John Watson feels like he’s been cast adrift. An Army doctor, John was wounded in Afghanistan and sent back home. He’s still trying to readjust to civilian life. His therapist suggested writing a blog about what happens to him, but he tells her, “nothing happens to me.”
He also needs to find a place to live, London being a bit too expensive for a man on an Army pension. A friend knows of someone who’s looking to share some rooms. And so John meets a young man who immediately asks, “Afghanistan or Iraq?” and correctly deduces various personal information about him.
A man named Sherlock Holmes.
And a modern-day spin on a legendary partnership begins.
Sherlock is a BBC series, the first season of which consists of three movie-length episodes, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as John. It’s very good, and given that the third story ends on a cliffhanger, here’s hoping there’s a second season.
The series is co-created by Doctor Who’s current producer, Steven Moffat, and Mark Gatiss, who has both acted on and written for that show. Gatiss also appears in Sherlock in a key role. Unlike the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or previous adaptations done on radio, TV and film, the characters address each other by first name rather than as “Holmes” and “Watson.” But then there’s no reason why they would address each other by surname in this day and age.
Sherlock is set in the present day because both Moffat and Gatiss have said on the DVD commentary track of the first episode, “A Study in Pink”, that they’re fans of the then-present day World War II-era adventures of Holmes and Watson in a series of movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.
Oh, and for those who’ve never read the original stories, and are only familiar with Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a bit of a bumbler, Watson as depicted by Doyle is nothing like that. Nor is Freeman’s Watson.
The following is not actual dialogue from a Rathbone/Bruce movie, but it’s not too far from the mark, and it you an idea of how Watson was portrayed:
“Good heavens, Holmes! How will we ever get out of this room?”
“How else, Watson? Turn the door knob.”
“Door knob? Gracious me, I hadn’t noticed it.”
By sharp contrast, Freeman’s John Watson is a very capable individual, not just as a doctor and marksman, but also as a detective. In the second story, “The Blind Banker”, John and Sherlock, having independently backtracked two murder victims, find their paths converging at a particular location. Sherlock says the victims had visited a shop somewhere in the vicinity. John points to one across the street as the shop in question.
“A Study in Pink” is loosely based on the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet.” The third adventure, “The Great Game”, includes a subplot involving “The Bruce Partington Plans”; and there’s an oblique reference to “The Five Orange Pips.” I didn’t catch any obvious references to original stories in “The Blind Banker”, but maybe I missed them.
One scene in that episode does subtly refer to Holmes’ knowledge of arcane bits of information in the original stories. Sherlock visits observes that a school associate flew around the world twice in the last month. The guy asks how he knew. Did he have a special kind of ketchup found only in Manhattan on his tie? Or maybe it was the mud on his shoes?
No, Sherlock replied. He’d been talking to the guy’s secretary.
Later, Sherlock admitted to John that he was messing with the guy. He really knew because the date on the guy’s watch was two days off, which indicated he’d crossed the International Date Line twice.
The episode also has John and DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) asking Sherlock how he can’t know the Earth revolves around the sun, a fact Watson had noted in the original stories.
For the record, Lestrade is portrayed as a competent police officer, one Moffat and Gatiss say is quite capable of solving those crimes Sherlock doesn’t concern himself with.
Sherlock is well worth watching, whether you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan or have never encountered the character before. I wouldn’t be surprised if Benedict Cumberbatch comes to be called the definitive Holmes of the early 21st century.
In other TV-related news, on January 28, both Smallville and Supernatural return from their long winter’s naps (in the case of several Smallville charters, a literal one). How have those shows fared so far this season?
Quite well, actually. A running plotline in Smallville, now in its 10th and final season, is a loose adaptation of a 1986-1987 DC Comics miniseries called “Legends”, in which a minion of Darkseid, Glorious Godfrey, turned people against the heroes of the DC Universe. In Smallville, Gordon Godfrey (Michael Daingerfield) is an initially less-than-successful talk radio host who is possessed by Darkseid. Similar to the situation in “Legends”, Godfrey/Darkseid is able to use his voice to turn people against the heroes.
