Monday, 26 July 2010


The premiere of Sherlock, from Doctor Who alumni Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, was watched by more than 7 million viewers yesterday on BBC One. With such talented and prestigious masterminds this 21st century update of Sherlock Holmes was eagerly awaited since the project announcement - and as heavily promoted.

« One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small »
(Jefferson Airplane)

The 3 X 90-minute series from Steven Moffat's Hartswood Films for BBC Wales (with US pubcaster PBS's Masterpiece) is the most recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation after the actioner starring Robert Downey Jr. Arthur Conan Doyle's characters have been "regenerated" long before the word "reinvention" became a cliché: in 1976, Holmes met Freud in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) was a prototype of the Harry Potter movies. Anthony Higgins played a very "doctoresque" Sherlock in the TV pilot Sherlock Holmes returns (1993). And in Murder Rooms (2000-2001), Ian Richardson was Dr Joseph Bell, the man who partly inspired Doyle.

Moffat and Gatiss' Sherlock Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, has a website, sends texts and uses nicotine patches. Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman) is an Afghanistan war veteran who has a blog and starts his collaboration with Holmes as a flatmate. MePhone, a smartphone service, is of a great help for them in the 21st century London and the duo is frequently mistaken for a gay couple.

Filmed in London and Cardiff, Sherlock uses the fast-motion busy London street shots standardized by Russell T. Davies for Who, plus a gimmick which quickly becomes annoying: on-screen text and graphics show phone messages and even Sherlock's deduction - morphing the scenes into a credit card ad. « I'm a consulting detective. I'm the only one in the world. I invented the job » says Holmes, but in a world where the same episodes of Monk or Diagnosis Murder are aired a gazillion times the line sounds surrealistic.

We assume that nobody will channel Jeremy Brett's quintessential portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (in the glorious Granada TV series), nevertheless Cumberbatch is excellent as the arrogant and thrill seeker techno-sleuth. Martin Freeman is pleasantly surprising as Watson, played with a great nuance and sensibility. The reliable Rupert Graves plays a likeable DI Lestrade, Una Stubbs is an ideal Mrs Hudson and co-creator Mark Gatiss is Colonel Black of Clone... er, someone important to Holmes.

Three years ago Steven Moffat wrote Jekyll, a genius modern take on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but Sherlock is the British answer to The Mentalist with a touch of Doctor Who. Why not? Contemporary US crime procedural exports like the CBS hit, Castle, the CSI franchise, or even a "medical procedural" like House, owe a big debt to Doyle's creations. The new Sherlock Holmes just "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow".

Plenty of crime procedurals are in the pipelines of British television these days. Crime pays, Moriarty must be a television industry executive.

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