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The thousands of creative decisions behind BBC Four's Dirk Gently

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Stephen Mangan Stephen Mangan | 10:30 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

One man, Douglas Adams, wrote two and a half books about the adventures of holistic detective, Dirk Gently, and now over 100 people have collaborated to bring his character to the small screen for a new series which starts tonight.

Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd)

Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd)

The novel writer is master of his domain. Apart from odd suggestions from an editor or publisher he is king, supreme leader and dictator.

Making television is essentially collaborative and involves the creative input of a huge number of people, all of whom, to a greater or lesser degree, influence the finished product.

The producers are responsible for hiring everybody. They choose a writer (or writers in our case) to produce scripts. These scripts will set the template for all that follows but there are thousands of creative decisions still to be made.

A director is hired. Who you pick will have a massive impact on the finished product because nearly all decisions from here on in are made in conjunction with him or her.

Actors are chosen. They picked me to play Dirk but imagine the show with, say, Damian Lewis or Harry Enfield or Alexander Armstrong as Dirk instead. (If you believe any of them would have been better than me, please don't tell the BBC.)

Darren Boyd plays Richard but how different would the show be with Rupert Penry-Jones or Russell Tovey as MacDuff?

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Dirk and Richard are on a stakeout

Locations for filming are chosen with the help of a locations manager, helping to find the perfect place as described in the script and if you can't find the right place you might build a set, which has to be designed, built, decorated and furnished.

The art director is responsible for the look of the whole show and, with the art department, decides everything from the colour of the walls to the knick-knacks on a shelf.

The costume designer clothes the actors. My look in the series is different from the pilot because we had a different costume designer who brings her own sensibility.

Neither is 'right' but they are both different and have an impact on what the audience feels about Dirk. Imagine David Tennant's Doctor Who in a bomber jacket and DMs.

The cameraman and the director chose the style of shooting. Again you'll notice a difference between the style of the pilot and the style of the series. Which do you prefer?

Look out for the very first sequence in the first episode of the series, up to the title credits, and imagine quite how many decisions had to be made about a myriad of things just to put that together.

Then there's the music, which has an enormous impact of the feel of a show. Hair and make up, lighting, sound and dozens more, hundreds of decisions have been made about hundreds of things that all impact on what you see on your screens.

Unlike books, which require a writer, a laptop and a reader to do all that work in their heads.

Stephen Mangan plays the title role in Dirk Gently.

Dirk Gently starts on Monday, 5 March at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please visit the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Not to forget the scheduler, the person who decides to put the programme out on BBC FOUR tonight at 9pm, but at 10:30pm NEXT WEEK on BBC HD....

  • Comment number 2.

    Excellent first episode,cant wait till next week.

  • Comment number 3.

    @Briantist The next ep is on BBC4 at 9pm next Monday, it's a repeat of tonight's ep on BBC HD at 10:30pm next Monday.

  • Comment number 4.

    Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! More, please, than just another TWO episodes.

  • Comment number 5.

    I watched the first episode of Dirk Gently tonight. Congratulations! I thought it was intelligently written, well directed and well played. It was also groovy, colourful and fun. It made me laugh out loud more than once. I enjoyed the humour, pace and movement of the piece. So much contemporary television drama strikes me as being wooden, clichéd and leaden - but the first episode of Dirk Gently was not! If you can maintain the standard you have set with this first episode for the rest of the series, then you might well have created something memorable. Let's hope so.

  • Comment number 6.

    I grew up with Hitchhikers and Dirk books. I always preferred the Dirk Gently tales and watching the episode last night, it appears you have captured my imagination on the books almost perfectly. Very glad you didn't decide to copy the books verbatim but threw in enough references for purists (especially zen navigation, as I have been boring people with that since I was about 12). Keep up the good work, it really does look as though all involved are doing this as a labour of love, shame about the electric monk but thats possibly the geekiest comment i have ever made.
    Nice one

  • Comment number 7.

    I've had Another Thought about 'Dirk Gently'. Although only two-and-a-half books were written, why can't a further series be BASED on the stories by Douglas Adams, penned by new writers, as some other TV series have been? And what a small DVD box set only 3 or 4 episodes will make!

  • Comment number 8.

