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Not My Sherlock

7 January 2017

From Literary Hub:

Sherlock Holmes holds the distinction of being the literary character most frequently portrayed on screen. This, necessarily, has resulted in countless reinventions—the most recent of which is the version of Holmes who appears in “The Six Thatchers,” the first episode of the new season of the BBC’s Sherlock.

The problem with any reinvention of a beloved character—superhero, spy, Victorian detective—is that character’s fans, and the weight of those fans’ expectations. We demand a certain number of fangirl callouts. We get upset if the character’s idiosyncrasies aren’t name-checked, if their catchphrases are left unemployed. Their signature hats not at least nodded to. I’m not immune: I have my own wish list, too.

What I want from a Sherlock Holmes adaptation is Holmes and Watson solving crimes together.

In “The Six Thatchers,” our titular detective delivers a rapid-fire monologue to the person in the armchair across from him. “You see, but you don’t observe,” he chides, accusing his partner of “romantic whimsy” while he himself runs on logic and reason. Right as we’re in the thick of his rhetoric, he bends to pick up his partner’s stuffed toy. This is the joke: that the speech is delivered to one Rosie Watson, Dr. Watson’s infant daughter.

How much do I wish it had been Dr. Watson instead.

But this is almost always the joke in Sherlock, that we’re given the Holmesiana we want in the archest possible way. The majority of that speech is drawn from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s excellent “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first of the Holmes short stories to be published in the Strand, where it’s delivered to the actual Watson. Toby, the dog that Sherlock borrows in “The Six Thatchers” to trail a suspect through London, sits on the pavement and refuses to move. Maybe that’s because he’s been taken from The Sign of Four, the novel which first introduces Mary Morstan. As is the Agra treasure, which in the show is no chest of gold but instead a memory stick containing Mary’s sordid past. After Sherlock recovers it in “The Six Thatchers,” we watch Mary flee her husband and infant daughter to finally put her past to rest. It’s a strong impulse, but delivered here in a five-minute montage of her donning disguises and fetching hidden passports only to find Sherlock Holmes having beaten her to her end point. Where the two of them have a good laugh about it. The steps we’ve followed are meaningless ones.

As the episode progresses, each character gets a chance to wink broadly at the camera. Then the Doyle stories are stuck back into the blender, and the plot hurries on.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

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55 Comments to “Not My Sherlock”

  1. I thoroughly adored the first season of SHERLOCK.
    Since then it has slowly becoming increasingly annoying; too self-aware and too meta and losing the key virtue of the first season: playing it straight. It is such a perfect concept at core–Doyle’s Holmes re-set to the present. It doesn’t need gimmicks, or comedy, or smirks or “look how clever we are”. Just play it straight. Holmes is a transcendent character, just let him be himself.


  2. The first season of Sherlock I sought out immediately. The second season I was eager about. The third season annoyed me.

    And now… now they’re not just playing with canon, but breaking it. Holmes didn’t encounter a lot of babies and children, but when he did he treated them politely and respectfully (if not actually getting mushy because, you know, he’s still Holmes).

    It’s almost like Moffat and Gatiss are trying to get enough people angry they can stop making series without having to actually say, “we bled it dry”.

  3. I suppose I’ll have to read the rest of the post at LitHub, sighing and groaning.

    Yes, we all have our expectations, and while they’re perfectly fine expressing it in the comments (like Felix above, which I agree with to some extent), it boils down to “they’re not doing it the way I want to see it.

    I think it would be more interesting to explore the problems a creator has adapting an old character to a new era. The range of women’s responses were more constricted in Conan Doyle’s stories, reflective of its times. New Sherlock copes with an ex-mercenary woman married to his bestie. The government’s reach far exceeds what happened in 1895.

    Moreover, Holmes might have to change as well. Would an 1895 Holmes appear stiff and unyielding today? Would he be susceptible to a world where men are encouraged to reveal their feelings more?

