Thursday, March 28, 2019

Holmes, Sweet Holmes

This is my entry in the Mystery Mania Blogathon hosted by Pop Culture Reverie

Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, during the final years of the Victorian age,  with the appearance of A Study in Scarlet in The Strand magazine.  Doyle was a prolific writer, but outside of Sherlock Holmes (and possibly The Lost World), not many people could name another creation by the author.  It may seem impossible to believe, but Doyle spent much of his life trying to distance himself from his most famous creation.  He wanted to be known as a writer who created great novels, and at one point even killed off his consulting detective in a rather useless attempt to do this. (See the story "The Final Problem")

But the public howled over the loss and demanded more.  Initially Doyle wrote a novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which took place some time prior to Holmes' death to satisfy the public, but even that was not enough.  He eventually had to accede to the public's wishes and bring back his detective from Death's door.  He continued writing stories well into the Edwardian age.

Sherlock Holmes, to me, has always belonged firmly entrenched in the Victorian era, an age when hansom cabs were the primary mode of travel, and gaslight lit homes and streets.  When Hollywood came to call, this was sometimes ignored however.  Except for the first two Rathbone/Bruce films, most of the output from the 40's had Holmes combating the primary enemy of the age, the Nazis.  And cars are almost ubiquitous.  As well as electric lighting.

Over the years, Holmes has sometimes been used in his original historical setting.  The 1965 TV series featuring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock kept Holmes in his own historical milieu, but on the other hand, some of the attempts just adapted the Holmes character into the historical era of the time of the production.  Not that they were all bad, just because Holmes wasn't limited to late 19th century technology,  however.

Given my predilection for Holmes and Watson to be portrayed in their own historical setting, you would think that a series that put Sherlock and friends in the 21st century would be an anathema to me right?  Well, I admit I approached it with some reservations, I admit.  But barely 15 minutes into the first episode I was hooked.  One of the things that helped was how Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat, the creators of the series, managed to weave in new interpretations of events that happened in the original canon.

One rather convenient factor helped make the transition a bit more acceptable.  Instead of being a veteran of the Second Anglo Afghan war in Afghanistan, our new Watson is still a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, albeit the one fought in the early 21st century.  Otherwise, except for the fact that Martin Freeman is quite a bit younger than the traditional portrayals of Dr. Watson, he manages to become a modern day equivalent of what we expect.  Although this Watson is definitely a bit more on the uptake.

Benedict Cumberbatch takes the diffidence and isolation of Holmes to whole new levels.  And there is an added twist to the new portrayal of the old character.  He has a love interest.  Well, not exactly...  Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), a doctor in the morgue of St. Bartholomew's has an unrequited crush on Sherlock, but he, for the most part, seems entirely unaware of it.  To round out the recurring cast, we have Rupert Graves playing a more well-rounded Inspector Lestrade, co-creator Mark Gattis as Sherlock's brother Mycroft, and a very entertaining Mrs Hudson, Sherlock and John's landlady, played by Una Stubbs.

Other characters from the canon make appearances.  Rather than just being a one off villain, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) manages to span two entire seasons as a nemesis for Holmes, up to the final episode of season two in which we get a new twist on the old story of the death of Moriarty and Holmes.

Sherlock (BBC TV series 2010-2017):

The series kicks off with "A Study in Pink" which gives a whole new twist to the original Holmes story A Study in Scarlet.  It seems there is a rash of suicides going on in the city, but the police force are clueless as to why.  Only Sherlock has the idea that they are not really suicides, but the work of an ingenious serial killer.

In "The Blind Banker"  (which in my opinion is the least interesting of the entire series), Sherlock has to deal with a Chinese Tong (the Chinese variation of the Mafia), and try to discover why two unrelated deaths are connected.  (Only he sees the connection.  Of course, until he tells Lestrade that they are, the police think they are separate.)

The final episode of the first season,  "The Great Game", one of the best in the series, finally introduces us to Jim Moriarty and a series of riddles that he sends Sherlock on, with the added danger that if he doesn't solve the riddle in time an innocent citizen will be blown up with explosives.  The season ends with a cliffhanger that will have you waiting with bated breath to watch season two's opening episode.

Season two brought the three most famous original Holmes stories into a new light.

In "A Scandal in Belgravia" Holmes meets his ultimate female nemesis, Irene Adler.  Pretty much the same as the original "A Scandal in Bohemia" with some additional twists that make it one of the best in the entire arc of the series.  In this one Irene is transformed from an actress to a high-class dominatrix.  The conservative sector of the country was scandalized by the appearance of a nude Lara Pulver, the actress who played her, on screen during a time-slot that was supposed to be safe from such prurient things.  (Note:  Much of the nudity is from behind, and what you see from the front is still tasteful, but maybe this episode should only be watched by adults in the family.)

