A Study in Scarlet and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet is the first story of Sir Conan Doyle featuring the character Sherlock Holmes, published in 1887. The character was inspired by a real person, physician Joseph Bell who could deduct large conclusions by observing small details (deductive reasoning). Joseph Bell and doctor and forensic expert Henry Littlejohn sometimes provided expert opinion to Scottish criminal investigations. Doyle was Bell’s clerk and developed his character based on Bell, Littlejohn and their experiences. The character of Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ friend, is believed to be based on Doyle himself, who was also a physician. He started writing while “waiting for patients” at his unsuccessful independent medical practice [summarized from Wikipedia, 2014.]

I’m just getting into the Sherlock Holmes series by BBC (a little late I know.) BBC makes good ones. Better than hyper-sexual, violent American shows. And Turkish TV series — few are entertaining but they’re mostly too emotional and dramatic, mirroring Turkish people I suppose. Ignorant of the Sherlock Holmes character beyond my knowledge of popular culture, the first thing I noticed was how young Sherlock is in this series.

As far as I know, the character was a man past his forties. And aside from the signature detective hat worn by Sherlock (not until several episodes in mind you), he rarely resembles the original character. Where is his pipe for goodness sake? This is a Sherlock Holmes that uses nicotine patches. And his facial expressions are distant, sometimes apathetic. The actor has an unusual facial structure. The scriptwriter hasn’t helped by complimenting his cheekbones on more than one occasion. Terribly pale skin with matching lips, it’s a little bordering on Dracula. This certainly wasn’t the Sherlock Holmes I had imagined. Although four episodes in, I’m starting to find Sherlock’s distant brilliance charming. Intelligent is the new sexy after all.

The best parts are certainly the script and dialogues. The former seems to be very close to the original, albeit a bit modern with the use of cell phones and nicotine patches. But many things remain, such as the magnifying glass frequently used by Sherlock, his disregard for food when he’s working, playing the violin to think (and don’t think I missed the “seven percent” reference to cocaine.) And of course, the most important, his supreme ability at deductive reasoning.

If only the episodes gave the audience (read: me) some hope of attaining even a portion of his skills to make general conclusions by observing small details. But his processing rate at a mere millisecond and how utterly easy it is for him, makes us all feel like fools. I had hoped that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss would give us hope of learning it. But it’s impossible because we are never given a chance with the evidence, not until after Sherlock fires off his always impressive train of reasoning. Yes, yes, we know. Sherlock has an intelligence level not common to most and his skills are unique. So all that’s left for us to do is watch and applaud him. But I suppose the Sherlock Holmes’ character has to be unreachable, in sentiment and intelligence. I think that’s the point and possibly the source of his charm.

And I must say, I love the background score. It lightens the mood for an otherwise dark cinematography. But the cinematography is always dark in London, isn’t it?

Edit: I have seen all three seasons now and my initial impression of the series and of Benedict Cumberbatch has changed. I think Benedict is fantastic as Sherlock Holmes. He is an amazing actor, with a fantastic voice and a wide range of facial expressions that he uses so perfectly. The dialogues are brilliant. The screenplay never drags. The music is apt. But Benedict is surely the star. My opinion of him in this role changed so drastically that I was confused. But I’ve found out that it has happened to most people who have seen the series. He grows on you (see Cumbergraph) and the series is addictive. I have a few issues with the subtext in screenplay but I will leave that for another post. The worst (or is it the best?) part about Sherlock is that it only comes around once every two years. I feel lucky that I have seen all three seasons at one go. But it seems the wait for season 4 will be a long and dreary one. If you have not seen this series, you are missing one of the best productions to come along, in possibly the last decade of film and television.


5 thoughts on “A Study in Scarlet and BBC’s Sherlock Holmes

  1. Pingback: Detective Byomkesh Bakshi: The Indian Sherlock Holmes | BollyReview

    • Yes, can’t wait for the Christmas special in 2015 and season 4 in 2016. Meanwhile, I’m watching Elementary (the American version of Sherlock). It’s not really about Sherlock, more like a routine American crime investigation show. But it’s one way to pass my time while waiting for BBC’s Sherlock. Plus, anything with a British accent is good. And of course, I love Doctor Who. It’s just as brilliant if not more. I’m still watching the series with Matt Smith, haven’t moved on to the next doctor just yet. Do watch these also if you get the chance.

      • Sorry but I can’t watch Elementary. It may be interesting for some reasons, but after seeing Sherlock I cannot imagine another version. I don’t watch US routine crime investigation shows, I find it’s always same clichés (be it Mentalist, NCIS, CSI or whatever).

        Doctor Who is so strange. I’ve seen episodes with E. Eccleston (don’t like him) and David Tennant (he’s good, even in Broadchurch) and it’s so uneven.
        Somme episodes are completely tacky and remind me of a bad episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and some are very good and touching, with great inventions and script.

        Each time I go in London I’m amazed by all the merchandising and the craziness of british people for this show. It’s so cult !

  2. Pingback: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Review: Amazing Sets! | BollyReview

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