote for the BBC called "City of Death" and "Shada".

Regarding Adams' Borrowing from City of Death

In this episode, the last of an alien race called the Jagaroth goes back in time to a primordial earth to stop the explosion of a Jagaroth ship. The energy from the explosion of the Jagaroth ship juiced up earth's amino acid soup and kick started life on earth. If the Jagaroth ship did not explode, life on earth would never have developed. Doctor Who had to go back in time with a bumbling, oafish pulp-era detective named Duggan to make sure the ship blew up. Sound a wee bit familiar?

The proto-Dirk Gently, Duggan (played by actor Tom Chadbon) had a penchant for hitting people and smashing bottles.

Duggan: You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs!

Romana: If you made an omelet, I'd expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames, and an unconscious chef!

Curiously, of all the Doctor Who episodes ever made, "City of Death" was one of the few that never had a follow-on novelized version. The writing credit is given to David Agnew, which was a pseudonym used by Douglas Adams when he co-wrote with Doctor Who script editor Graham Williams. Apparently, Adams wrote the bulk of the script and refused to let anyone tackle the novel version. Well, now we know the novelized treatment Adams intended. "David Agnew" is also credited on the "The Invasion of Time" episode. The only aired Doctor Who Adams wrote completely was "The Pirate Planet". Williams is solely responsible for "The Nightmare Fair".

Many considered "City of Death", first aired in 1979, one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever made. Many at the BBC resented Adams' attempts at joking up Doctor Who. They feared he would turn it into an American-style sit com. However, Adams managed to sneak a lot of his humor into this one, including some rarely seen romantic moments between the Doctor and Romana. It was certainly one of the highest rated Doctor Who episodes, owing to a strike at ITV. The episode even featured a funny cameo by John Cleese, who played an art critic.

Regarding Adams' Borrowing from Shada

Having never seen "Shada" (the episode was never completed due to a strike), it's very hard to say what Adams' borrowed from this Doctor Who script. If you saw "City of Death" and then read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, you definitely went "hey, that ending is right out of the Jagaroth episode! Poo! Poo!" Googling for detail about "Shada" and an analysis of similarities between the two works turns up little actual information. There are a whole lot of pages that state with great authority that "Well, as all the cool people know, Dirk Gently's was totally borrowed from 'Shada'." But no one seems to know why this is the case. It's much like the underwear stealing gnomes from Southpark. All the gnomes know Phase 1 (steal underpants) and Phase 3 (profit) but they're pretty hazy on Phase 2 (????).

As best I can tell, Adams used some settings and dialog from "Shada", notably the episode being partially set at Cambridge. As well both featured a Cambridge professor named Chronotis. In both book and episode, each has an apartment at Cambridge that is really a time ship. In the "Shada" episode Chronotis is a Timelord and Doctor Who's former teacher. In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Dirk is a former student of Cambridge.

Regarding Adams' Borrowing

Some fans are upset that Adams reused so much material, especially reusing a story ending many of his fans already saw. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was written in a period of Adams' life when he saw a large part of his money made from Hitchhikers embezzled and lost by a corrupt accountant. One posits this first Dirk novel was written somewhat hastily as a bit of a cash grab, an attempt to recoup some of the hard-earned money he lost.

When writing Life, The Universe, And Everything Adams borrowed from a Doctor Who story outline he wrote called "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen". Adams pitched "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen" as the basis for a full blown Doctor Who movie but the idea never got beyond the treatment stage.

