Elementary, My Dear Sherlock

Lately there has been a resurgence in the popularity of Sherlock Holmes (and his trusty companion, Dr. John Watson) – starting with the Sherlock Holmes movie in 2009 starring Robert Downey, Jr., which not coincidentally caused a resurgence in his career.

In 2010, the BBC aired Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness) as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as Dr. John Watson.  The season was made up of 3 episodes that were an hour and a half long. Their version of Sherlock was different in that it put Sherlock and Dr. Watson in modern-day London, solving modern-day crimes using modern-day forensic techniques and technology – including posting about it on their own website and blog.

In 2011, a sequel of Robert Downey, Jr’s Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows was released, and in 2012, the second season of the BBC’s Sherlock was released, and yet another tv series – Elementary started airing on CBS.  Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller (Mansfield Park, Dexter) as Sherlock Holmes, and Lucy Lui (Ally McBeal) as Dr. Joan Watson.  Elementary is also set in the present, with Sherlock Holmes travelling all the way to New York to solve crimes with his Dr. Joan Watson.

I was never a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes myself, but I have seen both of the Robert Downey Jr. movies (I really watched it for Jude Law), and I’ve finished watching (and currently re-watching) the BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Though I have not seen Elementary, and unfamiliar with Jonny Lee Miller’s version, I feel that Benedict Cumberbatch is a better choice for Sherlock than Robert Downey, Jr.  Despite being quite young for the part, Benedict Cumberbatch comes closest to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s physical description of Sherlock Holmes in his first novel, A Study in Scarlet.  Likewise, I like the BBC Sherlock series better than the two full-length movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson in BBC’s Sherlock.

BBC’s Sherlock, set in contemporary London, draws heavily from the actual books and short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and gives it a modern twist.  In its modern version, Dr. John Watson  chronicles Sherlock’s cases and idiosyncrasies in his online blog.  Sherlock himself has his own website, where one of his entries was about the different types of tobacco ash (in the novel,  A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock writes a treatise on the different types of tobacco ash). His website is aptly called The Science of Deduction, which was also the title of a published newspaper article Sherlock wrote on techniques in solving crimes in the novel, A Study in Scarlet.

The BBC series’ episodes also have titles similar to the novels and short stories, such as  A Study in Pink (A Study in Scarlet), A Scandal in Belgravia (A Scandal in Bohemia), and The Hounds of Baskerville (The Hound of the Baskervilles),  The last episode of season 2, entitled The Reichenbach Fall was named the waterfall in Swizterland where Sherlock faces his archenemy James Moriary (Jim Moriarty in the BBC TV Series), in the story, The Final Problem.

The first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, A Study in Pink, has many similarities with the first Sherlock novel, A Study in Scarlet. The introduction of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes to each other are very similar, and even some of the dialogue in the series was taken from the novel.  Like the novel, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is an eccentric who loves puzzling over seemingly unsolvable problems and cases.  He is quite opinionated and prone to showing off when he knows he is right, which is always. Unlike the original, the modern-day Sherlock wears nicotine patches instead of smoking a pipe, and is a bit neurotic, a trait quite popular in many modern-day protagonists (Dr. Gregory House of House, M.D. and Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, Dexter Morgan of Dexter).

Modern-day Sherlock keeps a lot of the original’s strangeness and idiosyncrasies such as not knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun, and other obvious, though to him, useless information about the world.  In homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original image of Sherlock Holmes, in one episode, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock unintentionally wears the now famous deer stalker hat  to hide from paparazzis – the photo of him wearing the hat, ironically becomes his most famous photo.  Sherlock develops a loathing for the strange hat but Dr. John Watson later points out that from then on, that hat will no longer be known as a deer stalker hat, but as the “Sherlock Holmes” hat.

Other characters in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories also underwent some makeover for the new tv series.  The two detectives who consult with Sherlock in the novels (who secretly hate and envy him), Detective Lestrade and Detective Gregson were combined into one character for the BBC series – Detective Greg Lestrade of Scotland Yard. Sherlock’s alleged love interest, Irene Adler, described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an opera singer and a “well-known adventuress,” was transformed into a well-known dominatrix.

The BBC’s Sherlock is a funny, fascinating, TV series, which I think both Sherlock fans and novices can appreciate.  Die-hard Sherlock fans who have read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories will get a thrill in identifying the different elements of the stories in each episodes, and will love the modern twist to the classic whodunnit mysteries.  Novices like me, who know all about Sherlock Holmes but have never read a single one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories will also enjoy watching the stories for the first time and later reading through the originals to compare and contrast.

Because of the BBC series,  I got the urge to read  A Study in Scarlet, the novel where Sherlock Holmes first appeared – an urge I didn’t get after watching Robert Downey Jr.’s movies.


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