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Sherlock (2010)
Directors: Paul McGuigan and Euros Lyn

review by J.C. Hartley

Ben Stephenson, controller of drama commissioning at the BBC, in this week's Radio Times, says that a series like Sherlock could never be made in the USA. What he means of course is that advertising pressure on commercial TV over there would have dictated that it be a 13-part or 24-part series, not a three-episode tease. This is the reason that The Prisoner ballooned out from Patrick McGoohan's original seven-episode idea; Lew Grade wanted to sell the show in the US.

Of course, these new terrific spy-fi and fantasy series in the USA suffer from The Prisoner syndrome. After the wonderful, haunting, infuriating, complex and mysterious idea, comes the necessity to spin it ever on, conclude it, or have the plug pulled. Fringe, Lost, FlashForward, Heroes, Dollhouse, Prison Break, have all suffered variations on the inevitable. Will The Event be any different?

But here at the BBC things are different. Doctor Who has to follow the 13-part format, as do the Saturday night family dramas Merlin and the late Robin Hood. But the dodgy The Deep could flounder along for five weeks at one hour a pop, the delightful Vexed could be done and dusted in three goes, and Sherlock could leave viewers pleading for more after a similar number of mini movie-length episodes.

It's a reboot, Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century, but like Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film, it's faithful in a way that people who only think they know the stories would not imagine. Of course many people who felt that Jeremy Brett represented the apotheosis of portrayals of Holmes have admitted to hugely enjoying this new version.

To be honest, as someone who grew up with versions featuring Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Robert Stephens, John Neville and Christopher Plummer, I was never that taken with Brett. And, while quite enjoying this and finding it wholly appropriate, I still had reservations about the results. My b�te noire, critic Alison Graham, found it cold and without a heart, and to a degree I had to agree. I wasn't that bothered about the characters.

Wounded Afghan war veteran Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) returns to a doubtful future in England and falls in with consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). Holmes correctly diagnoses Watson's limp as being psychosomatic and the pair take lodgings together and solve crimes. So far so conventional, but the new series makes much play of mobile phones, and the Internet; Holmes even has a blog.

Occasionally the gimmicks are a little annoying, such as running Holmes' texts as subtitles. There are far too many shots of taxi journeys, but then - arguably - the many and various other adaptations were filled with exposition from the interiors of hansom cabs. The links to Canon Doyle's original stories are very clever, A Study In Scarlet, The Dancing Men and The Bruce-Partington Plans are all referenced, and there is a nice pun on The Five Orange Pips.

Hired killer, the Golem, who features in The Great Game, seems to hark back to the Hoxton creeper as played by Ron Schuler in the Basil Rathbone/ Holmes' film The Pearl Of Death. Moriarty is here, and there's a confrontation too, with the Reichenbach Falls replaced by a municipal swimming baths. Jim Moriarty is a very annoying consulting criminal, goading Sherlock in a variety of funny voices. The Great Game goes on a little too long, tension is lost, and concern for Moriarty's victims is sacrificed to show how clever Sherlock is.

I feel I should have liked this better. Perhaps I was suffering from a surfeit of Sherlocks. The BBC must be applauded for making it and its creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are ornaments to the nation. It is certainly the kind of thing that the BBC should be doing. Anyway, a sufficiently large number of people liked and enjoyed it and they are making more of them, which is a good thing. I will certainly view another series so I don't know what I'm carping about to be perfectly frank. It's a mystery to me, too.

Sherlock



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