Top 5 Douglas Adams characters

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Stephen Mangan (Green Wing) returns to BBC Four in Dirk Gently next week as the morally dubious, self-styled Holistic Detective, alongside Darren Boyd (Spy) as Dirk’s business partner Richard Macduff, who attempts to rein in Dirk’s more tangential decisions, keep them both out of prison and generally restore order to the chaos that Dirk creates.

> Buy the Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams on Amazon.

Written by Misfits creator Howard Overman, Episode 1 airs at 9pm on Monday 5th March on BBC Four.

In anticipation of the new three-part series, CultBox are thumbing a lift around the galaxy of creator Douglas Adams’s finest characters. Don’t panic – grab yourself a towel and come with us…


5. Arthur Dent

‘Ford, you’re turning into a penguin. Stop it.’

The reluctant hero of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Arthur Dent has survived the destruction of Earth, being stranded millions of years in the past, his own death and the vague embarrassment of spending a long time wandering the universe in just pyjamas and a dressing-gown to be crowned as the ultimate every(English)man: diffident, apologetic and slightly irritable when faced with a challenge, be it the bulldozing of his house by the local council or the obliteration of his home planet by the Vogons.

Possibly the only person in history whose true love is named after Fenchurch Street station … unless there’s a trainspotter out there who’s in love with the actual Fenchurch Street station.


4. A moustachioed art critic

‘For me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful afunctionalism.’

Douglas Adams’s time as writer and script editor of Doctor Who in the late 1970s led to the creation of numerous excellent characters, but perhaps none more memorable than the two pretentious critics in the Louvre who mistake the TARDIS for a work of art … one of whom just happens to be played by John Cleese.


3. Zaphod Beeblebrox

‘I am so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis.’

As multi-cranial, metaphysically solipsist, hedonistic-beyond-the-point-of-Keith-Richards former presidents of the galaxy go, Zaphod Beeblebrox is up there with the very best of them – not least for inventing the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, the most famous (and dangerous) drink in the cosmos.

Of course, if he ever took responsibility for anything, he’d have to admit liability for the thousands of bartenders who have been bored by dullards ordering what they think is an earthbound approximation of the cocktail – but Zaphod and responsibility go together like peaches and creatine deficiency.


2. Dirk Gently

‘The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks.’

A psychic private investigator with a belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of things sounds like a thing of which American television network producers’ dreams are made. However, add in a fondness for pizza, a ridiculous hat and a terminal lack of clients, and what you have is Svlad Cjelli – or Dirk Gently, as he prefers to be called.

Although radio and television adaptations (featuring Harry Enfield and Stephen Mangan respectively) have yet to wholly convince, the two novels in which he appears are among Adams’s very best.

In fact, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency contains one of the greatest jokes in the history of life, the universe and everything. When asked by Richard MacDuff if the unexpected visitor upstairs in his house is of the equine persuasion, Professor Chronotis says, ‘Yes it is. Wait … let it be. It won’t be long.’ Richard replies: ‘There’s a horse in your bathroom and all you can do is stand there naming Beatles songs?’


1. Marvin the Paranoid Android

‘Why should I want to make anything up? Life’s bad enough as it is without wanting to invent anymore of it.’

In many facets of popular culture, supporting characters often attain a longevity within the collective consciousness which outstrips that of the principal protagonists. In Happy Days, the Fonz started as a rebellious outsider with only a few cool lines per episode and ended up taking centre stage; Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Angel was so popular he got a whole spin-off series of his own; and it was Joe Pesci who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Goodfellas, not Ray Liotta or Robert De Niro.

Similarly, of all Douglas Adams’s wonderful creations, it is Marvin the Paranoid Android whose synthetic sorrowfulness lingers longest and most fondly in the memory. Blessed with an intellect thirty billion times larger than that of a sentient mattress but cursed never to find any task worthy of it, the multiverse’s most gloomily fatalistic robot shuffles through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy saga like a metallic Morrissey, muttering an endless litany of alienation, boredom and despair.

The more morose Marvin becomes, the funnier he is, and the fact that he has been served so depressingly badly by visual designers down the years (the classic realisation in the original Hitchhiker’s TV series never looked right, somehow, while the ball-headed version in the movie is as dismal as spending 1.5 million years walking around in a circle just to make a point) is an irony that the robot himself would appreciate – if he could appreciate anything, that is.


> Buy the Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams on Amazon.

Who is your favourite Douglas Adams character? Let us know below…

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