Sunday, 30 January 2011

This is no shit Sherlock

Poor devil!” [Stamford] said, commiseratingly, after he had listened to my Afghan War misfortunes. “What are you up to now?”
“Looking for lodgings,” I answered. “Trying to solve the problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price.”
“That’s a strange thing,” remarked my companion; “you are the second man to-day that has used that expression to me.”
“And who was the first?” I asked.

~ A Study In Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887

Yes, it’s time I delved into this whole BBC does Sherlock thing and offered my two bob. I mean, I’ve done Doctor bloody Who to death, so now it’s time to move on. At least until Supernatural, Burn Notice or Doctor Who start up again proper…

So where do we start? How about… what went before? Yes, that sounds good.

First off, I’m a Jeremy Brett fan. Oh yes. I saw the new Guy Richie film, and yes, it was a rollicking good time, but it was someone else’s Holmes, someone else’s take on the books. And that’s ok - in my head, all three Holmes can co-exist side by side. It’s fine. I’m a sci-fi fan, it works.

However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - Jeremy Brett was in fact the real Sherlock Holmes, but they just billed him as Jeremy Brett so no-one would know ITV (Granada, thank you arsey regionator) had nicked the TARDIS from the Beeb and transported the real Sherlock through Time to star in a series about himself. Yes, it’s all true. Watch the old series and you’ll see it too.

So anyway, I heard through Tinternet - and by that I mean I was dimly aware - that the Beeb had dusted Sherlock off and made a new series about him. I have to confess I wasn’t much bothered, and made no effort to watch it in any form. It was fine without me.

Then I went back to Blighty for Christmas and my lil sis gave me a DVD she’d recorded offa telly, containing all three episodes (at time of going to press) of the new series. When I got home again, jet-lag and good strong tea made me think I could watch the first episode from the luxury of my sofa. Not realising it was in fact ninety minutes and not the expected one hour, I sat through all of it, merrily tweeting away how great it was and how much awfully good fun it all seemed to be. I went to bed, started back at work the next day, and got on with life. A few days later, I watched the second part, and then the third. And then I put the disc on the shelf and didn’t think about it.

And yet… and yet… A few evenings later (jet-lag conquered), suddenly and blindingly I wished there were more, but five minutes of Sam-Winchestering Google told me there were no more. After exclaiming ‘Bugger, balls and bollocks!’, I went back to my sofa, pulled out the first episode, and watched it again - with friends.

And so, ineluctably, here we are. What did I make of it? Well then… It’s all new, obviously. Except it’s not. Messers Moffat and Gatiss have gone about this the right way - taking the characters and their details and not actually changing the broad strokes all that much. Moffat does a very good job of writing a script designed to stick to the original characters (and the original short, ‘A Study In Scarlet’) while bringing them to life at a modern pace. Much of the dialogue, at least to begin with, is comfortably familiar in its similarity, and the details of the people’s personal lives are consistent. We are introduced to Watson first of course - as it should be - and it’s through his eyes that we discover this bigger world as he gets sucked into, amongst other things, the weird and wonderful sitting room at 221B.

“Observation to me is second nature. You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan.”
“You were told, no doubt.”
“Nothing of the sort. … The train of reasoning ran, ‘Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.’”

~ A Study In Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887

Sherlock: “When I met for the first time yesterday and I asked you ‘Afghanistan or Iraq?’ you looked surprised.”
Watson: “Yes, how did you know?
Sherlock: “I didn’t know, I saw. Your haircut, the way you hold yourself says military. Your conversation as you entered the room - ‘bit different from my day’ - said trained at Barts, so army doctor: obvious. Your face is tanned, but no tan above the wrists; you’d been abroad but not sunbathing. Your limp’s really bad when you walk but you don’t ask for a chair when you stand, like you’ve forgotten about it, so it’s at least partly psychosomatic, and says the original circumstances of the injury were traumatic; wounded in action then. Wounded in action? Suntan? Afghanistan or Iraq.”

Watson: “You said I had a therapist.”
Sherlock: “With a psychosomatic limp? Of course you’ve got a therapist.”

~ A Study In Pink, Stephen Moffat (BBC), 2010

One thing I do very much like about this new series are the moments where the actors are allowed to get their teeth into it. Martin Freeman is a funny man - because he’s normally the butt of the jokes, the straight man - the Everyman - who is instantly endearing and amusing when dropped into an alien (pardon the reference) or new environment - so as Watson finding out about Sherlock and his queer ways, he should be the same. But he isn’t. There are moments where, quite frankly, Watson seems so downtrodden and ready to hit something with his stick that I fear we’ll never see the poor man smile again. I particularly liked the moment where Mycroft is trying to pump him for information and he suddenly blurts ‘Who the Hell are you?’ before his manners return and he looks down. And again: the moment Sherlock is going off on one, demanding to know what people scream for when they think they’re dying, and Watson says - in a way everyone misinterprets as deadpan - ‘Please God, let me live’, and Sherlock replies ‘Use your imagination’… Of course, then you realise Watson is not taking the piss at all as he shoots back, with a very cold air of superior harrowing experience, ‘I don’t have to.’ It’s these moments that make me love Watson, side by side with moments of him saying ‘We can’t giggle; it’s a crime scene!’, and gems like ‘~~But he wasn't a very nice man. And quite frankly, a bloody awful cabbie.’

