Written by: Alan Plater, et al., based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by: Paul Annett, John Bruce, David Carson, Ken Grieve, Alan Grint, and Derek Marlowe
Starring: Jeremy Brett and David Burke
- Entire 13-episode run of 1984-85 TV series: A Scandal in Bohemia, The Dancing Men, The Naval Treaty, The Solitary Cyclist, The Crooked Man, The Speckled Band, The Blue Carbuncle, The Copper Beeches, The Greek Interpreter, The Norwood Builder, The Resident Patient, The Red Headed League, The Final Problem
- Photo gallery
- Info on the Sherlock Holmes and Jeremy Brett fan societies
- Original Sidney Paget illustration galleries
Released by: MPI Home Video
Rating: NR, suitable for 13+
My Advice: Elementary…own it.
[ad#longpost]Sherlock Holmes. The master detective, a product of a hyper-analytical physician’s unbelievable imagination, and the template for so many that came after: Batman, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Jack Sparks–just to name a few. Many attempts have been made to catch the true nature of this most excellent fictional creation of Doyle’s in film and television. Among these various attempts, the die-hard Holmes fans, who can identify cases in a matter of a few phrases or names, all agree that Jeremy Brett’s portrayal during the television series of the mid-80’s is the definitive Sherlock Holmes. It’s as close as we’ll ever get to seeing what Doyle must have seen in his mind’s eye.
And now the best of the first two seasons, thirteen hour-long episodes each covering a story from those typically collected under the title The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is available on DVD, in an excellent five-disc box. The episodes are each incredibly faithful adaptations of Doyle’s original short stories, better in this regard than most literary adaptations on TV or film. Better yet, these episodes selected from the early stories of the Holmes corpus represent a nice cross-section of the consulting detective’s cases. Some are incredibly elaborate logic puzzles, where Holmes can solve the case sitting in his armchair after hearing his client’s relation of the events that led them to 221-B Baker Street. Others are action-packed, with Watson instructed to carry his service revolver, and Holmes laying about with his cane on some ne’er-do-well’s head. To the last, however, they’re all excellent.
Add to this that Jeremy Brett himself is regarded as the greatest (small or silver) screen Holmes ever, and David Burke likewise the perfect Doctor Watson to Brett’s Holmes. Their performances are so spot-on that it’s easy to forget that these two aren’t, in fact, the characters they portray. The secondary cast is also excellent, particularly Natasha Richardson (in her first-ever TV role) and Charles Gray (perhaps most famous for his role as The Criminologist (An Expert) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Sherlock’s intellectually-superior elder brother Mycroft Holmes. And while Brett (and Gray) return in future installments of the Sherlock Holmes legacy, this set represents the only time that Burke stood by them as Dr. Watson.
Among the selection of very solid episodes, true standouts are: “A Scandal In Bohemia,” in which a member of European royalty retains Holmes to prevent a challenge to his politically-beneficial marriage; “The Blue Carbuncle,” wherein Holmes’ sense of injustice leads him to solve a jewel theft; and “The Greek Interpreter,” when Mycroft calls his younger brother in to solve a truly perplexing mystery that requires a more active hand than he himself is willing to exercise. And then, of course, there is “The Final Problem,” pitting Holmes against his arch-nemesis, the criminal mastermind Dr. Moriarty, in a cataclysmic struggle at the height of Reichenbach Falls. The original story was so controversial that Doyle was essentially bullied by his public into bringing Sherlock back from his apparent demise to solve another several dozen mysteries before finally being retired.
The DVDs are solid, with a nice set of extras, particularly the classic Paget illustrations, regarded as the definitive imagery to accompany the original texts in The Strand. The info on the Brett and Sherlock societies is handy if you’re a big fan, though anybody that’s done some research on the Web has likely turned up most of the provided links on their own. Some documentary information about Doyle or Brett would have been interesting, or even a commentary or interview with Burke, which would have shed an amazing amount of light on what the process of bringing Doyle’s famous creations to the screen was like. There were definitely avenues for additional bonus material, but I can’t knock the set, given that we’re dealing with a short-run series from 1984.
There is one minor technical issue that must be related: the sound on disc 1 is sketchy, and downright warbly in one particular episode (“The Dancing Men”). But online sources suggest that the problem lies with the original stock, and so I assign no fault to the gang at MPI (producers of the DVD set). Since archiving material of this kind in the mid-80s couldn’t have foreseen the digital transfer issues common to DVDs, this seems a likely explanation, and gives the benefit of the doubt to a crew that seem to have gone the distance to make a quality DVD offering.
So grab these discs as soon as possible. If you’re a fan of mysteries in general, or Holmes in particular, you won’t find a better version anywhere.