Arthur and George tested the waters – now the BBC is jumping right in

imagesLast night ITV aired the final episode of their three-part dramatization of Julian Barnes’ novel – Arthur and George. Starring Martin Clunes as a gentle but determined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the action follows Doyle’s investigation into ‘The Wyrley Ripper’, a case he takes up in order to clear the name of the accused – George Edalji. Right from their first meeting, Doyle is sure of the man’s innocence and he works tirelessly to prove it, using the case as a way to cope after the death of his first wife.

Based on true events and set around 1903, it was almost like watching a traditional Holmes and Watson adventure. Doyle applied many of his creation’s methods to solve the crime and outsmart the sceptical, sneering police. Examining footprints, breaking and entering, testing a knife to see what sort of wound it would make, arguing with officials and defending an innocent man despite the odds – sound familiar?

Doyle was assisted in these endeavours by his friend and valet Mr Wood (Woodie), who fitted into the Watson role perfectly – advising caution and trying to be the voice of reason to temper Doyle’s persistence.

Hansom cabs rattled along the cobbles and steam trains puffed into stations. It felt very much like ITV were testing the waters to see if there was an appetite for a traditional Sherlock Holmes set in the period, similar to the famous Granada series starring Jeremy Brett which aired on ITV between 1984 and 1994. It certainly left me hankering for it.

But then, this morning I see that Steven Moffat has now officially confirmed that the BBC Sherlock one-off special will be entirely set in the Victorian period – not a dream sequence or costume ball as I had feared. ‘The special is its own thing,’ Moffat told Entertainment Weekly. ‘It’s not part of the run of three episodes. As we could hardly conceal – it’s Victorian.’ Moffat also adds – ‘(co-creator Mark Gatiss) and me, we wanted to do this, but it had to be special, it had to be a separate entity on its own. It’s kind of in its own little bubble.’

So no testing of the waters for the BBC, the massive success of Sherlock and the popularity of the cast has given them the confidence to jump straight in and give us a traditional Holmes. Personally I think this is brave and exciting but I hope they don’t spoil it with gimmickry and over-the-top ideas – just keep it simple please, full of subtleties as with Arthur and George.

Clunes put in a great performance as Doyle with a soft, warm Scottish brogue and gentle manner but obvious passion against injustice and racial prejudice. And for me personally, I grew up near to the area where the drama was set so loved hearing the accents of my childhood, of Cannock and Staffordshire. Some of the scenes were even filmed at the Black Country Living Museum, an excellent local visitor attraction I have been to many times.

I’d say that the future of Sherlock Holmes looks set to go back to the past, possibly on both BBC and ITV. Or will we get a whole series of ‘Sir Arthur investigates’?

Can it be only a matter of time before we get the natural successor to the Granada series? And will this end up being bigger than both Sherlock and Elementary who have displaced the detective into a modern setting? Is it time we went back to the past?

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What does this year’s BBC Sherlock one-off special really have in store for us?

24F1F53200000578-2921763-image-m-111_1421938850201First we had the official picture of Cumberbatch and Freeman in period costume evoking a Brett/Hardwicke vibe. Now the internet is alive with more pictures of the pair in Victorian dress, along with Amanda Abbington. The pictures were taken while the team were filming at Gloucester Cathedral and seem to confirm speculation that the one-off special will indeed be set in Victorian times.

Personally, I’m delighted about this. I think it’s brave and inventive, harking back to the spirit of series one and two when Moffat and Gatiss simply wrote the show exactly as they wanted to, not writing for the fans or the awards or ratings. It was quirky, stylised and a bit niche.

While defending the change from the Victorian setting of the original stories to present-day London, the team said it was the essence of the characters and sense of adventure that mattered, not the period. I entirely agreed and still do. So taking the same characters and placing them in a different century is a great idea, especially as they seem to be paying due respect to the highly successful and much loved Granada adaptations. I hope there are plenty of nods to Granada and Brett in the episode, it would also be great if the team decide to take an original ACD story and re-tell it authentically but with their own unique twist.

People are speculating about how they will explain the change of time period – will it be Sherlock in a coma like Life on Mars? Will it all be a dream like Dallas? Is it fancy dress? Or time travel to right the wrongs of the past like Quantum Leap? Did aliens abduct them and dump them in Victorian England? Will it be a strange Doctor Who mash-up?

