Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Unsettling Case File of the Reimagined Detective

Scene of crime: BBC One

Defendants: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss

Case for the defence:

Sherlock re-imagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian 'consulting detective' in modern London, complete with Baker Street address and Afghan war veteran Dr Watson as his sidekick.

While how Dr Watson and Holmes meet, and displays of Sherlock's observational powers, stay true to the original version, things soon take a turn to the modern in these cases. However, murder and crime – as well as his nemesis, Morairty – are, unfortunately, timeless.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson and in the first episode, A Study in Pink, an update on A Study in Scarlet and its poison pills.

Witness statements:

"Sherlock worked because it was having fun. It also let down the po-faced pretence that the suffocating abundance of TV detective shows often labour under: that the detective actually cares about the victims. This Holmes revelled in horror: “Four serial suicides and now a note. It’s Christmas!” How have Barnaby, Taggart, Marple et al hidden their own jubilation for so long?

"The new Sherlock is quite clearly a sociopath: we were told that he is incapable of friendship, has no interest in sex, and takes drugs. Quite gone are the hints, obfuscations and unsaids in Rathbone and Brett’s films that meant we were never quite sure if Holmes was a total nut job or a jolly decent bloke. Here we have only a nut job – albeit a brilliantly portrayed one – and that, I think, is a bit of a shame." – Serena Davies, The Daily Telegraph

"I like Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. He has the right edge and energy, the razor-sharp mind, but also the lack of social skills and impatience that appears to border on cruelty...Less successful is the story of this opener, called A Study in Pink. A disgruntled cabbie with a terminal condition forces random people into playing Russian roulette with deadly pills. They all lose.

"I had a nagging sense of recognition throughout. There's something about the pace of it, and the comedy; even the youthful hero with the cheek and the cheekbones and the geeky chic - charming, attractive, but asexual . . . what is it reminding me of? And then it came to me! It's no surprise I suppose, given who's behind it, but I think Steven Moffat has created Sherlock Whoms." - Sam Wollaston, The Guardian


Modernising classics can be dangerous, and as such I've locked away in secure isolation several writers who have tried to do so. They don't mind, they're so wrapped up in their own brilliance that they fail to notice where they are.

Moffat has good form – he updated Doctor Who and brought it to a wider audience without succumbing to question-mark bedecked tailoring. And gains judicial approval here is Cumberbatch, who manages to keep Holmes' solitude and idiosyncrasies and make them believable, he's lost some of the superman qualities of the original. In addition, Mrs Hudson now has some character to her.

Character, in general, I approve. Script, I don't.

Starting with a press conference – or as it's known to the Judges, an exposition plant – and lazy, heavy, references to blogs and texts doesn't make a great start. Nor is making us believe that army doctors are sent out to fight.

It also repeats itself many times – saying out loud the CGI text, which analysis suggests is 'Holmesvision', although it is more TV for the learning impaired – or characters repeating what has just been said. But I repeat myself. Unnecessary and awful. It also has Dr Watson as a voice but not an actor – he says things are "fantastic" but fails to act or react that way.

As for tropes, you're already guilty of the press conference. You then descend to contrived coincidences and the atmospheric, abandoned warehouse. There is also a lot of stupidity proportional to the density of the plot, where Holmes is brilliant enough to notice tiny mud but not that he didn't order a cab despite the cabbie's persistence.

All in all, Holmes himself is brilliant, but he's surrounded by lesser beings. Shame that includes the scriptwriters.

Verdict & sentence:

First, counsel for the defence - 12-weeks in isolation for expressing doubt on the ability of the Judges to remove crime. I always knew you were on the side of the perps, now you are one.

Moffat and Gatiss, in your defence Holmes is rounded, and believable, and an improvement on the original. However, you sacrificed the other characters, particularly Dr Watson. For this you get a mere decade in isolation, and in recognition of your past talents, you will be eligible for parole after nine years.

However, you will report to me in a month's time for there is something I must deliberate on. The original Holmes was not just a detective, he changed the shape of policing and was an inspiration to forensic detection, something to which I and my fellow Judges are greatly indebted. Your current version of Holmes is a variant on the current crop of TV detectives, not the unique one of the original. What I need to decide is whether producers of your calibre are capable of such brilliance or if you are guilty of nothing more than being yourself. It is also your sentence.

Case dismissed, don't let me see you here again on this charge.

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