Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Little Bit of Apprehension

The Internet is once again abuzz, especially in Sherlockian circles, following the release of the second promo for "Sherlock" Series 3. (Click here to see it) Of course I'm excited. I have been waiting for the third series since the finale last year (it seems like it was much longer ago). Yet, I cannot help but feel somewhat apprehensive about it all.

Maybe it's just the BBC's style of advertising. It's rather hard to explain, but after I watched the newest thirty-second promo, I felt as though something was off. The ads just seem to fall a bit flat and are uninspiring. You would never know from watching these that the show is in any way connected with Arthur Conan Doyle's tremendous stories. I suddenly had a flashback to watching the teasers for Series 2 and feeling the same thing. I can only venture a guess as to why I feel this way.

To me, "Sherlock" is a show all about the story. The plot, dialogue, the little references to the canon is what makes me come back time and time again. It's the brilliant acting and direction - everything about the show just puts a smile on my face. The BBC's promotion for the show lacks all of this. Granted, we are only given thirty seconds to wet our appetites, but it simply doesn't seem to ring true to me. Somehow, I always end up a little nervous - has the show fallen flat? Will everything will be different now? My fears are dissolved upon viewing, but I cannot help but feel this way.

Whose get better advertising - "Doctor Who"
or "Sherlock?"
I am not well-versed in advertising, so I have no idea how the BBC could rectify their ad campaign for "Sherlock." I'd say that it needs to be a bit more exciting. Perhaps a teaser with a bit more bombast, something to get us fans really excited. It is perhaps a bad comparison, but watch this trailer for the "Doctor Who" 50th anniversary (click here). Something about this ad just made me so excited, in a way that none of the "Sherlock" teasers have.

It just seems unusual that's all, and I feel like I'm the only one who came away feeling more apprehensive than excited after watching. Nevertheless, "Sherlock" cannot come quickly enough though!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review - "Agatha Christie's Poirot: Dead Man's Folly"

"Agatha Christie's Poirot" continues with "Dead Man's Folly," which is one of Christie's later, though still extremely clever novels. It is rather bleak in tone which suits the series excellently. "Dead Man's Folly" is the third to last episode of the series and the last to feature mystery writer Ariadne Oliver.

Mrs. Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker) has been invited to Nasse House in Devon by its owner Sir George Stubbs (Sean Pertwee). Sir George and his wife Hattie bought the house from the Folliat family and there is some tension and animosity between the two families. A village fete is being held on the grounds of the mansion and Mrs. Oliver is in attendance to stage a 'murder hunt.' As she explains it, it's rather like a treasure hunt only a murder must be solved. Only, it's not a real murder - that is until the victim turns up quite dead. Mrs. Oliver only has one person she can turn to - Hercule Poirot (David Suchet).

I will be honest and say that I had never read Agatha Christie's "Dead Man's Folly." I was however familiar with the story having seen the 1980's television adaptation featuring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Unsurprisingly, this version of Christie's story was more entertaining and as I gather much closer to the plot of the book. It is certainly one of Christie's most interesting plots, at times bordering on the fantastical, but staying within the realms of the believable. The denouement, which I will not spoil here, is not Christie's best, but to someone who did not know the plot of the book, I can see how one might be surprised.

As expected, David Suchet turns in a fine performance as the little Belgian sleuth. There is not much to say about his performance aside from the fact that he does a good job. Zoe Wanamaker is excellent as ever as Mrs. Oliver, this episode being her last for"Poirot." Zoe Wanamaker's Ariadne Oliver was one of the most enjoyable things about these last episodes of "Poirot." She captured the character's eccentricities brilliantly, easily making her my favourite addition to the show's cast. Sean Pertwee also turns in an fine performance as Sir George Stubbs. To those interested in just how small the world is - Sean Pertwee is the son of Jon Pertwee who has gained notoriety today as playing the Third Doctor on "Doctor Who."

In terms of production, "Dead Man's Folly" is one of the best-looking episodes of the series. Interestingly enough, the episode was filmed at the Greenway Estate, which was Agatha Christie's home and probably served as the inspiration for many of her stories. In the excellent book, "The Secret Notebooks of Agatha Christie," author/editor John Curran reveals a sketch of the estate done by the authoress which later ended up inspiring the setting for another Poirot novel, "Five Little Pigs."

