Monday, 9 January 2012
Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville
“Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
Ah well, it had to happen. We move from poetry to prose, and from the superlative to the merely very good. Also, this script is not so dense with subtext as last weeks, meaning this review won’t be as long. Gatiss’ script here may play to his supposed macabre strengths but, rather good though it is, it can’t complete with the extraordinary episode he gave us last series. Still, judged without reference to its illustrious predecessors this is a highly impressive ninety minutes of television. Plus I had the added fun being able to compare it to a Conan Doyle original that, for once, I know well.
Se, Henry Knight, not Sir Henry Baskerville. See what they did there? The print original may have been a baronet, not a knight, but it still made me smile. Plus we have a Mortimer and a Stapleton- both women, helping almost to smooth out the gender imbalance of the source material. There’s even a Barrymore, but this chap is a soldier, an arrogant sod and, worse, a Tory. He doesn’t buttle.
We have some nice misdirection, too; Sherlock tricks us into thinking he’s going to just send Watson to Devon, and not go himself. There’s a red herring- Gary and Billy- to take the place of the escaped convict subplot in the novel. And, of course, it was Frankland, not Stapleton, what dunnit. Plus the circumstances are entirely different.
We get a fair amount of fanwank here- I love the opening scenes, and particularly the Cluedo line. We get the “Once you’ve ruled out the impossible, whatever remains- however improbable- must be true. But, most interestingly, a drugged-up Holmes comes to doubt his own belief in reason and empirical truth, the very foundation of who he is, and is left literally shaking at the possibility of having seen something truly supernatural. Cumberbatch is extraordinary here. And the chemistry between him and the equally excellent Martin Freeman continues to be superb.
Oh, and it’s left nicely ambiguous, early on, whether Sherlock’s cold turkey relates just to cigarettes or to something stronger. We know what the reference to “seven per cent” means, but does it infer the same thing in a twenty-first century context, I wonder?
Paul McGuigan is superlative as always, but this is something we’re tending to take for granted by now, and a more linear plot gives him less room to be creative. The many moments with Sherlock making deductive leaps (always fun) look fab, though. And the location shots of Dartmoor look truly awesome, far better than any previous version of this story that I’ve seen.
Oh, and I don’t believe the Morse code message was explained. Something for next week?
All the same, though, excellent whodunnit and superb character piece though this is, it seems to be lacking a certain extra something. Partly it may be a case of middle episode disease, although this is far superior to The Blind Banker. But something’s missing.