Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

Coffee Grown Hound?

Sherlock: Hound of the Baskervilles
Airdate: January 8th 2012. UK. BBC1

Warning: Spoilers will stalk you
through the textual mires of this review.

Okay then... every series of a TV show has to have one episode which is a bit weaker than the rest, just as every show has an episode that is absolutely astonishing. Well, last week’s opening salvo for (mini) Series 2 of BBC’s Sherlock was probably the “absolutely astonishing” episode and I can only hope that The Hounds of Baskerville (based on classic Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles) was the weak link in this current series.

Why? Well, firstly, because it just was all too obvious in its make up... far more obvious than I would have expected this normally clever series to be and secondly, the editing and visual style of this one wasn’t a patch on last weeks episode, nor indeed a patch on any of the previous episodes so far... which is odd since it was the same director as last week’s utterly enthralling instalment.

Perhaps I’m being a little unkind though. Mark Gatiss wrote this one and you can just tell he was having a good time with it and I’ve grown to acquire a certain amount of respect for the man. I saw his excellent, if highly personalised, A History Of Horror a year or so ago and it was actually pretty good. You can just tell that he would be the obvious choice to pen an adaptation of what is probably the mock-spookiest of the Sherlock Holmes stories (or at least the most spookily famous) and he certainly didn’t let the side down in terms of the atmosphere of this particular episode.

I think my main disappointment, in terms of the writing, lies solely in the fact that it tipped its hat very early on as to the exact nature of the solution of this case. Holmes takes the case only after Henry Knight has repeated a sentence and this is highlighted quite blatantly and almost embarrassingly... from that point on you know that the final solution lies in the fact that Henry Knight has been “brainwashed and pre-programmed” somehow (how could it not be with that kind of sign posting)... so the pleasure inherent in this kind of episode is ultimately in how entertaining the process of solving the riddle becomes for the main protagonists because, let’s face it, we’re already half way there on the answer ourselves.

And it is quite entertaining, to be fair to the people involved. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is pushed in a way that shows up Holmes’ weaknesses as opposed to his strengths in a much more heavy handed, or perhaps I should say “direct” way than we are used to... but there’s always a danger that if you tear down your idol too much then your audience will lose interest in him and it’s a bit of a tightrope act getting the balance on that one right (the Robert Downey Jr/Guy Ritchie film franchise currently spooling out in cinemas is playing the same dangerous game with its central character but is doing much less better at it than this excellent TV incarnation of the title role). Still... this episode managed to do this in an amusing manner without tipping the relationship over the edge and injecting a little tension into the proceedings too... so the writing was actually quite skillful in this area (as were the excellent performances I’ve greedily come to expect from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman).

The “out-of-its time” horror element was, perhaps, just what was needed for this episode to work but there were times, it has to be said, when I thought I’d slipped into an old 70s episode of the classic TV series The Omega Factor rather than watching something made fresh-for-the-box... not that I didn’t enjoy The Omega Factor of course... I loved it and wish somebody would remake it past the point it got cancelled. I just found it odd how close this episode came to that perhaps?

I guess what I really missed in this week's story was the clever and witty editing style that was present in the last episode in abundance. The way the syntax of the shot and its transition was both supporting and in turn controlled by the on-screen action. Contrarily, this was a more langerous and elegantly paced episode, I felt, rather than the cleverly constructed headlong rush of a visual and aural assault on the senses... but no matter. I guess this was the style that was deemed appropriate to this episode and, to be fair, if you’re going for a horror atmosphere then slow and ponderous is what you need to be doing... it’s not a teen slasher flick, after all.

All in all, I guess you can say I was taken by surprise at being a little underwhelmed and under-challenged by the episode in a way but, it has to be pointed out that it certainly wasn’t lazy writing. The little mistake from Holmes when it turned out that the sugar in the coffee was not, indeed, the source of the drug-induced hallucinations induced in some of the characters was certainly a welcome respite for the audience who were expecting just that. Although, pyrotechnically I was a little annoyed that a landmine going off (a device which is mostly intended to cripple and not kill) turned out to be a lot more violently explosive than one would suspect from such a booby trap. More like an over-the-top 70s TV car explosion than the real thing I suspect.

Nevertheless, I have to stress that, although I was personally disappointed with this one, I was only let down by it in terms of a comparison with other episodes of the two series so far... when you compare this episode to the majority of the rubbish which is being written for television, then this interpretation of the classic pulp tale is still head and shoulders above mostly everything else which is showing up on TV at the moment. As far as I’m concerned, Sherlock is one of the few programmes of recent years that could truly be considered “essential viewing” and this weeks episode did nothing to discourage me from that statement. The Hounds of Baskerville is definitely worth a look.


  1. I have a fondness for anything Sherlock--the series is so coded, like a western--and this version had promised to be delightful in its upending of the familiar tropes. I'm with you: I'll take the good with the bad (or in this case, the okay) in appreciation of their effort. Not sure if this episode is in the u.s. yet. Must investigate, Holmes!

  2. Elementary, my dear Bucko!

    Thanks so much for reading. The episode before this is well worth checking out.