Overall, "Dead Man's Folly" was another stellar episode, surely making the 13th and final series of "Agatha Christie's Poirot" among the show's finest. I give the episode 4 out of 5 stars. The question is - would its final two episodes retain this level of quality? We'll find out...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor"

Warning: This review will contain spoilers. Viewing "The Day of the Doctor" before going any further is highly recommended

50 years have culminated in a truly monumental television event. Doctor Who has changed dramatically since its debut in 1963, yet "The Day of the Doctor" the 50th anniversary celebratory episode of the show managed to honour the show wonderfully. But, was the episode worth the wait for Whovians across the world?

U.N.I.T (United Nation's Intelligence Taskforce) is in need of the Doctor (Matt Smith). When he and Clara (Jenna Coleman) arrive at the National Gallery, they discover what's afoot. Something - or someone - has escaped the paintings. Soon the Doctor discovers that there's a link to the Time War, the greatest conflict in the universe's history in which the Time Lords and the Daleks were annihilated.

The Doctor has been running all his life from his actions during the war - it was he who wiped out his entire race. The Eleventh Doctor will have to team up with his Ninth (John Hurt) and Tenth (David Tennant) incarnations to save the universe from an almost indescribable threat.

For months, writer and showrunner Steven Moffat has boasted that "The Day of the Doctor" will change the show forever. Despite the fact that his boasts sounded profound, they were not unfounded. "The Day of the Doctor" has changed the show - by adding an entirely new Doctor! In any other case, I don't know how I'd feel about such a dramatic change, but Moffat has managed to pull this off really well. Whether the inclusion of the so-called War Doctor (as played by John Hurt) will change the Doctor's numbering system hasn't really been determined yet. John Hurt was probably the most unique aspect of the episode, and he did a truly fantastic job holding his own with Matt Smith and David Tennant in all their scenes together.

The Three Doctors
"The Day of the Doctor" also did a nice job of paying homage to the show's previous fifty years. The episode opened with the original title sequence as well as a duplicated opening shot of a constable walking down Totter's Lane and the Coal Hill School. Elsewhere, there were homages to Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethebridge-Stewart, the former head of U.N.I.T, and Susan, the Doctor's grand-daughter. The surprise inclusion was Tom Baker as the museum curator, who may or not have been the Doctor. Despite the fact that Baker said he was involved in the special, I remained rather skeptical, so seeing him involved was nice. The biggest surprise was a brief (and I mean brief) cameo from Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor. Despite the fact that I will miss Matt Smith immensely, seeing Capaldi on screen, albeit only for a short time, made me very excited.

Alas, "The Day of the Doctor" was not perfect. The Zygons, an alien race who had only appeared once before in the show's history, turned up to act as the episode's villains, but they were very underused. Their subplot went almost nowhere, and was never resolved. This was very disappointing, yet the Zygons themselves looked awesome, and I hope they return sooner rather than later in future series. Joanna Page, who had a fairly substantial role as Queen Elizabeth I, was also pretty underwhelming. She didn't really elevate the part any, and came across as a carbon-copy of the comedic queen in the stellar "Blackadder II."

But, a few rotten apples did not spoil the whole bunch. Matt Smith and David Tennant were both excellent (as always) and their chemistry with John Hurt with tremendous. The episode looked amazing, and I can only imagine how it would have looked in 3D on the big screen. I'm sure it would have been quite a sight. "The Day of the Doctor" did exactly what it was supposed to do - honour 50 years of brilliant television and provide an excellent story. I feel as though the episode's final shot - all eleven doctors standing, staring at their home planet Gallifrey will become one of the show's most iconic images. In all, "The Day of the Doctor" gets a 4 out of 5 from me.


On a related note, I want to include a short review of "An Adventure of Space and Time," the docudrama documenting the creation of Doctor Who in 1963. The film starred David Bradley as William Hartnell, the actor who played the First Doctor, and he was simply breath-taking. The movie chronicled Hartnell's transformation from a grumpy old man into a universally-loved figure on the show. Brian Cox and Jessica Raine were equally brilliant as Sydney Newman, the creator of the show, and Verity Lambert, the original producer respectively. 