And so, then, to Sherlock. Who is this Benedict Cumberbatch and where did he come from? Never heard of the bloke - but he fits the bill. Stringy, pale, hair askew because who has time to keep the hansom clean?, breathlessly able to deliver lines so fast even Doctor Ten would have to concentrate to keep up… But is he as good as Jeremy Brett? He is. So is he a better Sherlock? No. He’s not better, he’s just different. Anyone who’s ever pondered the ‘better’ James Bond, Dax or Theta Sigma - or original Granada Watson - can relate.

The point is, you put these two actors together and you get some excellent scenes. The ‘dinner’ in the restaurant was just priceless. Entire inner monologues given away by the eyes, and some gurning David Tennant would have been proud of, and you don’t need dialogue so much as a wider lens. These two are brilliant in the same shot, and they certainly work well together as HLP.

The character of Sherlock is just the same. He has his nicotine patches instead of his pipes - hence the new ‘three pipe problem’, and he texts voraciously rather than stare out of the window for inspiration. But he still has his violin, still has his weird experiments (‘Are these human eyes in the microwave?’), and he still gets petulant when life ceases to stimulate him sufficiently. And he still loves it when Watson tells him how clever he is.

My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words [of praise], and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.”

~ A Study In Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887

Watson: “That’s fantastic!
Sherlock: “Do you know you do that out loud?
Watson: “Sorry, I’ll shut up.”
Sherlock: “No, it’s… fine.”

~ A Study In Pink, Stephen Moffat (BBC), 2010

Is it me, or does Benedict Cumberbatch remind you of someone when he looks at the skull on the mantelpiece and says: “A friend of mine. Well I say ‘friend’…” For just a split second, it felt like the most understated impersonation of Brett I’d ever seen. I could be completely wrong, but on second viewing, it happens again. Just me, perhaps.

Speaking of which, quite ironically, there was a plethora of good one-liners in that first episode, and a whole host of excellent, sharp-witted scenes to boot.

Watson: “That… was… amazing.”
Sherlock: “Do you think so?
Watson: “Of course it was. It was extraordinary. It was quite… extraordinary.”
Sherlock: “That’s not what people normally say.”
Watson: “What do they normally say?
Sherlock: “Piss off.”

Watson: “That was ridiculous. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done!
Sherlock: “You invaded Afghanistan.”
Watson: “That wasn’t just me.”

And I did like that they kept in references to darker, more dangerous recreational substances that may or may not have been in Sherlock’s possession at the time of Lestrade’s ‘drugs bust’. I hope they do continue to allude to his attempts to stave of the boredom with variations on a seven percent solution - or at least, not write out it out completely. Having re-read ‘The Sign of Four’ just recently, I prefer it left in, as it gives more insight to the entire problem he has just living in a normal world - being a higher-functioning sociopath.

So, Sherlock and Watson and Mycroft and Moriarty… Interesting enough. Speeding through to the third episode, it wasn’t my first choice for Moriarty, but if they were looking for someone completely unexpected and apparently ill-fitting, they found them. He makes an excellent Moriarty because he’s wrong. He shouldn’t be shorter and Irish and squeaky and off-kilter - but that’s what makes him believable (if he’s not pretending anyway at the time). Something in my head went ‘nah, look at him. You’d never think he was--. Oh. Right. Got it.

Adaptations? Not quite. Using original works as springboards for more fleshed-out, more wrapped-up tales? Quite. I’m not going to go into how telly today needs more answers than works of short fiction published one hundred and twenty-four years ago (when that work of short fiction was nowhere near as complete as some people remember). I’m just going to say I liked the way they ‘used’ the ending of ‘A Study In Scarlett’, but didn’t. It translated very well and it bodes well for future endeavours. The other episodes I’m not too sure about, having not read those particular stories so many times, but for now, I’m quite happy with the ‘new’ Sherlock and I’m very happy to know, via Mark Gatiss himself on Twitter, that three more episodes are slated to begin shooting in May this year.

Now, where’s my ‘Oh what now? I’m in shock - look, I’ve got a blanket’ t-shirt? I can see I’m going to have to spend an evening on Cafepress.

Peach and lube, people. Peach and frelling lube.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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