I really hope it’s none of these – I hope they are brave and bold enough to just go for it without any explanation at all. Let’s have a whole episode in the period where the stories were originally set, no explanation needed. If the quality of the drama is good enough, no one will even question it after about two minutes because we will all be so absorbed by the storytelling and characters.

I’m so excited about this episode and hope I don’t end up feeling as let down as I did at the end of series three. Please let this not be a publicity stunt, or as disappointing as Sherlock surviving his fall by landing on a big blue inflatable. I can’t wait to find out!

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2014 – The Year Sherlock Holmes Became Free

Leslie KlingerIt’s been yet another busy year for Sherlock Holmes admirers as the popularity of the world’s most famous detective continues to grow.

2014 kicked off with the return of BBC Sherlock. Series Three burst onto our screens with a riot of unexpected kisses (Sherlock/Mollie, Sherlock/Moriarty!), zip wires, a big blue inflatable and the world’s strangest best man speech. We met Sherlock’s parents (Benedict Cumberbatch’s real-life parents,) we saw his love for John and John’s love for Mary. We had a wedding, a pregnancy and a returning face from the past.

Millions enjoyed the series, others like me had their doubts but the success of the show cannot be denied.

2014 also saw an end to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Undershaw, former home of Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The house has now been bought by a school and they have proved to be careful custodians so far, honoring the building’s heritage and restoring/adapting it sensitively.

But for me, the biggest thing to happen in the Holmes universe in 2014 has been Leslie S Klinger winning his lawsuit against the Doyle estate. Klinger’s tireless actions have freed the character of Sherlock Holmes for the world.

The suit was instigated by author Leslie Klinger, who co-edited two anthologies of new Holmes tales written by modern authors. He sought a judgment that would enable him to use material from 50 of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories without having to pay a fee to the Doyle Estate, something they had demanded from his publisher.

As the Free Sherlock website explains – ‘Throughout the suit, the estate had argued that although most of the Holmes stories are in the public domain, the famed detective himself was still under copyright because certain character traits were developed in later, still protected books. That meant new stories featuring Holmes couldn’t be created until the very last work in the series fell into the public domain in 2022, according to the estate.’

Fortunately, the judge sided with Klinger and it was decided that the estate’s case lacked “any basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration” and the appeal “border[ed] on the quixotic.”

This means that thousands of pastiche writers, movie makers, producers and publishers can now use the character of Sherlock Holmes and all the characters outside of the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (which is still under copyright in the US) without having to pay anything to the Doyle Estate.

So here’s to lots more Sherlock Holmes creativity in 2015! Free at last.

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Elementary is back and Holmes is most certainly not forgiven

untitledReview of Season Three, Episode One – Enough Nemesis to Go Around (contains some spoilers)

As regular blog readers may recall, I had a bit of a Damascene conversion over Elementary during the last season. I went from disliking it for being a poor imitation of BBC Sherlock to enjoying it very much and appreciating the clever crimes and great partnership between the two leads.

So I was excited for its return and optimistic that I would continue to enjoy this interesting addition to the Sherlock Holmes universe. But as with Sherlock series three, I do feel a bit let down – again.

I think one of Elementary’s strengths has always been its interpretation of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. I had come to love watching their partnership grow; it was well-paced, believable and done with a lightness of touch which gave it great credibility – in contrast to the Sherlock/John love-in we had in Sherlock series three.

But now ‘Lemon Entry’ is back and for the first 13 minutes or so we don’t even see Holmes. Instead we have Watson doing very nicely for herself in her posh new pad, solving crimes on her own for the NYPD and private clients. Holmes has been away in England for six months working for MI6 and they didn’t exactly part on good terms.

I do like the fact that Liu’s Watson is a capable, intelligent woman but here it goes too far. Holmes should be the detective, Watson the assistant – that is the dynamic at the heart of all we love about Sherlock Holmes stories. Suddenly, we are now being asked to accept Holmes working with a new assistant, Kitty Winter, and Watson, a fully-fledged detective, whose skills are a match for his own.

Kitty Winter is one of my favourite characters in the canon (she of the acid throwing fame in The Illustrious Client) but I’m not sure about her incarnation here in Elementary. I think (hope) that perhaps it is too early to pass judgement and that the character will be developed further in forthcoming episodes. I want her to have a great back-story that explains why she has given up everything and left England to work with Holmes. And I hope it will relate in some way to the original Kitty and her struggles against the evil womanising Baron.

