Monday, January 2, 2017

Sherlock: “The Six Thatchers” (BBC-TV, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After that KPBS showed the latest episode of Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers,” whose title indicates that it was suggested by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” but which was really a wretched exercise in overwrought melodrama whose writers, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt, made the hideous mistake of plunging their modernized Sherlock Holmes into a web of international intrigue that basically turned Holmes into a Jason Bourne-like character considerably less interesting than Conan Doyle’s original. I recently pointed out that Benedict Cumberbatch, who became an international star from his performance as Holmes in this BBC-TV miniseries and has gone on to major movies like Star Trek: Into Darkness, has been following in the footsteps of Basil Rathbone, playing both Sherlock Holmes and Richard III as well as doing villainous roles opposite iconic characters. Alas, Cumberbatch doesn’t have Rathbone’s incredible balance of surface reserve and seething emotion underneath — not that Gatiss and Moffatt help him much. It begins with Holmes’ legendary nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, (presumably) dead but Holmes obsessed with the idea that Moriarty set in mind some horrible criminal scheme his surviving associates will implement, so he goes back over all his old cases looking for clues as to what Moriarty’s scheme might be.

Instead he stumbles upon a super-secret British espionage program in which Her Majesty’s Secret Service, like the CIA in the Bourne novels, has assembled a team of hired assassins to go around the world and kill anyone their employers want to get rid of without any bothersome nonsense about due process or trials. We’re also expected to believe that Mary (Amanda Abbington), wife of Dr. Watson and mother of his newborn daughter, was one of the four assassins in this program and that, when their cover was blown while they were in Tiblisi, one of them hid a flash drive inside one of a number of plaster busts of Margaret Thatcher being made there. (The idea that there are so many upper-class Brits today who so venerate the Iron Lady that they have shrines to her in their homes is a bit hard to take — but then, given that the issue that finally toppled Thatcher from her prime ministership after a record 11 years in the position was her opposition to the European Union, in a way the “Brexit” vote was Thatcher’s political revenge from beyond the grave.) Sherlock started out as an interesting program that offered some clever “spins” on the Holmes canon, and in which each episode was blessedly complete in itself and also benefited from the excellent chemistry between Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson — but now it’s yet another program that has been sacrificed on the altar of the Great God Serial and it’s particularly infuriating that the last episode, to which this was a sequel, aired exactly one year earlier. Even with the “Previously, on … ” recap (though as I’ve mentioned in these pages before I get a cold chill every time I hear a TV show begin with the words, “Previously, on … ”), lots of luck remembering all the important details from the previous show that are crucial to understanding, or even making sense of, the new one! Coincidentally, the updated 1942-1946 Sherlock Holmes film series from Universal featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce also did a rehash of “The Six Napoleons,” The Pearl of Death, and while it added extra characters and intrigues (Universal was using it to launch a new horror character, “The Hoxton Creeper,” played by real-life acromegaly victim Rondo Hatton), it was closer to the spirit of the original story than “The Six Thatchers” and also had a plot that actually made sense.