    And what about the direction the stories take. The format of an 8,000-word short story and a 90-minute film imposes unique demands on the storyline. How does that change what we see?

    Then there are the unknown unknowns created by adding to a series over several years. Introduce a woman in Watson’s life who’s ex-military, have her story follow canon, and what does that do to the characters? Especially in the case of the end of “Six Thatchers”? That’s an area Conan Doyle did not explore. How do you remain true to ACD but follow thought on a story that satisfies the punters?

    That’s far more interesting to consider than what the LitHub excerpt implies.

    • My issues aren’t with the plots or the new characters.
      It’s the tone the series is taking on. Especially in season3. In some ways it’s becoming a parody of itself.

      I’m just not a fan of camp.
      Wasn’t as a kid (I hated the Adam West BATMAN and LOST IN SPACE. Loved GREEN HORNET, TIME TUNNEL, CHAMPIONS, and UFO.) And I’m not one now. The moment GOTHAM started to camp out, I moved on.

      I just believe that if you believe in something, you should play it straight.

    • I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I love Sherlock and I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I picked up the first story almost 40 years ago.

      If a movie/TV series doesn’t follow the source material EXACTLY, then I pop it into my “fan fiction” box and try to enjoy it for what it is. (I’m pretty certain “re-imagining” is exactly what fan fic writers do).

      Sometimes it’s awful, sometimes not. Sherlock falls into the “not” list for me. I think it’s great fun, and I learn more about what works/doesn’t work (for me) from movies/shows I can’t wait to watch/keep watching.

  4. Looked to me like a weird attempt at SciFi by writers who ran out of ideas and so cluttered the screen with artsy images.

  5. Sorry. Purist here. If Conan Doyle didn’t write it, I don’t read or watch it.


    If I want Sherlock Holmes, I have the complete stories next to my bed.

    Make your own characters, people. Don’t steal and then destroy beloved characters that don’t belong to you.

    • How does one go about stealing a fictional character?

      • Use the name of a famous character. Change anything and everything you want (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?).

        Since other people like that, I just stay away.

        Do you really want to try to be famous as the writer of a pastiche of someone else’s character? Dazzle me with a new and fabulous character. No imagination of your own?

        Well done and subtle references do NOT include the name and known mannerisms.

        I realize I’m probably in the minority here.

      • How does one go about stealing a fictional character?

        Easy. Make money off a character someone else created. Then come up with a spin about common cultural legacies.

        • Ah, so you mean like the Conan Doyle estate?

          • The estate is indeed making money off their inheritance. Others, with no connection to the author, are trying to make money off his work because they can’t make money off their own.

            • Unless you’re talking about people re-selling reprinted copies of the work (that may or may not be in the public domain), they’re not making money off his work.

              They wrote a derivative work, and are (trying to) making money off that.

              We could bog the discussion down analysing the legality of the derivative work, but saying they can’t make money off their own work (if they are) is just wrong.

              • The Conan Doyle Estate owns the copyrights to the stories and the characters in them and as long as they do they have as much right to license those characters for derivative works as any original, living author. That is precisely why copyright exceeds the author’s lifetime; to allow descendants to inherit that property. If that bothers you, take it up with Congress. 😉

              • but saying they can’t make money off their own work (if they are) is just wrong.

                When your main character was created by another author, and when you use that character and its popularity with the public to make money, then you are indeed making money off someone else’s work.

                Ever wonder why these folks don’t just name their main character John Smith?

    • “Make your own characters, people. Don’t steal and then destroy beloved characters that don’t belong to you.”


      Didn’t attend “Wicked” with my wife. Not interested in the L. Frank Baum reboot.

      And on, and on, and on.

      Have all the screenwriters gone into hiding with John Galt?


      • For myself, I saw the musical first and read the book second… and to me, the musical is a far superior story. It ties in far better with the Wizard of Oz source material. It gives the characters motivation rather than just languishing in depression, and it gives each of the characters in the story life, where many of the characters in the book just felt like placeholders.