What I do like is the fact that Watson doesn’t simply cave in and forgive Holmes for his disappearance and behaviour. I felt this was a major weakness in Sherlock series three and actually in the original Empty House. I think that Watson’s hurt and anger here is much more realistic. I’m torn between being desperate for them to make up and reinstate their partnership and thinking ‘Fair play, give him hell.’

I didn’t like the fact that in his absence, Watson has become such a successful detective in her own right that she now holds the power over whether Holmes can return to working for the NYPD.

They’ve played around too much with the essence of what the characters should be – Watson isn’t a detective in the canon, he’s a doctor, an ordinary (albeit intelligent) bloke who readers can associate with. He/she should be an everyman character who gives a contrast to Holmes who must always remain the only one who can shine light into the darkness. Elementary have messed around with the formula in this episode and in my opinion, haven’t got away with it.

The crime story was imaginative but I suspect that they didn’t quite get the science right. I’m no expert but wouldn’t you need a much bigger magnet than that?

I await next week’s episode with interest and a healthy degree of apprehension.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s childhood inspiration

Watching BBC’s Antiques Road Trip last night (yes I know, but there was nothing else on) I was surprised when a segment about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popped up.

There I was, TV dinner on my lap, brain going into it’s usual early evening stupor, when my attention was unexpectedly caught by some rather informative stuff.

For those who don’t watch the programme (i.e. sensible people) it involves two celebrities teaming up with two antiques experts and travelling around in old cars buying general tat from bric-a-brac shops. They then have to sell the items at an auction and see who can make the most profit. It’s gripping stuff let me tell you.

Anyway, last night one of the teams visited Sir Arthur’s old boarding school – Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe, Lancashire. It turned out to be a fascinating little segment and very revealing.

Doyle attended Stonyhurst from the age of 9 in 1868. He started in the prep school and the log still exists where he signed his name on arrival. He signed his full name including the ‘Conan’ but never used it again and was known for the rest of his time there as simply Arthur Doyle.

At the bottom of this list was a boy named Patrick Sherlock who was Doyle’s class-mate. By all accounts, Patrick wasn’t an especially clever boy so didn’t inspire the character of Holmes but most likely did inspire the name.

It was also fascinating to learn that there were two Moriartys in Doyle’s year – Michael and John. Michael was a brilliant mathematician so could easily have inspired this aspect of Doyle’s most famous villain. John Moriarty went on to become a lawyer and attorney general for Ireland. He was described in later years as ‘serpentine’ and could conceivably have inspired the darker aspects of Sherlock Holmes’ great nemesis.

There was even a Watson but he was five years younger than Doyle so it is difficult to know whether they would have been friends or known to each other.

It is widely accepted that Doyle modelled Baskerville Hall on Stonyhurst but the school’s curator when a step further. She pointed out that Doyle’s bedroom would have been very close to the school kennels and perhaps all those years of listening to them howl led him to create the fearful hound of Baskerville fame.

I found all this information fascinating, how strange to think that something which may have seemed so insignificant at the time could go on to inspire someone to create some of the most famous characters and stories of all time?

I’ve had a holiday day from work today. There I was having my morning coffee when Jeremy Brett popped up on the TV – ITV were showing one of the Granada episodes. I’m proud to say that husband and I guessed which one it was in seconds. We heard the line ”Three of them are lame,’ turned to each other and said – ‘Silver Blaze!’ As the rain lashed the windows, we snuggled in and watched the episode which was a real treat. It is undoubtedly one of their best and reminded me (not that I really needed reminding) of why Jeremy Brett will always be my favourite Holmes. But how different things might have been if little Patrick Sherlock had been sent to different boarding school? Or called Patrick Smith?

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How does the Conan Doyle canon inspire me?

sir-arthur-conan-doyle-1One of my Facebook friends messaged me to ask an interesting question – how does the canon influence my writing? I thought, ah-ha! Great idea for a blog…

The canon is always at the heart of anything I write with regard to Sherlock Holmes. I just like to put my own spin on things.

For some, the goal is to recreate the voice of the original stories so accurately that when people read it, they feel like they have stumbled across a lost work by Doyle – or even Watson himself.