How are the heroes reacting? Well, Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) has gone public in his identity of Green Arrow; and Clark’s cousin, Kara (Laura Vandervoort) made a public appearance as Supergirl (though she’s not actually called that as yet). As to Clark (Tom Welling), he still has yet to put on the familiar suit and appear as Superman. He still remains, &
ldquo;The Blur”, “never seen, only heard.”
Oh, wait, that was The Shadow.
We know, from a visit Clark makes to 2017, that he’ll eventually wear the glasses and do the “mild-mannered Clark Kent” routine; but it remains to be seen how the writers will explain no one recognizing Clark Kent (who almost never wears glasses in Smallville) as Superman without resorting to a mind wipe or similar deus ex machina solution.
Meanwhile, Lionel Luthor (John Glover) is back.
What? He’s dead!
Okay, technically, he’s not back since he’s still dead; but an alternate universe counterpart has crossed over to our universe.
It’ll be interesting to see what this version of Lionel does. For that matter, what can he do? “Our” Lionel’s death is a matter of public record. It shouldn’t be easy for alternate Lionel to just step into “our” Lionel’s life.
Of course Smallville has ignored logic in the past, but I’m hoping whatever Lionel has in mind doesn’t strain credulity too much. And I suppose it’s possible he just wanted to escape the world where alternate Clark, whom he’d found and raised, terrified him.
As to the “nap”, in the last episode before the break, Clark and friends were in Egypt for a funeral. Something knocked them all out. Cut to end credits. Who or what’s behind that? We’ll see.
As to Supernatural— which is one of the best series on TV right now, by the way— in the season 5 finale Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) succeeded in taking control of his body back from Lucifer; used the Horsemen’s rings to open Lucifer’s cage in Hell; and threw himself (and Lucifer) inside. And he pulled the archangel Michael (Jake Abel) in, too, when Michael tried to stop him.
In the final scene of that episode, Sam is somehow topside again. How? Turns out the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), once “King of the Crossroads”, now self-styled “King of Hell”, is responsible. He sprung Sam, but left Sam’s soul in the cage. Why? To use as leverage against Sam and Dean (Jensen Ackles). They want Sam’s soul back, they’d better work for him.
Crowley’s dead now, but before he died, he revealed that A) he couldn’t really retrieve Sam’s soul and B) Sam wouldn’t want it anyway. That correlates with something Castiel (Misha Collins) had said to Dean (which Sam overheard): Sam’s soul has been in the cage with a very angry Lucifer and Michael for more than a year. And they would have taken their frustrations out on Sam’s soul.
I don’t think so. They’ve probably all been spending the time playing Canasta.
Well, maybe not.
Sam, for his part, doesn’t want his soul back, even if the possibility of it having been torn to shreds wasn’t a factor. Soulless Sam is less empathetic than soul-filled Sam, which he believes makes him a better hunter. Unfortunately, he has no choice. The Horseman Death (Julian Richings) has retrieved Sam’s soul and shoved it back into him.
Even if Sam’s soul is undamaged, the Winchester brother still have other issues to contend with. Like their grandfather, Samuel (Mitch Pileggi), who was also brought back from the dead by Crowley. Sam and Dean learn that Samuel has been working with Crowley (sometimes in direct opposition to the brothers) because he’s been promised that Crowley would bring his daughter, the boys’ mother, back. Of course now that Crowley is dead, that’s not going to happen (assuming Crowley ever intended to do so, or even could have).
Samuel died before Sam and Dean were born, so to him, they’re family in the abstract. It’s easy to understand how he’d be more interested in his daughter’s welfare than his grandsons’, but I don’t see the boys (especially Dean) being very forgiving.
We’ll see what develops.
Copyright 2010 Patrick Keating