        Unless you’re talking about the relationship between Wicked and the Wizard of Oz, in which case you should probably lament the novel author rather than the screenwriters 🙂

        I’d urge you to reconsider the Wicked stage play/musical. In my opinion, it blends masterfully with the Wizard of Oz story, and adds to the whole by giving the Oz characters motivations of their own rather than just helping/hindering Dorothy.

    • I thoroughly enjoy retellings and reimaginings, and history shows that most people also do. Shakespeare obviously had no problem with it, and people still respect his work. I do think that it shouldn’t comprise the entirety of one’s writing. And I think it’s incredibly hypocritical of Disney, a company which has built its brand around repurposed characters created by others, to so tightly cling to their copyrights.

      • Disney has no problem with people using the same source material they used. They have a problem with the use of their specific interpretation and expression of that material.

        Anyone can do the same thing Disney did. They can also do what Ian Fleming did. They just can’t name their spy James Bond.

        • As a matter of fact, there are a ton of alternate animated takes on most of the classic folk tales Disney has mined. Most by t not all are low-budget direct to DVD with the same title: The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Which is why Disney always brands their movies in the promos and they make explicit changes in the stories to make them their own. It is Disney’s Little Mermaid that is named Ariel, not Hans Christian Anderson’s. That is how public domain is supposed to work.

          And that is how SHERLOCK worked, early on: they took specific Holmes stories from the Public Domain and adapted them to modern times. A STUDY IN SCARLET became A STUDY IN PINK. A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA became A SCANDAL IN BELGRAVIA. But where the early episodes were played straight the more recent ones have grown… precious. Not unheard of. Lots of series, especially in books, start out with a broad appeal and once they prove successful start focusing on their hardcore audience and start losing the rest. Some tack back to the mainstream, some jump in with a vengeance. Those that enjoy the changes stay, those that don’t…move on.
          And that too is how it’s supposed to work.

        • I was referring to not letting the original Mickey Mouse cartoon go into public domain when its time came but instead had the entire copyright law timeframe changed to cling to it.

          I think copyright should be long enough to protect the author. Maybe the author’s legal heirs. Not corporations, because at that rate nothing of any significant cultural value will ever again enter the public domain but will always only be usable to the highest bidder, regardless of talent, creativity, or what other people want to read.

  6. Holmes, Sherlock Holmes.

    {insert secret agent guitar riff}

  7. I’ve enjoyed a number of Holmeses but Benedict Cumberbatch just didn’t do it for me in the role.

  8. I was never that much into Sherlock Holmes or Spock. I always preferred Captain Kirk and Philip Marlowe. It seems a personality test. Kind of like Batman vs. Superman.

    • What if the answer is “GREEN LANTERN”?

      • Which Green Lantern? Hal, Guy, John, and Kyle all had very different personalities.

        • Green Lantern is an interesting pick. Probably says you’re striving to be different for the sake of being different. But I would generally put him in as closer to Batman, since the ring is a basically a gadget (like Batman) even though it has almost magical powers (closer to Superman).

          I think the big difference is between characters who have superhuman powers (like Superman , Spock and Sherlock Holmes) or characters who are more human and strive to overcome their limits (Kirk and Marlowe). Because the Green Lanterns ring keeps running out of power (at least last time I read the comics) the emphasis on that character is often on his limits.

          • Nope.
            As a dedicated student of SF I always have been different.
            (I ate very little candy because all my candy money went to comics since I was 5, for example.)

            And I will admit to going back to the Pre-Crisis so growing up my GL was Hal and my Flash was Barry.

            And GLs aren’t the same as Bats at all.
            Bats is an obsessed vigilante who spent years training and has no life. Bruce Wayne is practically non-existent, just a disguise. Supes? An alien, alone in the world, trying to justify his existence.

