It pleases me how Dirk Gently appears to be at the centre of a Venn diagram, sandwiched between Doctor Who and Sherlock. There's just so much crossover in terms of ideas, tone and talent. This episode's written by Matt Jones (who wrote Who's "The Impossible Planet" two-parter), and guest-stars Bill Paterson (who played a scientist in Who's "Victory Of The Daleks"). It was also more obviously geared towards science-fiction than last week's premiere, and that suits the show better than when it plays things too Agatha Christie.
This week, Dirk (Stephen Mangan) returned to the Cambridge alma mater he first learned about the theory of holism, St. Cedd's, before he was unfortunately expelled. There, he was reacquainted with mentor Professor Jericho (Paterson), shortly before his ex-teacher was murdered following the theft of a pioneering automaton called Jane. Could the killing be connected to an artificial intelligence called Max, and the Professor's comatose daughter? Of course it could. The one frustration with this episode is how obviously it dangled the beginnings of every thread in front of our eyes, before slowly connecting the dots.
I thought it was fairly obvious what had happened to Professor Jericho, although this episode managed to remain entertaining because it contained some of the show's funniest moments, and a sense that Mangan's beginning to deeply enjoy being Dirk There was also an excellent performance from Lydia Wilson as a chip-loving machine inhabiting a human brain. Her odd mannerisms and unusual choice of a Scandinavian accent raised the character beyond its basic clichés. Her love story with Dirk was surprisingly touching, and it was also interesting to see a softer side to Dirk come out here—especially after my complaint last week that Dirk and Macduff don't always feel like three-dimensional people.
Helen Baxendale returned as Susan from the 2010 pilot, but I'm so keen on her character because she's mostly a buzz kill. I guess she gives Macduff something to do (i.e. a person to talk to who isn't Dirk, often about Dirk), but she's another character who needs some colouring. At least there was a sign she's capable of changing her bad opinion of Dirk, however short-lived, and this is a counterpoint to Macduff's growing belief that Dirk's a bonafide unconventional genius.
This was a really entertaining and deft hour, although a 20-minute trim would have really helped matters once again... but you can't really hate a story that weaves together AI, robotics, and online gaming. Good guest-stars and growing confidence helped make this feel like a possible turning point for the series. It may have a low budget, but that needn't be a barrier to imagination. If the rest of Dirk Gently can tap into this story's sense of brisk creativity, I'll be very happy. I just hope more skill can be employed with the week's mysteries, because the problem with the show's "interconnectedness" gimmick is how it can be used as a crutch for a writer when stretching plausibility to bringing disparate ideas together.
- You may recognise Lydia Wilson from the recent Channel 4 drama Black Mirror. She played the kidnapped Princess Susannah in the Charlie Brooker-penned "The National Anthem". She also appeared in South Riding, where she played Muriel Carne, and the movie Never Let Me Go.