Monday, February 11, 2013

Review - "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Volumes 1 & 2"

I will have to perfectly honest with you all. When I gave such high praise to the BBC Audio's recordings of the Sherlock Holmes audio adventures, I really was coming only from a stand point of knowing about the adaptations of the canon. I had listened to the "Further Adventures" stories, but only extracts here and there, and I couldn't locate any of those stories on CD. Luckily, I found them on Audible.com and I was finally able to listen to these adventures for a low price (the preceding was in no way a paid advertisement from Audible.com and I am in no way connected to the website or its affiliates in any business capacity).

So, with my new acquisitions I set out to listen to more of these audio adventures starring Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes and Andrew Sachs (taking over the role of Watson from the late Michael Williams). Did they live up my high expectations? The BBC had raised the bar high in regard to Sherlockian audio, so I decided to plunge headlong in and find out.

Tackling "Volume 1" first, I must say that Bert Coules, the author of these stories, has kept the Doylean spirt alive. While "Volume 1" does seem rather tame in comparison to the volume which followed it, I am sure that this collection was testing the waters and seeing what sort of reaction could he garnered from the recordings. Needless to say, Clive Merrison is still in excellent form as Holmes, easily making him the best actor to have lent his voice to the character (one of these days I really ought to get around to matching Merrison, Rathbone, Briggs and Simon Callow together in a head-to-head-to-head-to-head Sherlockian radio battle royale). Also, Andrew Sachs has comfortably integrated himself into the 221b Baker Street family as Watson. His characterization is a warm, humane one and he seems at ease in the role.

While the cast is brilliant, what of the stories themselves? Any pastiche writer has some trouble on their hands when adapting one of the lost adventures. They must not only feel Doylean, but have to integrate seamlessly into the canon. The series' premiere episode, "The Madness of Colonel Warburton" is regrettably rather dull. The titular madness is merely the colonel's interest in spiritualism and the occult (probably in part inspired by Doyle's own curiosity with spiritualism). However, it seems as though Coules was just trying to shoe-horn the topic into one of his scripts as it doesn't really make a great deal of sense. Luckily, more can be gained from the series' second episode, "The Star of the Adelphi." Interestingly, the case which Holmes investigates in this episode is actually based on a real-life murder case which rocked the Adelphi Theater in December of 1897. Lastly, "The Savior of Cripplegate Square" is an interesting flashback story told from Holmes' point-of-view concerning his very first case. This audio recording also benefits from a wonderful guest turn from Tom Baker.

Moving onto "Volume 2," I must say that this set cleared up any of the problems that I had with the first series. By now everyone seems far more comfortable in their roles, and we can really get back to the style of show which made the BBC's adaptations of the canon so enjoyable. First up in "Volume 2" is "The Abergavenny Murder," which is by far worth the price of the collection alone. Bert Coules creates a real tour-de-force in this episode, which relies on the performances of Clive Merrison and Andrew Sachs alone. When an unidentified man drops dead in Baker Street, it is up to Holmes and Watson to figure out who he is and what circumstances surround his mysterious death.

The two next two stories in the collection are are par on with the show's level of excitement throughout. "The Shameful Betrayal of Miss Emily Smith" is a wonderfully plotted impossible mystery and even has Mark Gatiss guest starring. This collection's last two stories, "The Tragedy of Hanbury Street" and "The Determined Client" are both rather dark and morbid stories, and although the story telling is wonderful, they are rather depressing to listen to. But, the quality of the show's is still grand and highly recommended.

To the Doyle enthusiast, the canonical adaptions is the best place to start with this series. All of the 56 short stories and 4 novels are preserved on CD (the box set collection is one of my proudest possessions). After that, I would highly recommend this series. At the time of this review, I am still working my way through some of the "Further Adventures'" stories, but a review of Volumes 3 and 4 should be due in the coming weeks. "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Volumes 1 & 2" deserve a well awarded 4 out of 5 stars.

...And to anyone interested, that battle of the radio Holmes' that I spoke of above will be forthcoming...

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