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Sunday, 8 August 2010


After the success of Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes and now this new BBC series it seems as if the sleuth is hip again; even if Conan Doyle is not.  Sherlock, which stars the effective Benedict Cumberbatch and the equally good Martin Freeman in the roles of Holmes and Watson respectively, has proved a big hit with the first episode, A Study in Pink, pulling in an impressive 7.02 million viewers. The second episode which aired on the 1st August, a balmy evening, with the show brought forward to 8.30 in the evening, still raked in 6.4 million viewers, making it the most watched Sunday evening program for the second week running. A reasonable hit indeed and whilst it isn’t Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes it does have the essence of Doyle and is very enjoyable – in a non-pipe smoking, gay innuendo spouting kind of way.

The third episode, The Great Game has just finished not moments ago and boy, what a climax!

That the show is set in the present day shouldn’t concern Doyle fans too much – after all, there is a long tradition of transporting Holmes to the modern day with most of the Basil Rathbone films taking place in a contemporary setting. Nor should the choice of actor, Benedict Cumberbatch as the famous consulting detective; his performance is quite excellent and although he will never trouble Jeremy Brett’s status as the finest screen Holmes ever, he does give us a compelling Holmes; he plays the detective as a deeply troubled man who seems perpetually on the verge of snapping. One thing that does bother me about the series is the way the writers have bowed down to the current political correctness and anti-smoking hysteria by replacing Holmes’ beloved pipe with a nicotine patch. Think of Holmes in profile and then take away the pipe – it doesn’t quite work but there is a bigger issue here than the absent meerschaum; these days, it seems, our heroes must be squeaky clean, tea-total, non-smoking and sexually ambiguous.

So is Sherlock Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes?
It’s often close...but not quite.

1-     A Study in Pink – right from the off we are presented with the modern world when we see an action scene in Afghanistan where military doctor, John Watson is serving. It turns out that Watson has been invalided out of the army and this is merely another in a long line of flashback nightmares. Shortly after this Watson meets the manic Sherlock Holmes and the two become flat mates. They are soon helping the police on a case involving several apparent suicides and Cumberbatch shines as the detective – within as split second of him being on screen he becomes Sherlock Holmes, or rather a post modern Sherlock Holmes.

“One of the reasons why Sherlock Holmes doesn't belong in the twenty-first century. Ultimately, the decision to have him dashing around texting his sidekicks, slurping frappe lattes and looking broody under the London Eye was misplaced, because substantial thematic elements of the original stories simply refuse to be rehabilitated. Like a lot of excellent fiction from previous centuries, Conan Doyle's writing is scarred by ugly cultural assumptions about race, class and gender, and whilst there are many stories from the nineteenth century whose dodgy sexist, racist or imperialist undertones can be excused on the basis of being incidental to the plot, Sherlock Holmes is not one of them.”  Laurie Penny – The New Statesman

The plot hinges on a taxi driver who is responsible for the suicides and although him turning up on Holmes’ doorstep for the climax seems contrived, it all holds together rather well.

2-The Blind Banker – Look closely at the circus scenes in this episode and you’ll see me as one of the audience – blink and miss me, though. I filmed a scene where this oriental woman mesmerized me, but that plot thread was dropped from the story and so I’m seen standing there, looking worried, while watching some death-defying acrobatics. Damn and blast! The second episode kept up the manic pace of the first, but this time the plot was even more baffling and nonsensical. Still Cumberbatch dominates the screen and his performance carries the viewer along without much time to consider the utter ridiculousness of the whole thing. Martin Freeman, also, is shaping up as a nice Watson for the 21st century. And it must be said then when it comes down to it several of the Doyle original stories where absurd when analysed fully.

3- The Great Game is a worthy last episode to what has been a surprisingly good modern day take on the Holmes Canon, even if the pipe is missing.  Holmes is bored, spends his evenings shooting up the flat. just the average day around Baker Street - Watson writing up Holmes' latest adventure for his blog, there's a head in the refrigerator and Holmes is at his most curmudgeonly.  Still Mrs Hudson thinks a nice murder is just around the corner to cheer Holmes up and sure enough mayhem soon follows. There an explosion in London,  a memory stick containing top secret plans have gone missing and Holmes finds himself called in by Lestrade to when a mysterious package addressed to Sherlock Holmes arrives at Scotland Yard. The plot is, as ever, intensely complicated but the story is paced so well and the performances so compelling that the viewer is dragged along. Soon it becomes clear that someone is playing a game with Holmes, someone every inch his intellectual equal, someone called Moriarty. And of course there was that cliffhanger ending....will Holmes return?

BBC's attention to detail the  blog actually exists and can be found HERE. It is rumoured that the blog is maintained by Mark Gatiss

1 comment:

Joanne Walpole/Terry James said...

I have to say I didn't like episode one, lost interest after episode two and didn't watch episode three. IMO the characters weren't very charismatic and the plots were a bit see-through. I think modern (dare, I say, American Holmes type equivalents are better - I'm not saying which because I don't want to start anything. LOL ;-) But, hey, that's why tv is variety medium and there are hundreds of channels out there for us to use our remotes on.