Sherlock: Baskerville replayed regendered

I felt slightly cheated by tonight’s Sherlock.

The stick from which Holmes deduces Doctor Mortimer’s career and habits, makes a reappearance as a harpoon from which no deductions are drawn at all, but Sherlock’s swift conclusion about the early departure, the woman on the train and the disappointing breakfast, concluding with almost the same line as in August 1901:

“I observe from your forefinger that you make your own cigarettes. Have no hesitation in lighting one.”

were perfectly splendid. So was the sniffing. Kreetch texted me during this scene: And you think Sherlock has bad nicotine withdrawal *twitch*

The rapid-fire replay through The Hound of the Baskervilles was neatly redone from 110 years ago (- give or take – the original was serialised in the Strand in 1901-1902, but takes place in 1889, though Baker Street fans have long been mystified that Watson appears to be separated from his wife and living in Baker Street just as in bachelor days). Spoilers under cut.

Doctor Mortimer, who in 1901 first uttered the thrilling and much-parodied sentence “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” in 2012 is the new Sir Henry Baskerville’s therapist, and mostly gets to drink with John, listen to Henry Knight’s problems, and then make like an old-time Doctor Who companion and scream.

Henry Knight, transmuted from Sir Henry Baskerville to the son of the Hound’s victim, is awarded the Mortimer line: his shaky, terrified reactions work as a theatrical PTSD victim of 20 years – an adult who saw his father murdered in front of him as a child.

There is, I realised, even a hint in the aerosol solution taken from the 1901 theatrical fog in Baker Street:

My first impression as I opened the door was that a fire had broken out, for the room was so filled with smoke that the light of the lamp upon the table was blurred by it. As I entered, however, my fears were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco which took me by the throat and set me coughing. Through the haze I had a vague vision of Holmes in his dressing-gown coiled up in an armchair with his black clay pipe between his lips. Several rolls of paper lay around him. “Caught cold, Watson?” said he.
“No, it’s this poisonous atmosphere.”

Barrymore, who for all Holmes’ suspicions in 1901 turns out to be in the flesh a perfect butler with “the subdued manner of a well-trained servant”:

He was a remarkable-looking man, tall, handsome, with a square black beard and pale, distinguished features.

becomes in 2012 a martinet of a soldier, a commander with a passion for reading biographies of Margaret Thatcher, who uses Maggie as his top-secret password. In 2012 as in 1901, I suppose the connection is that although his behaviour initially arouses suspicion there is nothing in it.

Another female character dropped:

Mrs. Barrymore is of interest to me. Watson writes in 1889 She is a heavy, solid person, very limited, intensely respectable, and inclined to be puritanical. You could hardly conceive a less emotional subject. Yet I have told you how, on the first night here, I heard her sobbing bitterly, and since then I have more than once observed traces of tears upon her face. Some deep sorrow gnaws ever at her heart.

The moment I was sorriest to lose, though it would in no way have fitted into the 2012 plot, are the two paragraphs from 1901 which give us Watson’s character in a nutshell:

Over the rocks, in the crevice of which the candle burned, there was thrust out an evil yellow face, a terrible animal face, all seamed and scored with vile passions. Foul with mire, with a bristling beard, and hung with matted hair, it might well have belonged to one of those old savages who dwelt in the burrows on the hillsides. ….. At the same moment the convict screamed out a curse at us and hurled a rock which splintered up against the boulder which had sheltered us. I caught one glimpse of his short, squat, strongly built figure as he sprang to his feet and turned to run. At the same moment by a lucky chance the moon broke through the clouds. We rushed over the brow of the hill, and there was our man running with great speed down the other side, springing over the stones in his way with the activity of a mountain goat. A lucky long shot of my revolver might have crippled him, but I had brought it only to defend myself if attacked and not to shoot an unarmed man who was running away.

We had a bet on while watching this how many times John would feel the need to explain that he wasn’t gay, but it was rather neat that the one person to whom he did try to identify himself as straight turns out to be half of a gay couple, the regendered Laura Lyons, who was the mysterious “LL” of the original letter to Sir Charles Baskerville in 1901 and who ran a “typewriting business” in Coombe Tracey. (Another female character eliminated.)

I assumed that Doctor Stapleton, who certainly in 2012 appears to have a callous attitude to the lives of bunny rabbits, was likely the villain in 2012 as the original Doctor Stapleton proved in 1902. But are we to assume that Doctor Stapleton was eliminated? Mrs Stapleton from 1902 became a scientist and a single mother with a daughter named Kirsty in 2012: the real villain turned out to be Doctor Franklin, name fiendishly changed from 1902’s Frankland: who is described at first as a “man of education” and then as “an unknown factor” and later, by Doctor Watson, as

an elderly man, red-faced, white-haired, and choleric. His passion is for the British law, and he has spent a large fortune in litigation. He fights for the mere pleasure of fighting and is equally ready to take up either side of a question, so that it is no wonder that he has found it a costly amusement. ….. Apart from the law he seems a kindly, good-natured person, and I only mention him because you were particular that I should send some description of the people who surround us. He is curiously employed at present, for, being an amateur astronomer, he has an excellent telescope, with which he lies upon the roof of his own house and sweeps the moor all day in the hope of catching a glimpse of the escaped convict. If he would confine his energies to this all would be well, but there are rumours that he intends to prosecute Dr. Mortimer for opening a grave without the consent of the next of kin because he dug up the Neolithic skull in the barrow on Long Down. He helps to keep our lives from being monotonous and gives a little comic relief where it is badly needed.

But as we find out later, Frankland has mistreated his daughter Laura:

“She married an artist named Lyons, who came sketching on the moor. He proved to be a blackguard and deserted her. The fault from what I hear may not have been entirely on one side. Her father refused to have anything to do with her because she had married without his consent and perhaps for one or two other reasons as well. So, between the old sinner and the young one the girl has had a pretty bad time.”

We see Frankland again only once, when Watson apostrophises him as a “spiteful old busybody” and reflects that it would be a serious thing for anyone to be in Frankland’s power. Within a few paragraphs the 1902 villain has passed out of the story, often eliminated from adaptations of the celebrated Hound – but not this time.

Curious that a villain who reveals himself to be so through his mistreatment of his daughter, should become the centre-stage villain in the modern adaptation which eliminated virtually every female character from the story – even Mrs Hudson appears for only moments, to be subjected to Sherlock’s systematically deductive abuse.

But Twitter, as ever, made up for it:

[View the story “Best Sherlock Tweets: Baskerville” on Storify]

You’re all great.

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