Almost 80 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death (which, incidentally, means that his works are in the public domain in Britain) comes a Sherlock Holmes for the modern age. Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have created a series in three parts (as well as an unbroadcast pilot, which will be on the DVD), each of which deal with a different scheme in 90 minutes.
The first episode, “A Study In Pink” (a reference to the original “A Study In Scarlet,” of course) aired last Sunday on the BBC to high ratings. It introduces the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as they meet for the first time. Turns out there has been a wave of serial suicides and the police need their help to prevent more from happening. If you can view this episode online somehow, do so, I highly recommend it.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays the modern Sherlock Holmes to great effect. He gives off the right sort of personality as a high functioning sociopath and really fits the personality of Holmes. There were times where you could tell that the character doesn’t associate with people much, which added to the comedy and helped to characterize him at the same time. The audience also follows his thought processes by having words come up on the screen whenever someone receives a text and when Holmes makes a deduction.
In keeping with the updated feel, this version of Sherlock Holmes has embraced the world of technology, choosing texting over telegrams and using a GPS to locate a missing phone. He also has a website which you can actually visit, which was created by the same guy who was responsible for the Doctor Who tie-in websites.
Martin Freeman (the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide movie and The Office) plays Doctor John Watson, the man with the limp. He does a good job as well but not as good as Cumberbatch, who is frankly just excellent. The chemistry between the two men is interesting to watch, as each mistakes the other for being gay and other characters do too. They develop their friendship over the course of the episode and it culminates in an absolutely cheesy moment at the end of the episode.
The supporting cast is good too, with Rupert Graves playing Lestrade and Una Stubbs playing Mrs. Hudson (“not [Holmes’] housekeeper!”), as well as Mark Gatiss playing a relatively minor role. The dialogue is funny and suits the characters, but it can be predictable and sounded quite naff on occasion (did I mention the cheesy moment at the end of the first episode?).
Holmesians will notice some very good attention to detail, such as the nods to Doyle’s famous confusion about where exactly Watson was shot and the fact that in this adaptation and the original “Study In Scarlet,” both Holmes’ make reference to Watson having recently been in Afghanistan. What about Joe Q. Public, who might not know Holmes from Marple? Given the fact that it’s an original plot that uses the modern setting and doesn’t rely too much on obscure references from the original canon, this would appeal to any person who enjoys a mystery and action in the style of Doctor Who.
It’s a different world now from the one in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time, where hansom cabs drove through the foggy streets of Victorian London, a gang of scruffy lads snuck around to obtain information, and a certain detective took rooms with a doctor above Baker Street. Yet somehow this adaptation uses the modern setting to great effect and really succeeds in capturing the feel of the old stories in a new time. Essential viewing for both old fans and new alike.