Monday, October 25, 2010

Sherlock Holmes on History Channel

I was thrilled to see 'The Return of Sherlock Holmes' on the History Channel yesterday.  The programme comes on at 11 pm Friday-Sunday.  The timings are a bit stiff for me, the early to bed one.  I caught one episode in re-run on Sunday, and tried my best to watch the 11 pm one too.

'The Musgrave Ritual' was the one I watched in morning re-run slot.  I saw the episode and picked up my Sherlock Holmes bible and read the story through to compare them.  Most of the dialogues that the characters speak are taken from the book.  There is a bit of a shifting in who speaks it, that's all.  To begin with citing the differences between the tele-play and the story, the story is listed in the collection 'The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes' and not 'The return of Sherlock Holmes'.  This story is supposed to have been an early case of Sherlock's when he was not yet established as a famous detective, so Dr.Watson was not on the scene. Most of the story is told to Sherlock by Musgrave and just the last bit is when he visits Musgrave's home to figure out the end.

The tele-play takes a linear approach to story telling, making things happen before Holmes' and Dr. Watsons' eyes.  In the tele-play, Holmes is suffering from a cold and the good doctor has advised a bit of country air as a cure, so they visit Lord Musgrave who is a college friend of Holmes.  Lord Musgrave has a curious butler who is very educated, speaks several languages, can play several musical instruments, yet seems content in his lowly position.  Lord Musgrave chances upon him going through his papers one night and fires him.  The next day the butler disappears and his ex-girlfriend, a housemaid, turns hysterical.  A day later, she disappears too.  Upon inquiry, Holmes learns that the butler was looking through a paper which contained the Musgrave ritual, a set of questions the answers to which had to be learned by all young men of the family when they came of age.  The questions seem disjointed and mysterious to all but, of course, Sherlock Holmes.  He knows that he must decode the Musgrave Ritual to decode the disappearance of the butler and the housemaid.

The changes in the story telling format definitely adds to the effect.  It makes the play seem more fast paced and current. Holmes is balanced perfectly with Dr. Watson, and his presence in an episode is always a welcome addition.

The other thing I have noticed in tele-plays often, is that they like closure.  In the story, an absconding character is let alone, which adds to the mystery really, but in the tele-play they are shown getting their just desserts.  It is not true of just this, but several episodes that I have watched and compared with the story.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the stories that Arthur C Doyle wrote are absolute genius.  He makes Holmes so edgy, as if he is on the brink of madness.  The way he describes some of the criminals makes you wonder if he really was on their side.  It is this ambivalent morality that the BBC series were unable to capture.  In all other respects, the series win absolutely.  They are the best adaptation that could have been made.