This week’s Masterpiece Mystery! begins a three-week run of Sherlock, a clever re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. One thing that marks this production off from previous adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work — that is, aside from the fact that this Sherlock has a website and texts furiously — is that it forces the Holmes cult to overlap with another venerable British cult: the one for Doctor Who.
Benedict Cumberbatch, from Atonement, stars as a jittery Holmes who’s more addicted to e-mail and his nicotine patch than to the traditional snoot-full of cocaine. His Watson is an Afghanistan war veteran played by Martin Freeman, who just this week was announced as joining the cast of (make that a third British-cult link!) The Hobbit movie.
The first installment of Sherlock, “A Study in Pink,” is — elementary, my dear readers — a variation on the first Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet. Co-written by Steven Moffat, producer and head writer for Doctor Who, “A Study in Pink” manages to work in all of Holmes’ signature traits without doing too much straining to render Holmes a contemporary figure. Cumberbatch’s Holmes is, like most of the Holmeses in TV and movies, an imperious fellow who sizes up people quickly, makes deductions with lightning-fast accuracy, and has a Moriarty arch-enemy. (Watson maintains a blog on which he records details of their cases, but it’s also an electronic journal he uses as therapy for his post-traumatic stress.)
The new Holmes is thoroughly up-to-speed with the way Doyle’s character might be diagnosed these days, as when he remarks this evening, “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath.”
One question that springs immediately to mind: How will the new Holmes stack up against the greats of the past? I’m thinking, of course, of Basil Rathbone’s languidly neurasthenic Holmes:
Or of Jeremy Brett’s much beloved, snippy, chilly, but ultimately endearing Holmes:
Or of any of the other Sherlocks you may like, in vehicles ranging from Barry Levinson’s 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes to Billy Wilder’s 1970 The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to last year’s turbo-charged Robert Downey, Jr., edition.
No matter how you’re feeling about the way public broadcasting has dealt with the Juan Williams imbroglio, I urge you to give tonight’s Sherlock a shot, and tell me what you think.
And do tell me: who do you think is the best Holmes ever? Brett? Rathbone? Someone else?