I have to admit I approached this series warily because I’m always disappointed with updating of period stories. I was wrong to be reticent because judging from BBC’s Sherlock reimagining of “The Hounds of Baskerville” it’s very possible to get it right.
Many are familiar with the classic Arthur Conan Doyle thriller. In this update, Holmes (an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) and his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson (an even better Martin Freeman) meet with a jittery young man, Henry Knight (Russell Tovey), who reports of a large hellish dog that killed his father some 20 years ago. After being rude and cruelly dismissive of Henry’s story, Holmes takes on the case, because he’s interested in Henry’s use of the word archaic word “hound.” So the great detective and Dr. Watson travel to Dartmoor, where a Defense of Ministry laboratory, called Baskerville is located. Henry and his dad were walking in a forest close to the lab where the attacked occurred. On the advice of his doctor, Henry walked through the hollow where his father was killed, to face his fear, only to see the dog again.
Because of the legend of the hound of Baskerville, the local town has created a bit of a cottage industry, attracting curious tourists. When Holmes and Watson arrive, they are greeted with hawkers selling souvenirs and tickets. Both detectives are sceptical but are shocked when they themselves wander into the woods for themselves.
I cannot go into the plot too much, because doing so might give up the ending. Suffice to say though, there are some shocking moments until the major revelation. The director, Paul McGuigan, does a terrific job of creating a mood of ominous foreboding. There are some chilling moments in the foggy forest, punctuating by the eerie glows of their flashlights.
The look of the show is very glossy and stylized. When Holmes and Watson text each other, the messages appear across the screen – a nice touch. Also, Holmes has a moment toward the end, where he’s trying to locate a memory in his voluminous mind, and there is an awesome sequence with images and texts as he literally sifts through his thoughts to pinpoint what he’s trying to figure out.
Some may complain that the use of a military lab may be too trendy and now – and that’s a fair concern. It has echoes of the Initiative – a secretive military project that was featured in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And despite this plot detail being a little to “ripped from the headlines” it works – thanks to screenwriter, Mark Gatiss, who keeps the plot from getting too pulpy by reigning in the conspiracy excess and highlighting the creepiness of the whole lab and its work.
He also remembers to create wonderful characters in Holmes and Watson – both actors do very well. Holmes is presented as a troubled man, possibly with some form of autism, that forbids him from relating to other people in a healthy way. He’s also got a crack mind for deduction, being able to pull out the actions of a person’s day, just by making note of mundane features like a stain on a collar or a napkin in a pocket. Watson is a warm counterpart – a bit of a schlub, really – Freeman’s perfect for this role, often stealing scenes with his expressive face and knack with one-liners.
The climax was gut-wrenching and the ending was particularly bleak. The hyper-realism that TV mysteries now employ (instead of cosy escapism) make the stakes all that much higher – viewers care more about the victims and the cases because these shows no longer simply rely on the quirks and idiosyncracies of the detectives. It’s a wise move, and I look forward to watching more Sherlock.