First introduced to the public in 1887, the fictional British sleuth at apartment 221B Baker Street simply won’t die. Yet, what is it that keeps the arrogant genius that is Sherlock Holmes alive within our consciousness, leaves us ever eager to come in contact with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, again and again?
The BBC’s hugely successful “Sherlock” finally returned for a third season on January 1st, ‘The Empty Hearse’ promising long-awaited answers to the miraculous survival of the ‘consulting detective’ after his 70ft rooftop dive in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ two years ago. The controversial episode failed to provide just one definitive solution for the UK’s 9 million viewers, however, creators Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat perhaps wanting to avoid what has been deemed the ‘pedestrian’ way in which Conan Doyle himself overcame the ‘Great Hiatus’ between ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’.
Yet, isn’t that what we expected? Wouldn’t it be a bit like finally cracking how Holmes’ mind really works, understanding too closely the great detective’s methods and moods? What we do know for sure is that his friend, co-worker and blogger-biographer, Dr John H. Watson, was just as much in the dark as we, the audience.
Holmes and Watson have undergone a record number of adaptations since the 1900 Mutoscope film and Basil Rathbone’s 40s movie franchise, not only on small and silver screen, but also on radio, the stage, and even in literature. Every time, the public laps it up. For it’s not just Benedict Cumberbatch that appeals, although no doubt his particular image and voice (and recent connection – along, of course, with Martin Freeman – to Peter Jackson’s film trilogy of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”) have aided in keeping fans engaged from 2006 to now (so too, the sci-fi set with “Star Trek: Into Darkness”).
Retaining the underlying comedy, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law brought an action-packed veneer to the duo, filling cinemas for two films, while Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have been signed for a second season of “Elementary”, wherein Holmes is a recovering drug-addict in New York City and Watson a female Dr Joan (the first). It seems that there is no such thing as too much Sherlock, no matter how far removed from Victorian London.
Nevertheless, one of Holmes’ abilities – as described in the four novels and 56 short stories written until 1927 – was to successfully adopt any disguise. That, surely, opens the character, and by extension those around him, to endless interpretation and reinvention over time. Everyone likes a good mystery and, somewhat like Shakespeare, it seems the crimes, and the manner in which Holmes and Watson solve them, have leant themselves to easy transference to the modern age. For there’s not just method in Sherlock’s cool madness, but an endearing and transcendent humanity, too.
For those who haven’t yet seen Sunday’s episode, ‘The Sign of Three’: that it will only serve to increase the cult of Sherlock is elementary, dear readers.