Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Sherlock definitely accomplished what it set out to do - to update Sherlock Holmes and his surrounding myth to the 21st century. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were good enough as Holmes and Watson that I wondered vaguely how they'd do in a period-costume version, although Holmes's nigh-sociopathic callousness was maybe over-emphasised - the original would at least observe the social niceties when interviewing a distressed client, and would sternly declare his opponents to be abominable before diving into the clues. Maybe someone thought that this was just a mask, and a modern Holmes wouldn't bother. Meanwhile, the scriptwriters had enormous fun working stuff from the original stories into the modern-day version, doubtless seeing how much they could include that would make the people who just think they know Holmes accuse them of gross distortion before the people who've actually read the stories jumped in to point out the truth.

But oh dear, it was rushed. I got the feeling that the writers wanted a full multi-week series and pitched a story arc on that assumption - and the BBC said "great, you can give us that in three 90-minute episodes". So in the first episode, we got the Big Meeting and the basic relationships framework, and Holmes heard the name "Moriarty"; in the second, Holmes cracked a case (with the aid of one stonking big coincidence, if you were paying attention) and unbeknown to him, the leader of the villains was collaborating with someone who signed himself "M" and who employed a sniper (doubtless name of Moran), and in the third, Moriarty decided that Holmes was both threat enough and entertaining enough that he gave him an episode's worth of arbitrary puzzles at huge cost to himself and his credibility, then emerged from the shadows to reveal himself to be a bit of a loony, eventually setting up an arbitrary To Be Continued.

Okay, now BBC; it works, okay? That much should have been obvious from the first, but anyway, if you're prepared to believe it now, give Moffat and Gatiss at least a dozen or so episodes to expand into, let them wrap up the Moriarty nonsense with one mighty bound in the first (Moriarty was always a dull and cumbersome element to the original Holmes mythos, after all - making him a big feature of the modern version was a bit lazy), and let's see Cumberbatch and Freeman weave their intellectually sinuous way across modern London the way that Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke made Victorian-Edwardian London look so damn good.

Otherwise, don't bother.


Anonymous said...

It felt to me like very good Sherlock Holmes fan-fiction, just as Moffatt's version of Doctor Who feels like Doctor Who fan-fiction. But when it's Holmes, who has already suffered every possible indignity including vampirism and marriage to an American, I find I don't mind as much.

I agree about the rushed-ness; I think there's a trend in serial television at the moment (following Babylon 5, The Wire, and such-like small successes) deliberately to put into the foreground plot elements that only make sense if viewed in the context of an entire series. I don't mind a bit of that, but I think that it shouldn't be at the price of making each individual episode an interesting story in itself. (Or at least the majority of them.)

At least they seem to be resisting the temptation to turn Watson into too much of a clown, though I had some doubts in part 2.

-- random Firedrake

Anonymous said...

Very interesting review of BBC SH series; I'd only watched the first episode so far (The Study in Pink)...and it was interesting and has merit, but...

It will be interesting to see if BBC decides to continue the series, and if so, how.

Since you mention having enjoyed the Granada series, I thought you might find this website to be of interest: www.bafta4jb.com