The second episode of the season gives us a new twist on the classic "The Hound of the Baskervilles".  The entire episode covers mysterious events happening at a secret government facility (think area 51, for you readers in the U.S.)  The "gigantic hound" of the Baskervilles is still here, but the twist on it makes this episode my second favorite of the series.

The second season ends with a twist on the classic Holmes tale "The Final Problem".  In "The Reichenbach Fall",  Moriarty engineers a plan to fully discredit Sherlock Holmes and make him not only the laughing stock of the public, but even bring him under suspicion for crimes he didn't commit.  Of course, it inevitably leads to Moriarty and Holmes in a duel of wits at the top of a tall building.  And this being a parallel of the original, the seeming death of Sherlock.  However, unlike the original story, we are given a cliffhanger, again as the final scene we see Sherlock, still alive, watching on as Watson attends to his grave.

One can only wonder how the British public responded to this.  It was reported to be a water cooler type moment, not much unlike the season ending cliffhanger of "Who shot J.R.?" that ended the third season of the American TV show Dallas.  And which also paralleled the actual response to the death of Sherlock Holmes when Doyle killed him off in the original canon.

When Sherlock returned for a third season, the first thing that had to be done was resolve how Sherlock had supposedly survived the fall.  "The Empty Hearse", true to the feel of the entire series, never really gives us a concrete solution, but there are many theories proposed.  Including one by (former) Det. Anderson (Jonathan Aris), a thorn in Holmes' side on the police force from the previous two seasons.  (Note:  There is a mini-episode, available as near as I can tell, only online, and which I've never seen, which details how Anderson deteriorates from a good detective into one who is obsessed with trying to prove Sherlock is still alive.)  There is also a plot involving terrorists which Mycroft sets Sherlock to try to solve.  And we have to deal with Watson's reaction to the fact that his friend is still alive.  Plus Watson is finally going to get married.

Which he does in The Sign of Three".  But there is a decent mystery behind the scenes involving the mysterious death of one of the Queen's Guardsmen, which Holmes was never able to solve.  This comes to the fore as he tries desperately to fulfill his obligation of delivering a best man speech at Watson's wedding to Mary.  It is during the speech that he not only figures out the solution to that case, but is able to prove that one of the guests not only killed that soldier but is intent on doing likewise to another of the guests.

Season three ends with Holmes battling wits with Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), a man whom Holmes is absolutely certain has committed several murders, but for a while is at a loss to prove his conclusions.  He also uncovers someone who is actual a secret agent within the close knit family of Holmes.  The cliffhanger for this one will make you reel, as Holmes, who is being sent away from the country by Mycroft has to return, as a former enemy, though to be dead, makes his presence known.

The fourth (and so far final) season has three more equally intriguing mysteries for Holmes and Watson.  "The Six Thatchers", "The Lying Detective" and "The Final Problem" may require you to devote an entire afternoon/evening because all three arc nicely together and will be enthralling to say the least.  Suffice to say there are more twists here than a donut shop.  Not the least of which is the discovery a second, heretofore unremembered, sibling of Sherlock.

Most of the episodes in the series could be watched individually without having to devote time to the entire series, but my humble suggestion is you start with season 1 episode 1.  After all, it all subtly arcs together to the final denouement at the end of season 4 episode 3.  If there are never anymore Sherlock episodes, the series wraps up neatly, and after you have spent the 18 hours or so it takes to digest the entire series, I feel you won't be disappointed.

Time to take the ride home.  Drive safely, folks.



  1. I LOVE Sherlock! I was not sure what to expect from this show either, but I was hooked from episode 1! Deep down, I hope that they decide to do a few more episodes, or at least a TV movie or something. Great blog!

    Keith - Nostalgic Italian

    1. It will be good if they do. Thanks for reading.

  2. The passing of time has made me forget how enthralling and enchanting I found the series. A revisit is due.

    1. If you have time, watch them all. :-) Thanks for reading.

  3. This series is cleverly done. My fave episode is the one where Sherlock comes back from the "grave". Martin Freeman's furious performance is terrific, and I love all the social media musings about how Sherlock staged his death.

    Even though I lost interest in Season 4, I still enjoy the first three seasons. This was a brilliant choice for the blogathon.

    1. There were some brilliant twists in season 4. But I admit I liked the first three seasons better. Especially ALL of season 3. Thanks for reading.

    2. Actually I mean season 2...

  4. Thanks for participating. I agree that "The Blind Banker" is particularly weak. I think the first two seasons are the strongest. I often put them on in the background when I am working.

    1. I watched the entire series in a week. (Would've been less, but I had to work and sleep part of the time...) Thanks for reading.

  5. I love the Sherlock series, and I recommend it to anyone. The adaptation was clever and faithful, and the acting is top notch- in special for Benedict. Nice overview of one of my favorite series.

    1. Its one of the best, as far as TV series Sherlocks go. Thanks for reading.


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