Not only was the docudrama very entertaining and informative (the TARDIS' noise was achieved by running a key across a piece of wire), but it was incredibly moving. The film ended on the day of filming Hartnell's regeneration into Patrick Troughton, and Hartnell's obvious sadness at leaving the show was very moving. In the show's most brilliant moment, Hartnell glances across the TARDIS' console and sees Matt Smith standing on the other side - a symbolic act of connecting all fifty years of the show. Even if this is end for the First Doctor, the show will go on. "An Adventure in Space and Time" was quite brilliant and I award it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Overall, both Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebration stories were "fantastic!"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why "Murder By Decree" (1979) Is Perfect

There was something about the 1970's for fans of Sherlock Holmes. Not only was Nicholas Meyer's pastiche, "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" initially published, but that decade saw the release of Billy Wilder's "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," an adaptation of Meyer's novel, and "Murder by Decree," one of the finest Sherlock Holmes movies ever made. Today, I submit to you an analysis of this fine film, submitting it as a Portrait of Perfection.

"Murder by Decree" wasn't the first Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper films to ever hit cinema screens. Thirteen years earlier in 1965, John Neville starred as the great detective in "A Study in Terror." Today, the film is regarded as being something of a campy curiosity. Released during the very successful run of "Batman" on American television, posters for "A Study in Terror" promoted the film as featuring "the original caped crusader." Things certainly changed by the time that "Murder by Decree" rolled around. It features a far darker plot, draws off of real events and characters and features one of the finest portrayals, yet one of the most controversial,portrayals of Sherlock Holmes.

Much like "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" there is something very different about this version of Sherlock Holmes. Christopher Plummer's Holmes is a kindhearted, very sincere man, at odds with the cold, calculating genius portrayed in Arthur Conan Doyle's originals. That doesn't mean that this Holmes is any less brilliant than his literary counterpart. Holmes still manages to unravel a tangled skein of events surrounding the Ripper murders, but he feels far more empathy towards all those involved. Whereas Holmes said in "The Sign of Four": "A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem," this Holmes is more trusting and sincere.

Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes
and Watson in "Murder by Decree"
The choice to play the character this way was Christopher Plummer's, and he does a fantastic job as the detective. Plummer truly elevates the detective from the screen and makes him seem like a well-rounded individual. This Sherlock Holmes is obviously a man who enjoys his work, but even he is not unaffected by the brutalities of the Ripper killings, and come the movie's end, one wonders how normalcy will return to Baker Street for Holmes and Watson. Speaking of Watson, James Mason gives a stellar performance as the good doctor, and truly one of the finest ever committed to screen. This Watson is a competent medical man, witty and good under pressure. In short, Mason is one of the closest representations of Arthur Conan Doyle's original doctor. The rest of the cast is equally brilliant. "Murder by Decree" has perhaps the finest cast of any Sherlock Holmes films including: Susan Clark, Frank Finlay, Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold and John Gielgud.

"Murder by Decree" is also notable for the fact that it portrays the Jack the Ripper realistically and with real characters. The harsh living conditions which were the norm in London's impoverished Whitechapel district are brilliantly recreated here. Add to that enough fog to swallow up two pictures, and "Murder by Decree" is positively dripping with atmosphere. The film's plot, centred around the so-called 'Royal Conspiracy' makes for engaging viewing, even if the theory has been more or less discounted by most Ripper historians.

Speaking more personally, "Murder by Decree" is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes films. It is by far one of the most brilliant Sherlock Holmes films I have ever seen, and perhaps one of my favourite movies in general. It is in my opinion essential viewing for any Sherlockian.

So what about you? Have you seen "Murder by Decree?" Is your opinion of this movie as high as my own? Or does the dark subject matter and atypical portrayal of Sherlock Holmes turn you off? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review - "Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Big Four"

"Agatha Christie's Poirot" continues after a fine adaptation of "Elephants Can Remember," which was broadcast in June, with "The Big Four." "The Big Four" is without doubt the most unusual of all Agatha Christie's novels. It reads like a Penny-Dreadful thriller and features none of the tight plotting which have made Christie's novels so beloved by mystery fans. To say that "The Big Four" is a curiosity is an understatement - and it seemed almost impossible to adapt to the screen. So, how was it done?

The answer: change plot details! Usually when an episode of "Poirot" dramatically changes the plot of a Christie novel, it doesn't go over so well with me. But this time things were different. The story is now set in the days before World War II. Poirot (David Suchet) is in attendance at a peace party gala at which a Russian chess master will display his talents in a symbolic act of uniting the two halves of Europe. But, four moves into his match, he slumps over dead - apparently caused by a heart attack. Hercule Poirot isn't so sure and as more unfortunate events begin to surround the peace party, rumours spread that an international group of villains calling themselves The Big Four are involved.

