Monday, 13 January 2014


OK I'm going to get nerdy here, after watching the last episode of 'Sherlock'
last night. As just about every paper in Britain, for varying reasons, seemed to deem it front page news. I thought I'd put my oar in too.

I have always been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. As a teenager, I read every
story I could get my hands on. I was attracted by his twisted genius and
imperfection, something normally lacking in later heroes. From Biggles to Zorro,
it's just a lot of derring do. Holmes is an expert in several fields, completely
ignorant of philosophy and the classics, both of which, in Conan-Doyle's time,
were considered essential elements in a liberal education. He is also a cocaine
addict. For me, who was OK at school in subjects that interested me, but useless
at the rest, this was somehow reassuring. Apart from the cocaine ........... anyway.

I went through most of the volumes at the local library and finally stopped when
puberty kicked in and James Bond took over. Remember Pan Books? I realise now
that I never read all the stories as I have no recollection of the Reichenbach

There was a follow up last night, after the main event, about Holme's evolution.
As we know, 'Elementary my dear Watson' has nothing to do with Conan-Doyle: the
expression was invented by William Gillette, the first person to dramatise the
stories and yet has become a central part of the Holmes canon. Likewise the
deerstalker and Inverness cape, which were the inventions of Sidney Paget, the
illustrator for 'Strand' magazine.

There is a little known version with John Cleese as Holmes and Arthur Lowe as
Watson, which oddly enough, I saw on French TV many years ago. The stories had
little to do with the originals, but did their bit to perpetuate and strengthen
the myths.

Watson, doing the crossword: 'Yellow citrus fruit plant, one, five, four?'
Holmes: 'A lemon tree, my dear Watson..........'

Not only has the character evolved from the original creation, but writers as
diverse as Stephen King and Old Sam Clemens have had a go too. In fact, having
done a quick check, it seems that about a hundred writers have published short stories featuring the man with the deerstalker and syringe. The number of amateur, non-published stories lying about in desk drawers and on hard discs must be astronomical.

Anyway, back to last night. Despite all the rave reviews, I wasn't hugely
impressed. The one-liners are excellent, likewise the photography. The two main
protagonists are marvellous, but somehow it's all a bit too slick and glossy. I
have always liked Mark Gatiss since the 'League of Gentlemen,' but
unfortunately, by casting himself as Mycroft he steals the show. In the books,
he's a seldom seen, shadowy figure, an almost supernatural presence. Deep down,
you are made to feel that he really is the master to his little brother's

There is also a lot of syrupy sentiment, driven home with a sledgehammer which
slows the the overall dynamic, presumably so we can all go 'aah.' Yes, yes, we
get the point, now can we please cut to the chase.

As a result it seemed all of ninety minutes. Unlike the people who wrote the
review, I didn't think it was 'nearly perfect,' as one critic would have it. A
reasonably witty evening's telly, but not really Sherlock Holmes.

PD James pointed out that for a lot of fans, the definitive portrayal was Basil
Rathbone, quite simply because he conformed to the visual image as originally
illustrated. Benedict Cumberbatch does a credible portrayal, but there seems,
for me, at least, to be something missing. I have no objection to his
non-aquilinity, but it would be improved if the script wasn't just a series of
clever and sometimes very funny one liners. It certainly has style. Perhaps in
series three there'll be a little more substance.


  1. Unlike you, Rob and, it seems, the whole World and his wife, I didn't grow up reading Shelock Holmes stories. However, although I don't read lots of fiction nowadays, I am gradually catching up on them especially since the Radio Times often sends you three different SH books if you collect a few vouchers and send off £1.99. I've just sent off for the latest batch.

    Like you, though, I read the reviews with some surprise. I agree that the programmes are slick, clever and often enjoyable. These last three episodes seem little really to do with the Holmes stories and more to do with Steven Moffat. Someone reviewed the Christmas Dr Who as being for the ADD Generation. I felt that a bit with Sherlock, too. I appear to be a bit of a lone voice on this at home but you have helped me realise that even if I am once again out of kilter with everyone around me, I'm not completely alone.

    I also agree about Mark Gatiss, I have yet to watch the M. R. James ghost story or the documentary MG made about him (both shown on Christmas Day) but am looking forward to them. Hopefully the next series of Sherlock will have got the silliness out of the way - two years of building up appetites for explanation seems to have backfired a little - and make way for some really good TV like the first two series. I'm a little fearful that that may not be the case though.

    By the way, Rob, there was also a Timeshift documentary on Sherlock Holmes through history on BBC4 last night - it'll probably be on iPlayer. Another programme on the recorder waiting to be watched . . . ah well . . .

    1. I agree, very Dr Who. Actually, did see the documentary after Sherlock, last night. As I say, I've always been a fan and would recommend the John Cleese Arthur Lowe combo. I'm sure it must be available somewhere.
      By the way: HAPPY NEW YEAR Hope to see you here this summer.

  2. Yeah, just finished watching it this evening, and have to agree -- style over content. A few of the first two series were excellent, a proper re-invention, but this is just slick. Fun, but shallow. When will people realise that engineered coinicidences are not the same thing as plotting? Sigh...


    1. Enjoyable, but only up to a point. If the future is a lot of bangs and pyrotechnics, I think I'll stick to opera, which also has thin plots, but the incidental music is something else.