Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville (BBC-TV, 2011)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last Sunday I watched the Sherlock episode on PBS, a rerun from the second season of Mark Gatiss’s rather quirky show (he created it as well as playing Mycroft Holmes on-screen) called The Hounds of Baskerville, which like the other shows in the Sherlock series grabs a story from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon but twists and turns it into unrecognizable shapes and forms. In this version, “Baskerville” is the name, not of a family and its ancestral mansion in Dartmoor, but a British military research laboratory working on genetically engineering animals to serve as military weapons. The script by Gatiss and Steven Moffatt centers around Henry Knight (Russell Tovey), a 20-something man who’s never recovered from the shock of seeing his father suffer a sudden heart attack, collapse and die on the moor, and incorporates the classic exchange from the Conan Doyle original in which the young man says he saw footprints near the body and, when asked if they were a man’s or a woman’s, says, “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” Holmes is struck, less by the tale itself than by the young man’s use of the word “hound” rather than “dog” to describe a canine creature — he regards the word “hound” as an archaic term no one in early 21st century England would use (of course this is a modern-dress version of the Holmes saga). Holmes and Watson travel to Dartmoor together to investigate (in the original book they went there separately) and the script incorporates quite a few elements from the original, including the lights on the moor — in this version they seem to be signaling in Morse code, but the code when deciphered is simply a set of initials — and there are some odd bits reflecting the 21st century’s mores (as opposed to the late-Victorian era when Conan Doyle wrote the original stories) in which Watson’s attempts to cruise girls in Dartmoor keep getting undone by the widely held belief that he and Holmes are a Gay couple.

The story incorporates some of the character names from the original, though both Stapleton and Mortimer are sex-changed — Mortimer (Sasha Behar) is Henry Knight’s therapist and Stapleton (Amelia Bullmore) is a researcher at the Baskerville lab — and Dr. Frankland (Clive Mantle), a minor character in the book, is the director of the lab (and also a rather queeny Gay man who openly cruises Watson). Even more so than the other Sherlock episodes I’ve seen, this one is long on atmosphere but short on plot coherence, and in an O.K. final twist it turns out that the “hound” is simply an illusion and what the lab has actually developed (or, more accurately, refined from a product previously produced by the U.S. military in Liberty, Indiana) is a drug that when surreptitiously slipped to its victim makes the person think they’re being chased by a gigantic hound from hell. (Holmes deduces that the drug exists, and it’s being administered via sugar, when he realizes that the only people who’ve seen the hound are those who’ve taken sugar-sweetened coffee in the local diner; Watson, who drinks his coffee without sugar, was therefore not exposed.) I’m not sure why this show has the reputation it does — to me the CBS-TV series Elementary seems a much better translation of the Holmes mythos to the modern day, at least in part because it’s not trying to insert all these cutesy-poo twists on the canon — the episodes I’ve seen are clever but all have suffered from their writers thinking themselves far more clever than they really are, and the show also suffers from Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, since he emphasizes the neurotic, driven aspects of the character and not the supremely logical ones.