Regarding Adams' Borrowing from the "Stolen Cookie" Urban Legend

There's also some controversy about Adams borrowing from the "stolen cookie" Urban Legend, including it in his So Long and Thanks for All the Fish novel, and then passing it off on talk shows as having actually happened to him. The well-known Urban Legend goes something like this:
Before a man gets on a train he decides to buy a small bag of cookies for a snack. He finds an empty train car and sits down. At the next stop this Indian fellow gets on and joins him in his car. The Indian man looks kind of fresh off the boat, a definite "wet back", and he's a bit suspicious of this new arrival sitting across from him. After a bit of eyeing the Indian guy, he decides to open his packet of cookies on the table between them. He takes one. Much to his horror, the Indian fellow, with almost surgical precision, reaches out, snatches a cookie from the bag, and eats it! The nerve! The man takes another cookie. The Indian again helps himself to another. The man begins to give the Indian guy the dirtiest of looks and his mind begins to seethe with anger that these Indian wet backs don't understand the concept of personal property. He takes another cookie, quickly followed by the Indian. This goes on until there's one cookie left. The Indian fellow waves an opened hand at the remaining cookie, making the universal "please, help yourself to the last cookie" gesture. The man eats his last cookie, fuming not only at this Indian's ill mannered nerve but his spiteful magnanimous gesture. The train finally arrives at the man's station. He gets up, collects his things, and then before he leaves the car he says to the Indian man in a very sarcastic tone, "Well, I sure hope you enjoyed those cookies!" The man gets off the train. He fumbles through his pockets to find his wallet so he can rent a car. And what does he find in his pocket? The packet of cookies he originally bought!

Many people familiar with Urban Legends thought it was a bit weird Adams would include a well-known tale in his book. However, when he started going on shows like the Tonight Show claiming the inspiration for that fictionalized account really happened to him, people started calling Adams to task.

Adams defended himself claiming that it really did happen to him. This is how the Urban Legend started. Adams explains in an email dated November 1993 (back in the day when a celebrity could use the Internet and expect some civility out of users):
It happened to me on Cambridge station in the summer of 1976. A couple of years later I told the story on the radio, and then subsequently began to come across all sorts of variations of the story cropping up all over the place. I don't really care whether you believe me or not. I'm simply relating what occurred. If you are predisposed to believe - on no evidence - that I am a liar, there's not a lot I can do about that.

While it's possible it happened to Adams in real life, folklorists were documenting the legend several years before Adams claimed it happened. If it did happen to Adams, he is at least incorrect in his belief that he was the legend's progenitor.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was dramatised for BBC Radio in 2007. Broadcast between the 3rd October and the 7th November the series was a definite success, being well received by both the media and Douglas Adams fans. A CD release is available which features extended episodes. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul has been commissioned and is due to broadcast in June 2008, with the unfinished The Salmon of Doubt to follow.

Cast as follows:

In 2016 BBC America made a TV version of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency written by Max Landis. It is very good, which is not something I say about many TV shows, especially those based on books. It maintains much of the feel of the novels, but makes some major changes to the backstory and setting. It is also rather dark and bloody at times, which is in concordance with the novels, but something that perhaps stands out more clearly on the screen. The following two paragraphs contain mild spoilers.

Dirk Gently is still a holistic detective, but has followed the mumbled hints of the Interconnectedness of Everything to the United States. This new Dirk is hyper to the point of being manic, and much of the role of down-on-their-luck slob is taken over by a new character, a random bellhop named Todd. While the majority of the show deals with science fantasy type mysteries that Dirk and Todd bumble through with ineffable guidance from the Universe, there is a new, trite and tried subplot: a secret government agency collecting supernatural anomalies.

Blackwing is a bit like the SCP Foundation, but they have fallen on hard times. They found some really cool stuff, apparently including Dirk Gently, and have a secret base full of weirdos, but it turns out that beings guided by the ineffable are hard to contain, and most of the weirdos are currently out roaming America, which is good because we get to meet them. The first of these that we get to learn about is Bart, a holistic assassin; she kills whoever the universe shuffles across her path, in full confidence that she would not meet a person if they did not deserve to die, now, violently. She meets someone she does not kill, and this turns out to be one of the best subplots.

Season one is great; season two is great also, but starts off with something that looks like it's going to be a bit too much; keep watching, the writer actually sticks the landing. There is no season three, because good shows get cancelled.

Overall, a goofy, somewhat dark show that does not really follow the books but does a good job of capturing the right mood. There are a fair number of overused tropes, but it works out fine. It is a fully modern show with high production values, and holds its own among science fiction shows. It does not however, retell or continue the adventures of the original Dirk Gently, and if you expect that you will be disappointed; this is a whole new holistic detective.

SciFiQuest 3020: Foresight is 3020

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