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TV preview: Dirk Gently | Macbeth | Festivals Britannia | The X Factor

Although nowhere nearly as well known as his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy franchise, the DIRK GENTLY novels are highly regarded among fans of the late Douglas Adams.

I haven't read them, and not because I don't like Adams. On the contrary, I'm a big Hitchhiker's fan, and I love his Doctor Who work. I just never got round to reading the two and a half-finished Gently novels he wrote in the last years of his life.

The point of this frankly uninteresting autobiographical digression is to set my stall away from those likely to be appalled by the liberties taken by the TV adaptation of the series.

A detailed scroll through the synopses of the books means not only that I've spoiled them for myself but also that this adaptation by Misfits creator Howard Overman diverges greatly from the originals.

But on its own terms, it works.

Stephen Mangan seems like a good fit for the wily, unpredictable and likably dog-heeled detective whose unorthodox methods derive from his belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

Although Adams's more ambitious concepts are sidelined in favour of a more prosaic - if nonetheless enjoyable - sci-fi mystery, Overman captures at least some of the wit and whimsy of his distinctive comic voice.

With a plot involving Schrodinger's cat, little old ladies and endless cups of tea, it appears that the essence of the character and the curious universe he inhabits have been maintained.

This modestly-budgeted pilot suggests potential for a series, so the deviation from Adams's originals makes sense. It also adds yet another very British oddball to the pantheon currently occupied by Doctor Who and Sherlock, to whom this owes a debt by being a tangential influence in the first place. You see? Interconnectedness.

And it doesn't stop there. Last year the BBC aired a stylised Hamlet starring former Doctor Who David Tennant. This year they bring us a stylised MACBETH, also by William Shakespeare, who was the subject of a 2007 Doctor Who episode starring David Tennant. And it stars Patrick Stewart, who also famously appeared in a legendary TV sci-fi franchise. The mind boggleth.

Adapted by director Rupert Goold from his West End/Broadway hit, this is a dark, grisly, claustrophobic version set in a Reich-tinged Second World War environment. It's a tad overblown at times, but reasonably effective, despite Stewart being rather too old for the part.

Space precludes me from making any astonishing connections between FESTIVALS BRITANNIA, Doctor Who, Shakespeare and Adams. Suffice to say, they would involve runestones.

This lively history of the British pop festival travels from the relatively quaint open-air jazz shindigs of the 1950s, through the post-Woodstock hippie beard-ins of the 1960s and 1970s, the angrily politicised, tribalist gatherings and acid house raves of the 1980s, and the corporate-sponsored soullessness of the 1990s and beyond.

What's most striking about it is the undercurrent of counterculture vs establishment violence that existed from the beginning, whether from warring beatniks destroying BBC property in a trad vs modern jazz fight, anarcho-hippies tearing down the walls of the bread-head compounds, or the harrowing assault on New Age travellers by Thatcher's riot squads near Stonehenge in 1985, previously suppressed ITN footage of which appears here.

What begins as an affectionate tribute to Britain's counterculture accelerates into a dispiriting chronicle of The Man's aggressive erosion and commercial exploitation of free-spirited idealism. On a happier note, it contains wonderful footage of tweedy BBC reporters interviewing hippies as though they were Martians, disgruntled little Englanders decrying loss of Empire as stoned Medicine Head fans descend upon their lawns, and a young Jeremy Beadle assuring reporters that his Bickershaw Festival of 1972 won't be a footnote in rock history.

Plus plenty of "I was there man!" remembrances from the likes of Donovan (looking like a bedraggled spinster), Arthur Brown (sadly sans flaming headgear) and more tie-dyed veterans than you can shake a flaming chakra at.

It's! The! Final! of THE X FACTOR, and what a rum old series it's been. I've been hooked, but I was disturbed by how cynical, pointless and ugly it's become. Considering what it was like before, that's really saying something.

The fleetingly amusing Wagner phenomenon essentially involved a bemused Brazilian being mocked by millions, and anyone who joined the vicious bullying campaign against Katie should be ashamed.

Selling the live performances on iTunes meant the judges rarely criticised the contestants, thereby neutering the point of Simon Cowell.

But I did enjoy watching Cheryl Cole's flimsy "Nation's Sweetheart" mask crumble each week, Louis Walsh losing the last remaining shreds of his sanity, and Dannii Minogue achieving the hitherto unimaginable position of being the only judge with anything sensible to say.

This article was first published in The Scotsman, 11 December, 2010

 
 
 

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