Sherlock Holmes / John Watson
This is my review of the new Sherlock Holmes on BBC
Sherlock Holmes, I could be John Watson.
Wow. That was my response after seeing the first episode of Sherlock, BBC's modern remake of Arthur Conan-Doyle's work. I'd seen the adverts for it between shows on the Beeb, not taken much notice of it, and moved on. Then a friend recommended it to me, and, reluctantly, I watched it. You've already read my reaction.
I'll own up now. I've never read the original Sherlock Holmes books, a fact that I am now quite ashamed of (and shall rectify ASAP). The closest I've got is reading an extract of The Man with the Twisted Lip for a piece of English coursework. For the first 10 or 15 minutes, I really wasn't sure what to make of it. Not knowing then that the books are written from Watson's point of view (or so I'm told), and I still don't know if either of them were in the army (although I'd hazard a guess at no), the opening scene threw me slightly, as I assumed that the character was Sherlock, but had always imagined him to be somehow madder. The first 15 minutes or so dragged horribly; we see a glimpse of Watson's time in the army, his flat, a meeting with his councillor, learn about his blog, and meet his friend, who I think was called Bill Murray (or have I just made that up?), and a brief dialogue reveals that Watson wishes to stay in London, but can't afford it, upon which Bill mentions a friend (Sherlock), who is looking for a flatmate. I'll just let you know now that I'm writing this review from memory, nearly 5 weeks after the first episode was broadcast, so sorry in advance about any inaccuracies.
I can't remember the exact details of the scene, but Bill takes him to meet Sherlock in what I assumed was a forensics lab. Sherlock appears disinterested. But out of the blue, the question: 'Afghanistan or Iraq?'. A knowing look, as if this is ordinary (we later discover that it is for Sherlock), from Watson's friend is met with confusion from Watson. In the next 10 seconds, your mind is in a state of shock, as Sherlock reveals exactly how he knew that: Watson's tan lines on his wrists, his stance as he stands, the way he speaks, and some other things that I wish I could remember right now. No matter. Hopefully. The logic behind it is absolutely flawless, and once explained to you, seems really obvious. Incidents like this are littered throughout the series, and are quite simply (well, in my opinion at least), a joy to listen to; anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds of pure analysis, where even the tiniest detail is made sense of, everything put into place, bricks turned into a house in a matter of seconds (okay, so it's a rubbish metaphor, but I'm tired, on a train, and wanted to be more original than saying something about puzzles and puzzle pieces).
Despite this brilliance, there are several flaws, some of them would-be flaws, to the character brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch; Sherlock is arrogant, lazy, socially unaware, 'ignorant', and sees detective work not as a job, or a mission for him to do good in life, or a way of justice for the victims(' families), but in fact sees them solely as a game, a battle of wits, a chance for him to prove that he is cleverer than anyone else is, where the police are not the people he helps, but simply the audience for his genius. It's easy to see why a member of the police (Sally somebody, maybe?) believes that 'one day solving crimes isn't going to be enough. There'll be a body on the floor, and Sherlock Holmes'll be the one who put it there'. Eventually, the police won't be a big enough audience for his genius, and the battle to avoid punishment will just be another game, laid down by Sherlock for the police to try and solve.
The enigma that is Sherlock Holmes, or rather, Steven Moffat's tweed-less, pipe-less, nicotine patch wearing, snappily dressed version of him, is, for me, perfectly summed up in two moments. The first is in the first episode; Sherlock and Watson are walking down a street, and Watson asks why the killer is taking lives by convincing people to take pills that will kill them, and making it look like suicide. Sherlock's response? 'That's the problem with genius, John. It needs an audience.'. The second, ironically, takes place in the second episode, when Sherlock has booked tickets for John and Sarah (John's love interest from his new-found job at a surgery) to go on a date to a Chinese Circus, which John has reluctantly agreed to at Sherlock's request, and Sherlock, later, books a ticket for himself to go to investigate it, and can not understand why Watson a) is annoyed at him for coming, and b) refuses to help him search for the killer. These two moments, one of understanding a person perfectly, one showing no understanding at all, are part of the brilliance of this character. What many, well, almost everyone in fact, sees as ignorance, Sherlock simply sees this as streamlining his brain, making it more efficient, to allow him to solve crimes faster, as proof of his brilliance.
Watson is another entity completely, someone who is quite fantastically normal, someone you wouldn't look twice at, were he to pass you in the street (well, after Sherlock proves that his limp is psychosomatic). And that, I think, is the whole point of him in the new series. He grows, throughout the series, beginning to look more, and see more, and deduce more, as he spends more time with Sherlock, the same as the audience (well, for me, definitely, I'm not sure about anyone else?). Never quite as brilliant as Sherlock, but gradually picking up on more and more things, becoming closer to what the world's only Consulting Detective is, without any of the things that we call drawbacks.
This series has everything; it has the brilliant brave hero, the sidekick, criminal gangs, explosions, an evil mastermind of everything in Moriarty, who I wish I could talk about more, but there is very little to say (although I'm sure Sherlock would beg to differ), romance, sophistication, intelligence, enthralling and immersive story lines, and a cliff hanger. Does that mean that it's got to be solved, that there's going to be more episodes? Let's pray it does. It may not do for whatever loyalists there may be to the Conan-Doyle's original works, for making up new story lines and not using the classics. But for their sakes, I'm glad they didn't use the original plots because, like Harry Potter, like Percy Jackson, like so many other books that have been turned into films (at 90 minutes an episode, these are as good as), I am 100% certain that they would've ended up the worst thing any production can be. A disappointment.
I hope you enjoyed reading that, please let me know what you think by adding a comment. If you have anything that you'd like me to write about as well, please let me know as well, and may well have a go at it, whatever it may be.
For now, though, Adios, and thank you for reading