BBC America and Netflix’s adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently comes to an end in this increasingly absurd, ridiculous, and utterly lovable series.

While the series bears virtually no resemblance to the original books, I found myself unexpectedly hooked throughout the first season. So, when a second season came along, complete with a fairy tale style, world-bending mystery, I was more than happy to be taken along for the ride.

But given how different it is to Adams’ original books, is this really still ‘Dirk Gently’? I would argue that it is, because it is fulfilling a somewhat central idea that gave birth to the character. Dirk Gently is the Anti-Sherlock.

Book to Screen

Gone is Dirk’s ridiculous hat, trench coat, and portly appearance. Samuel Barnett plays a much younger, much more energetic Dirk. This is what attracts me to this particular adaptation.

Adams’ conception of Dirk Gently was as the anti-Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes employed a form of reasoning to look at evidence and come to rational conclusions, Gently rejects this approach.

“What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? ‘Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’
I reject that entirely. The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is just that it is hopelessly improbable? Your instinct is to say ‘Yes, but he or she simply wouldn’t do that.’” – The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul, Douglas Adams

Where Holmes was a rich, well spoken and often elegant figure in the original books, Gently was a bit of a slob, living in a stingy flat where everything was falling apart. He was a cheapskate, a conman, and had questionable morals, while Holmes tended to (at least appear to) be upstanding and honest for the most part.

With the BBC’s Sherlock series, there is perhaps a new public image of Holmes. Therefore, it makes sense for there to be a new Dirk Gently. To counter the Cumberbatch-Moffat version and create a fun-house mirror version of Sherlock in the form of Dirk Gently.

For this reason, I do not resent the changes from the books here, for the most part. In spirit, I think, it is doing something similar to the originals, but from a different starting point.

Seemingly Supernatural

A common centrepiece to any mystery story is that something seemingly impossible has happened. How did the killer get into this locked room? Where did they go to? How did nobody see or hear it? This is ridiculous!

Where Sherlock Holmes, and other detective stories would go is to take these seemingly supernatural occurrences and slowly unravel them and reveal them to be merely mundane things. A perfectly rational explanation that reassures the audience that all is as it ought to be in the end.

Dirk Gently takes that concept and inverts it. A seemingly mundane thing happens, and over the course of the investigation, it becomes more and more strange, eventually revealing itself to be of some supernatural or extraterrestrial source.

The first season of Dirk Gently begins with a murder – a strange murder, by many definitions. As the episodes progress, it only gets stranger. Time travel, souls being swapped from body to body, and a secretive government organisation all come into play. It seems for a long while that all of these disparate strands could never come together, but somehow, they do.

Personality Conflicts

While Sherlock Holmes maintains his air of superiority throughout most adaptations – the modern Sherlock being no exception – Dirk here is decidedly unsure of himself at times. While he believes in his methods and the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, he is a deeply insecure person.

Sherlock (the modern version) has a tendency towards the pessimistic, assuming the worst of others. He keeps his distance and it takes him a long time to form friendships or even display the desire for any. Dirk, on the other hand, presents himself as eternally optimistic and eager for friends right from the get go.

As the series progresses, we find that he carries himself as excitable and optimistic, but only as a mask over his loneliness and insecurity. He is a man aware of his flaws and actively trying to fix them. Sherlock is a man in denial of his flaws all too often. They may be pointed out to him, but he rarely acts accordingly.

While Sherlock tends to glorify its protagonists behaviour – demeaning others, acting superior, and being deliberately offensive wherever possible – Dirk Gently presents his flaws as flaws. The audience is acutely aware that this is not a well man, and more importantly, he is aware of it and acts to try and if not deal with his flaws, then at least find coping mechanisms.

The Chosen One

For Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, Holmes is the most special boy. The world revolves around him, and this absolves him of his bad behaviour more often than not. He is just too clever, and too special, and he knows it. He uses it to his advantage wherever possible.

That’s not to say other characters don’t find this annoying, or that it is not challenged occasionally within the show, but it is a fairly common observation about the show. Dirk Gently is more about reflecting much of the perception of the Holmes character.

For Dirk Gently, however, there are literal prophecies marking him as a special person, and Dirk finds this terrible. When people are killed or hurt because of him, Dirk feels genuine remorse and seeks to fix things, or else to prevent future harm if he can.


As Sherlock developed, John Watson became less of a player in the episodes, beyond being kidnapped or getting married to more active characters. The show played up the idea of the two being close friends, but the actual content of the stories and dialogue rarely showed this to be the case.

Dirk tries his hardest to befriend his companion Todd throughout the series. He tries to be nice to him, he tries to help him; he tries everything. There are plenty of aspects to their story that are questionable – difficult to talk about without giving away too many spoilers – but Dirk’s attitude is plain to see. Dirk wants to have friends. Sherlock doesn’t.

While Holmes, you could argue, doesn’t wish for friends but ends up with them, Dirk actively seeks them out, and fails all too often. Dirk wants to be a better person, and solve his mysteries. Sherlock doesn’t care for being a better person, so long as he can solve his mystery.

A lot of this might seem like its heavily critical of Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlock the show. That’s not what I’m trying to do here. I’m more interested in drawing the lines of difference between the way the characters are presented. The creators of Sherlock had a job to do, they had a character to build, and they did it their own way for their own reasons. Dirk Gently exists, I would argue, in part, as a reaction to the way that character was built.

Get Holistic

If you enjoy a weird and mind-bending sci-fi mystery, I highly recommend Dirk Gently. The first season is a very strong showing and Elijah Wood is in it and he’s brilliant. The show is not only fun and strange, it also deals with its characters with a lot of care and grace.

We see high concept science fiction alongside a careful discussion of mental illness and how it is treated and abused. We see a fun loving, optimistic hero who makes mistakes, but is still a hero despite it all.

It might not be Douglas Adams’ creation, it’s very much its own thing. On its own merits, it’s well worth investigating.