Saturday, 31 July 2010

I’m thinking of a TV show. Can you guess what it is?

The protagonist is a slim man with superhuman intellect. He travels, accompanied by an assistant who tempers his cold logic with empathic insight. He solves mysteries, wears a trench coat.

On first examination of the facts, Sherlock, the latest iteration of the story of Watson and Holmes, shares much common ground with the BBC’s favourite Time Lord. Further parallels may be drawn; the series is written by Steven Moffat and features Mark Gatiss. It delivers well-scripted, well-cast entertainment to a discerning audience. Recently, the franchise’s image had been updated.

You might have suspected that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super-sleuth was harboured with a faulty Chameleon Circuit. Since Holmes’ iconic deerstalker cap first appeared in Sidney Paget’s illustrations in 1891, it has remained firmly affixed to his head. Like the British Government’s debt of £900 billion and that tiny smudge in the corner of your glasses, some things are hard to shift.

But the Doctor is free to traverse time periods; why should Holmes be tethered to the gas-lit turmoil of Victorian London? In an article for the Radio Times, Moffat wrote that “Doyle was writing fast-paced, contemporary detective thrillers – he wasn’t wasting time on what you could see from your own window. It was about story, surprise and jokes and of course those mind-bending deductions. He wasn’t – to state the obvious – writing a period piece.”

Moffat and Gatiss aren’t heretics – they’re renovators. While the Victorian aesthetic is ephemeral, the story’s appeal is perennial. The character of The Doctor had been been reinvented and re-dressed eleven times! Few would argue that his transformation from William Hartnell to Matt Smith has defiled the concept. Sherlock may not be a son of Gallifrey, but he was due a regeneration.

Whereas The Doctor relies on questionable quasi-science to resolve plots, Sherlock awes the viewer with a dazzling display of analytical acumen. His seemingly infinite capacity for knowledge and detail leaves the viewer stunned, the ratings high and the case solved.

Under the watchful eye of Moffat, Holmes has achieved a stunning resurgence. (Without the use of a sonic screwdriver.)