I greatly admire those who take this approach, even more so if they manage to pull it off. But for me, the creative challenge lay in not trying to replicate, but rather trying to innovate – take the canon as a starting point and re-tell it in a fresh new way which would appeal to not only existing fans but also people who knew nothing about Holmes except his choice of hats and loyal friend.

But I didn’t want to leave the canon behind. It was my starting point, the very thing I had loved since childhood (way before Sherlock Holmes became ‘cool’ like he is today). So, I took the most fascinating period in Holmes’ life and worked with it, re-telling the events from a completely new perspective. I had always felt that the Final Problem and Empty House lacked something – Moriarty appeared too suddenly and became both a nemesis and then defeated all too quickly. So I decided to fill in the blanks, add a deeper context.

It felt as if Doyle had left clues scattered throughout the stories about Holmes’ mental state – was he autistic? Was Moriarty too? Could that curiously rotating head be a sort of compulsion? Could that phenomenal mathematical ability at a young age be evidence of savantism? What if Holmes’ need to observe everything was actually an obsessive compulsion which he only managed to control by channelling it into his work?

Isn’t that what inspires most Holmes writers? Filling in the blanks and answering the questions? Conan Doyle left us plenty to work on and these things have fascinated writers ever since. Did Holmes ever fall in love? What were his parents like? Where did he go to school? What really happened during the Great Hiatus? What did he do in his retirement besides keeping bees?

I wanted to fill in some blanks and expand the clues but remain close to the canon, using actual extracts and even keeping certain plot lines exactly the same – just setting them in a new context. It was hard to do – like trying to renovate a house and keep all the original features rather than simply knocking it down and starting again.

For my last project, I returned to a similar principal but kept it simpler this time. I decided not to get bogged down with emotional analysis or answering the unanswered. I wanted to have a little fun with the canon this time, write something light-hearted, easy to read and a bit different. We have two mainstream modern Sherlock Holmes series – Sherlock and Elementary – but I felt that both of them had departed too far from the canon. I wanted to write a series of stories which were also set in present day, but each one would be based on a single original Conan Doyle story. The general plot and themes would remain the same, just upgraded to modern settings and equivalents.

That was great fun to work on and meant I had to really know the stories I was reinterpreting.

It reminded me all over again how timeless, clever and beautifully crafted the canon really is. It deserves to be at the heart of everything it inspires.

 

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BBC Sherlock to return with a Christmas special in 2015

p01nw99fBBC Sherlock will be returning in 2015 for a Christmas special followed by a series of three new episodes, presumably to be shown in 2016.

Filming will begin in January next year on the special with the series shooting later in the year. Controller of BBC Drama Ben Stephenson gave the following teaser: ‘Steven and Mark are ready to unleash the most shocking and surprising series of Sherlock yet, the only thing to expect is the unexpected.’

The writer and co-creator of the series Steven Moffat said: “A special, plus a new series of three episodes – it’s a record-breaking run. Of course, it’s far too early to say what’s coming, but we’re reasonably confident that the very next thing to happen to Sherlock and John, is the very last thing you’d expect.”

Mark Gatiss, the programme’s other writer and co-creator said the episodes “will take Sherlock and John Watson into deeper and darker water than ever before”.

For me, this is mixed news. I suppose, like most Holmes fans, I was hoping the series itself would return in 2015, not just a one-off special. Or possibly even this Christmas. It looks like we will now have to wait until 2016 for the actual series. But perhaps having the wider scope of a special AND three episodes, the team will be able to build something with more balance than I felt they achieved in series three.

There is so much hype and expectation that I genuinely hope they can recreate the magic which I felt they lost in series three. Or else they might be experiencing ‘a fall’ of their own.

I’m excited, optimistic and looking forward to finding out. I loved their last special which aired on the internet last Christmas – ‘Home (or was it ‘Back’?) for the Holidays’ – I actually thought it was better than the series which followed.

After all the promises and hype about series three, I felt absolutely let down that Sherlock faked his death with nothing more than a squash ball and a big blue inflatable. There I was all excited about seeing something amazing but it didn’t happen. Then I was all excited to see what kind of ingenious, never seen before terrorist plot they would devise, only to get V for Vendetta. So I’m crossing my fingers and toes this time in the hope of getting something genuinely ‘shocking and surprising’. Come on team Moffat et al – I know you can do it!

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