Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review - "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes"

If you have not guessed yet, I like audio recordings. That's why I have been reviewing so many of them lately (thanks to the wonder of iTunes and Audible.com). Anyway, the latest audio recording that I have stumbled across is not exactly the best example of Sherlockian audio recordings. "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" written by John Taylor does have some high points, but the mediocre outweighs the good in this collection.

The biggest problem with this collection is the scripts. John Taylor's six stories are rather weak, and do not exactly feel like Doyle's writing. Granted, Taylor does have a few good plot devices thrown in here and there. In synopsis form, each of the six stories presents us with a thrilling, blood-and-thunder story. Just to show you what I mean, I will give you a brief, one-sentence synopsis of each story.

"The Wandering Corpse" - A professor who claims to have discovered how to resurrect the dead has died, but his body has disappeared from his coffin.

"The Horror in Hanging Wood" - A man's mutilated corpse is discovered in a supposedly haunted woodland.

"The Paddington Witch" - It seems every possible that a friend of Mrs. Hudson's practices the occult when one of her enemies dies, burned to a crisp.

"The Phantom Organ" - An church organ with no player foretells the death of a noble family.

"The Devil's Tunnel" - A woman disappears as a train enters a tunnel, only seconds after speaking to Dr. Watson who is seated directly beside her.

"The Battersea Worm" - A man is found dead in his room, but the only entrance to that room is by a heavily guarded elevator.

The six stories which make up "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" sound fantastic. However, when Taylor must extrapolate upon those basic outlines, the stories fall apart. The other problem is that each story is only half-hour in length, which hardly gives us enough time for any proper character development or real detective work to be done on Holmes' part. The latter two stories don't feature the detective right away, and so his appearances in the two stories is decidedly minimal.

John Taylor's book on which the
six audio dramas were based
Well, onto some positives. Despite the fact that the stories aren't exactly fantastic, two do stand out in mind as being worth listening to. "The Horror in Hanging Wood" and "The Devil's Tunnel" are easily the two best stories. The ideas surrounding both are good, and the way in which the two are executed make the stories feel more fleshed out and they do not betray the fact that they are only 30-minutes in length. Furthermore the performances done by the main actors are probably their best in these two stories. And while we're talking about performances, this is the best time to discuss Simon Callow as Holmes and Nicky Henson as Watson.

Callow is a wonderful Holmes - and he is easily the best thing about these productions. His performance is fantastic and one can easily imagine him as Doyle's Holmes. It's upsetting that he is so underused in these six stories since his performance is so good. The same honestly cannot be said for Nicky Henson. Although his performance presents us with a level-headed, humane doctor, I just couldn't take him all that seriously. He never bumbles or blusters, but he might as well. This is Nigel Bruce's Watson personified - albeit perhaps a bit more serious. Also, Henson cannot raise the level of some of the writing above what it is. The writing is such that it sounds as though this a throwback to the radio productions of the 1940's (you know, "Look Holmes, I'm stating the obvious for the benefit of our listeners since they can't see us").

For A Sherlockian completest, "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" may be an interesting treat. Otherwise, it can honestly be skipped over and not much is missed. Simon Callow does turn in a solid performance as Sherlock Holmes, and one wishes that he could have gotten the opportunity to do more. My final verdict is that "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" gets a lowly 2.5 out of 5.

Take the Poll: By the way, answer the poll which I have posted on the blog. Due to my interest in Sherlockian audio, who do you think delivered the best performance as Holmes on audio? Was it Basil Rathbone who is forever famous for the role on screen and radio? Clive Merrison who starred in the adaptations of the canon done of BBC4? Simon Callow, who despite the lowly ranking of "The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" delivered a grand performance? Or perhaps Nicholas Briggs, who stars as the detective in the excellent recordings from Big Finish Productions. Or is it somehow else? Take the poll, and if your favourite ins't on there, leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, I don't know if I can give a fair answer to this poll question. The only one I've listened to extensively is Rathbone, and I don't think I've listened to any of Briggs' stuff! Based on my limited experience I'd have to go for Rathbone here, but that's probably unfair to the rest!

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