A lone robot, shaped like a monk, gloomily sits on an exasperated horse in plainview of a barren wasteland filled with noxious fumes. The horse thinks the rider is rather silly and would like a crumpet with spread and some alfalfa tea, thank you very much. The monk, on the other hand, is contemplating the barren place (no, not Meadowhall).
What does it all mean? Time passes for it. Really fast. But it doesn’t believe in time any more. It doesn’t believe in anything. No, wait, it does.
What does it all mean?
Time seriously passed.
Douglas Adams‘ was a great writer. Derided by stuffy-headed, stiff-shirted critics for being “too undergraduate humoured” (what the fuck does that even mean?) and confusing Joe Q. Public for being “too silly” (true, but still entertaining), Adams‘ humour is firmly planted in absurdism and silliness, but behind those layers, there’s a lot of cleverness. It showed in his brief stint in Monty Python Flying Circus, it absolutely dazzled on his time on Doctor Who (check his rapid-fire, quotable dialect in City of Death and The Pirate Planet).
Fast forward to a few years and industrial action grinds to a halt his story Shada, a story that was supposed to finish Tom Baker’s funniest season with an interesting mix of Cambridge, space prisons and time paradoxes.
Never a man to throw an idea away, Douglas Adams loved to recycle. He created Dirk Gently (itself, a congener of The Doctor), saved some of his ideas (like the Cambridge setting, the time travel and the absent minded Professor Chronotis) and gave us a silly-oh-wait-it’s-actually-clever romp called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
The plot…Jesus, here it goes: a likeable loser called Richard (I can imagine Simon Pegg playing this part) is quite the genius. He’s also very awkward and has a sofa stuck on his staircase. His on/off gal is tired of him being so late all the time and he goes to visit an old pal (in all senses) called Professor Reg Chronotis at Cambridge. He notices that the Professor has a knack for being:
- Absent minded
- Keen on magic tricks
So after a particular magic trick beffudles him and he runs into a horse in the toilet (bear with me), Richard starts to suspect not all is well. Add to the mix a ghost story, a murder, a horse tired of having to deal with an insufferable buffoon for a rider, a stupid robot (who is said buffoon), an exasperated girlfriend, a bitchy secretary and a very suave, know it all detective, and you have a very funny story that might pull your leg a few times.
There’s some pretty good ideas thrown here, not only plotwise, but also in literary conventions. Douglas manages to tell a multicharacter story where every single character is perfectly defined (and all a bit silly). The plot twists are pretty ingenuous and the resolution does need your full attention.
This is a very tricky ending (again, something that still happens in Steven Moffatt‘s Doctor Who) and you might feel like nothing happened. But it was the right type of nothing (a fiver if you get the reference). The ending is effing brilliant and you do feel bad a bit for Dirk (“chambón hasta el final”) but you know he has a second novel where he will excel once again…