    Brilliant! Well done to everyone involved. Can't wait for the next episode. I need more than 3 episodes though! Let's hope this series is renewed later in the year and that this isn't the last we will see of Dirk Gently and his assistant, sorry I mean business partner, Richard MacDuff and their holistic adventures.

  • Comment number 9.

    No, we don't really want audio books. We want DVD/Blu-Ray. You will have to produce a DVD holding all 4 episodes so far screened (including the pilot). I believe the BBC WOULD make some money here, whether or not more Dirk Gently episodes are made in the future It is a fact that people DON'T do that much recording and self-recorded discs don't make nice gifts. I work in marketing, so I worry about this sort of thing.

  • Comment number 10.

    I watched Episode 2 of Dirk Gently this evening, and I thought it was about 35% as good as Episode 1. Which means that it was 65% worse. I noted that it had a different scriptwriter, which I don't think helped. A lot of the cleverness and wit that was present in the script for Episode 1 was absent this evening. And I don't think the setting helped much, either. In my view, it was too dour for Dirk and it also seemed to cramp the movement of the camera.

    Although the denouement was clever, the other 75% of the time was not. It was just the standard soapy detective series with a sprinkling of sci-fi on top.

    With Dirk's return to his office, I am hoping that Episode 3 also sees a return to form for the series.

  • Comment number 11.

    or how about casting someone who is right for the parts, instead of the same old faces (and advert voices) that we see (and hear) all of the time. harry enfield? are you serious. anyway, you are actually an excellent actor but that doesnt always mean you can play the part, sometimes there has to be a physical connection, and because of Adams writing style creativity and 'vision' his characters always do. i really wanted to like this adaption....

  • Comment number 12.

    In my view, Episode 3 was a lot better - and funnier! - than Episode 2, but still not up to the standard of Episode 1. It was clearly a mistake not to have Howard Overman write the scripts for all three episodes, and the last two have overplayed the soapy element in the relationship between Dirk and Macduff. All of that 'I need you and you need me' stuff just comes across as being embarrassing and irritating. I think it actually detracts from the characters rather than adding anything to them. It would have been better off left implicit in the shifting dynamics between them, rather than turning it into a soapy sub-plot. And in any case, all of that stuff has already been done to death in umpteen forgettable detective series elsewhere.

    Also, Overman's script for Episode 1 had a sophistication and an intellectual top-spin which the script for Episode 2 lacked altogether, and which that for Episode 3 has only partly restored.

    The DVD will be worth having for Episode 1 (definitely), Episode 3 (so-so) and possibly for the pilot, which I have yet to see.

    I think it only fair to end by saying that the series had a good director and was well cast.

  • Comment number 13.

    Stephen Mangan is brilliant as Dirk Gently. But the whole thing is let down by ridiculous and weak storylines – Mob assassins, futuristic robots, CIA industrial espionage. If it were on a more human level perhaps the plot would match the characters in excellence. With only three episodes I feel short-changed, so another series is required - with intelligent plots.

  • Comment number 14.

    Fantastic series which to be honest I only watched because a lot of episode 3 was filmed outside of my flat!

    I agree with the other comments about episode 2 being the weakest, Dirk had become a slightly morose character in that one although I thought the love interest angle was excellent but I worked it out early on!
    What i've loved about this is it has actually made me laugh out loud while watching and it's a fantastic piece of escapism which is funny and entertaining and well acted I hope there is a further (much longer) series.

    Stephen, you've still got it with the ladies - I had a group of 20 year old girls around my flat the day you were filming (don't ask!) and they spent the whole time letching at you!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    These three episodes have been pure joy. I really hope that this series continues. I agree with the above comment about Dirk becoming morose. In my humble opinion, his "Zen" attitude should lend him more equanimity when the trail runs cold or faced with adversity, and I'd love those moments when the world just miraculously serves up what he wanted in the first place, like his Zen Navigation, (which is just genius. I must try that myself some time).

    There's a real scope for character progression here. Your embracing of the slightly unusual Sci-Fi aspects is just inspired. Production values on this series is just fantastic as well. You've got together an amazingly strong team from the actors right back to the director. I can't wait for more of this. I'm gonna keep hitting "Refresh" on iPlayer until I see "Episode 4" :)


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