Monday, August 02, 2010

Sherlock wins

I don't watch much television any more. Who do you think you are? can generally be guaranteed to have me watching, and the odd documentary, but mostly I stick to the radio and the internet.

Thus I didn't watch the first episode of Sherlock on July 25... I left it to cause a furore because it beat Tom Cruise's Top Gear appearance into second place, and then eventually watched it on the BBC iplayer.

I feared the worst really. I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, but so much of what makes Holmes, Holmes is stuck in the 19th century - or at least the turn of the century. The familiar "ripper" London of Hansom cabs, dark allies and undeserving poor, the gaslight and of course the poor old plods trailing along behind Holmes, nearly always as much in the dark as the poor reader.

It seemed unlikely that any writers would have been able to translate Conan Doyle's Holmes into a workable 21st-century character, and there are some places where one has to suspend one's disbelief. Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes is an apparent security expert who can't work out how to disguise his identity in text except by borrowing other people's phones, a genius who has subsumed a huge amount of knowledge and yet is someone who takes longer than the viewer to understand the role of the cabbie in the opening episode. That, more than anything, was the flaw in the first episode... Conan Doyle's Sherlock always gets there first.

He has a slightly other-worldly look, which may partly have been the result of pneumonia, where his skin was porcelain white for a proportion of the episode... but then that might have been deliberate, to indicate the hours he spends in laboratories, microwaving eyeballs or flaying dead bodies.

The role of the police, and their relationship with Sherlock Holmes was ambiguous in the books, and is ambiguous here too, although it is a lot less believable nowadays that any policeman worth his salt would allow a member of the public to go tramping over a crime scene, tampering with evidence. Forensic science has come a long way since Holmes's day, and in some cases has replaced the painstaking analysis which was the only option then. It was refreshing to see that the writers met that head on, in the hostility of LeStrade's sidekick.

However, those small quibbles aside, I thought the writers had done a good job in bringing the stories up to date, and directors and actors did a superb one in bringing them to life. Despite his self-diagnosed sociopathy, Holmes was intriguing and clever and it was a pleasure to watch how cleverly the writers had adapted the stories to fit.

I was initially wary about Martin Freeman as Dr Watson...I have always imagined someone much bigger and older in the role, but he won me over almost immediately. I see it now.

I watched the second episode with baited breath, with my daughter, and we were both on the edge of our seats. Of course we know the main protagonists are in no real danger... but you never know when a subsidiary character might be sacrificed to plot, especially in a series which is a paltry three episodes long.

More! More! We enjoyed every minute of it, and long for more of the same. We profoundly hope they manage to make a Christmas special, even if the newspaper reports are right and the next proper series is unlikely to be out before next year.

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