Monday, 9 January 2012

Billed with good reason as "Sherlock Holmes' most famous case", the latest episode of the BBC's Sherlock, Mark Gatiss' The Hounds of Baskerville, brings Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles into the twenty-first century.

Sherlock and John are called to Dartmoor by Henry Knight's fascinating case; the murder of his father 20 years ago, the footprints of a gigantic hound, a secretive government testing facility. I'm not entirely convinced that this last element, a change from the centuries-old household conspiracy of the book, was entirely necessary - but big household conspiracies are so eighteen-eighties, you say? Are they? Are they really? I think that more of the original setting could have worked - but it does allow the episode to play with the fear of "what the government are up to", which should keep the conspiracy theorists happy for a bit. As always, it's the little touches that reference the original that are the highlights of the episode - Grimpen Minefield, for example, providing a much more visually dramatic ending than a boring old Mire, and the new explanation for the 'mysterious lights on the moor' red herring was delightfully funny.

A problem I have with the episode relates to how the novel makes it seem very much like, in classic detective fashion, the butler did it, until the reveal that, actually, he didn't. In fact, Hound is one of Conan Doyle's best stories in terms of tricking the reader into suspecting one character while cleverly setting up for the actual criminal to be uncovered. This element is present in the episode, with Doctor Stapleton being built up as the villainous genetic manipulator (how could she do that to a rabbit?) until the twist that it was the jolly eccentric fanboy all along. This really could have been developed more, however, and some more red herrings pointing at Stapleton were needed to replicate the novel's misdirection. Perhaps the scenes with Lestrade, who, despite appearing briefly in the book, feels like an unnecessary addition here, could have been replaced with some further development of this part of the story. Well done to Mark Gatiss, however, on changing which character turns out to be the criminal, which makes the plot developments less guessable to those familiar with the story.

Another thing Gatiss should be praised for, as well as director Paul McGuigan, is effectively bringing to the screen the eerie gothic horror of the Conan Doyle story, with some very atmospheric sequences. The Dartmoor hills, a nice change from the regular London setting, are shown in beautiful long shots in the daytime but come to life in a genuinely spooky manner at night. The CGI hound won't be to everyone's taste, but I feel it comes together with the fog and the darkness and the trees and the howling to make me never want to go to the countryside again. Ever. Good job I've just moved back into York.

I don't really need to say that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were brilliant, because that's obvious by now. I do need to say that Russell Tovey was also great as Knight, driven to madness by his fear of the hound.

Immediately after watching the episode, I honestly felt slightly dissappointed that it wasn't quite as perfect as I'd hoped. Then again, even the worst episodes of Sherlock exceed any other detective shows on televison in terms of quality, and I'd admittedly built myself up for it a tad too much. It isn't without its flaws and I don't think it's quite up to the standard of some of Sherlock and John's previous adventures (nothing can ever beat A Study in Pink), but, all things considered, The Hounds of Baskerville stands up as a good modernisation of a classic and as a clever, enjoyable detective story in its own right - one I'd be happy to rewatch.

One more criticism: the 'people think Sherlock and John are a couple' joke has been done enough now. Can we leave that one? The 21st century is more open to homosexuality than Victorian England. I get it.

Next week: Steve Thompson does The Final Problem. I don't want to be pessimistic, but it's not a brilliant story and Thompson's work so far has failed to leave a great impression: the weakest episode of the last series of Sherlock and a particularly shit Doctor Who. Then again, I'm up for being proven wrong. *gets stupidly excited for more Cumberbatch already*


  1. Felicity Beaumont9 January 2012 at 17:26

    I couldn't agree more on the subject of Tovey's performance; his character was made to be most convincing and proved to be fascinating to observe. I believe I also agree with you on the subject of Sherlock & John being apparently mistaken for a couple wherever they go; I myself find it hard to believe that two men ordering coffees together will find themselves in the same situation, even if this is the 21st Century. People are very easily offended these days, and folk are far less inclined to make assumptions on such matters.

    I can't say I cared for the CGI hound, no... I think a better decision would have been to not have any clear shots of the beast at all until it had been shot, and then revealed to be an ordinary dog, perhaps saving a few pennies in the budget and simultaneously emphasising that its anatomy was fully reliant on imagination - including our own.

    I think, however, that my main gripe with the new series consists of Moriarty's half-baked appearances. Must he really appear every now and again, to remind us that he is the underlying evil of all the world? Sherlock's vision of him barking and snarling behind the gas mask towards the conclusion of this particular episode was fleetingly amusing but not thoroughly necessary, I felt. I also find it hard to believe that Sherlock would practically forget his existence, as he seems to have done, after such a compelling game of wits in the final episode of the previous series. Why is he searching so hard for cases that enthrall him when he has already met his match? Well, on second thoughts, maybe he's just bored of him. He probably believes that Jim will surely get in contact soon, probably by means of some sort of intricate bomb which is trigerred only by the exact frequency emitted by a violin's A-string being bowed within 40 feet of it, or something similar.

    But yes, anyway, lovely blog you have. Thrilling read.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Felicity; you have some good points and I'm glad you like my blog!

      I also didn't care for the brief appearance by Moriarty. This episode, like the novel that inspired it, should work as a stand-alone story and so this scene felt like it was unnecessarily tacked on to remind us of the series' 'arc' and perhaps took away from the strength of the individual adventure. I had a similar problem with the story arc reminders at the end of some of last year's Doctor Who episodes.