            Hal, on the other hand, is a normal guy. He got the ring because he was the closest of the qualifiers. His power is limited solely by his imagination and stubbornness. He has brothers, a nosy sister in law, nieces and nephews. Most of his classic stories are about him thinking his way past problems.

            And he hung out with cool aliens. Lots and lots of them.

            Easy for me to identify with “just a guy with a ring” and a lot of imagination than an alien or an obsessed vigilante.

            Which isn’t to say the others aren’t fun reads (though I always found emo-boy Kyle too much a Tomcat). Guy in particular is obnoxiously entertaining but not somebody I can identify with.

            I am rather enjoying the newest one, too. Jessica Cruz is cut from a different mold and is really struggling to master the ring but always finds a way to solve the problem.

            Because that is what GLs do.
            Plus, they’re beat cops, not vigilantes.

        • Not to mention Alan.

    • I once had someone tell me that he thought there were two types of people: those who like Klingons and those who like Vulcans. I told him my favorite Star Trek race was the Cardassians.

      Really, though, I think the main dichotomy you’re pointing out is whether we value reason or emotion. Personally, I’m firmly on the side of reason. Womanizing manly-man characters going off half-cocked and put others in danger only to luck into success mostly just annoy me.

      • DS9 is still the best Trek Series to date. That helps.

        • Definitely! We’re re-watching it, specifically “In the Pale Moonlight” on Friday night. Elim Garak is one of my favorites, and his lecture to Sisko about his naivety in war while Sisko is smacking Garak around was Emmy-worthy.

          • Love Garak. Best secondary Star Trek character ever, and better than most of the primary characters (franchise-wide).

  9. I’ll say up front that I adore the Benedict Cumberbatch take on Holmes. If anything, he reminds me of the original screen adaptation [?] starring Sir Basil Rathbone. And no, I’m not /that/ old!

    Part of the reason I enjoy the current version of Sherlock is because I haven’t read the ACD originals since I was a teen. And truth be told, even then they weren’t that high in my personal pantheon. Dr Fu Manchu however….-cough-

    Frank Herbert’s Dune, however, was and is at the top of my list of most loved stories, so I’ve hated each and every film adaptation.

    Maybe this is simply a case of the higher the expectation, the sharper the disappointment?

  10. In what I’m sure will be a highly controversial comment, I prefer Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock in Elementary to Mr. Cumberbatch’s version.

    • I thought I was the only one.

      • Yay! There’s two of us!

        • Three.

          • Four.

            Not that I get to see the show much, since the network thinks pre-empting it or delaying it is better so they can run the full reality crap show they have on Sunday night.

            Moving it to Sunday night is likely the kiss of death for the show, much like what happened to The Good Wife. Quit watching that about three years before it ended. Same with The Mentalist. One year, I think I managed to see one full episode of each. I have to record most shows because I’ll fall asleep before they air. If the show is delayed or pre-empted, I miss it.

            • Unfortunately, I agree about the move to Sunday. I have to wonder who at the show ticked off a CBS exec. Elementary’s replacement on Thursday has already crashed and burned.

    • I’m not sure whether I like that version of the character better, but I do like that show better.

    • Another Elementary fan here.

      Benedict Cumberbatch is okay in other roles – but he strikes me as prissy in Sherlock, maybe that’s the campy element.

      However, Martin Freeman is one of my favorite actors.

      I’d like to see him play Sherlock and Peter Dinklage play Watson.

  11. I haven’t seen “Sherlock” and I’m sure it’s just fine, but I must say two important words: Jeremy Brett.

  12. I really love Sherlock and we get another new one tomorrow!!!

  13. Al the Great and Powerful

    Another vote for Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock in ‘Elementary.’ I can’t stand Cumberbatch in nearly everything he’s done, so the BBC Sherlock fails on two levels for me… the lead irritates the snot out of me which kills my interest or belief in him BEING Sherlock Holmes, and the writing/plotting is unacceptable.

  14. There’s this, from Honest Trailers:


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