Despite the fact that much of the plot was changed, I am actually quite fond of this adaptation of "The Big Four." Even though its heresy to even think such a thing, I feel like this episode actually improved upon its source material. Christie's book reads like a wanna-be Edgar Wallace or L. Ron Hubbard, and what adapters Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallbard managed to do was to make the story feel like Christie. There's suspects, clues and a last-minute reveal with a typical explanation. What's more, many of Christie's original plot points are retained, so one cannot say that "The Big Four" doesn't have a passing resemblance to the novel.

Poirot (David Suchet) is reunited with Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran)
Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) and Captain Hasting (Hugh Fraser)
What excited me most about this episode is that it would see the return of Poirot's friend and colleague Captain Arthur Hastings as well as his secretary Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp. These characters had not been featured in an episode of "Poirot" for nearly ten years, and they were sorely missed. Philip Jackson, who plays Japp, had the most to offer in this little reunion as the inspector acts as Poirot's assistant throughout the episode. My biggest quibble is that Miss Lemon and Hastings have little to do in the episode. I am probably the minority, but I always liked Captain Hastings so his minimal involvement was rather disappointing. 

Overall, "The Big Four" was a very pleasant surprise. It surpassed my expectations dramatically and proved to be very entertaining. I only wish that the featured characters from yesteryear had had more involvement in the story. But, I give "Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Big Four" 4 out of 5 stars. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The World Through a Sherlockian's Eyes - A One Year Celebration

And so I have reached another milestone - I have been blogging for one year. In those 365 days I have shared with you the best, the worst, the most surprising and the most anticipated things concerning the world's greatest detective. I'd just like to take a moment and say that it has been so much fun. For years I have needed an outlet to share my thoughts, opinions and other obsessive rants and through this site, I have managed to do that. The best part is - people actually seem to like it! There were few things more exciting for me than finding links to my blog on such wonderful websites as At the Scene of the Crime, The Sherlock Holmes Society of St. Charles and Always 1895. Today, I'd like to celebrate my one year anniversary with a personal post about what I think it truly means to be a Sherlockian.

There are plenty of other detectives out there - Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Lord Peter Wimsey etc. The list goes on and on. None of them shall ever eclipse Sherlock Holmes for me. I was introduced to the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child and my profound interest in the character has grown exponentially. Why do I love this particular fictional character so much? Maybe it's a simple matter of having been exposed to the stories for so long. Maybe it's the fact that at heart, I've always wanted the abilities which Holmes possesses. Honestly, who hasn't at least once wanted the ability to assess a person's character and behaviour simply by looking at them? Or let's take that one step further - who hasn't ever wanted to attempt to read someone's mind? Holmes manages to do so easily in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box."

There has been no better time to be a fan of Sherlock Holmes than now. The media is simply flooded with points of Sherlockian interest: "Sherlock" is preparing for its third season, rumours spread concerning a third Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes movie, pastiches are being written and published at an alarming rate. It's almost too much to comprehend.

I will say without much hesitation that most people today know of Sherlock Holmes through the Guy Rictchie films or "Sherlock." The latter has developed a fan base at an alarming rate, and though its cult following is perhaps not as large as "Doctor Who," it still has it devoted followers. Sadly, I feel that many people who watch "Sherlock" have never been exposed to Arthur Conan Doyle's originals, so many of the show's most clever moments are missed entirely. Even if "Sherlock" introduces its viewers to the original short stories and novels, I cannot help but think that some may feel a twinge of disappointment as "Sherlock" and the Sherlock Holmes canon are two very different entities. Now, don't get me wrong - I love "Sherlock" and feel that it is a fantastic show and surely the greatest Sherlock Holmes offering since Jeremy Brett's heyday. But, as I have written elsewhere - the term 'Sherlockian' applies today more to the BBC show than the character.

I do not for one moment regret my slight obsession with all things Sherlock Holmes. Everyone needs an interest in something and mine just happens to be the world most famous detective and very possibly the world's most famous literary figure hands down. It's nigh impossible for someone not to have heard of the name Sherlock Holmes and even if they have not, they are surely acquainted with the infamous pipe and hat. Undeniably, Holmes has changed the world and I think for the best.

In terms of the mystery genre itself, imagine if Holmes never existed. I don't know if the genre would have come so far. Would it have fizzled out with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue?" I don't know if I'd say that, but the countless numbers of characters who emerged in the great detective's wake may never have existed. Thanks to the excellent 1970's series, "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes," I was introduced to some of the more obscure Victorian detectives - Dr. Thorndyke, Professor Van Dusen, Carnacki, etc. Though each of these characters are well-rounded in their own right, they all owe something to Arthur Conan Doyle's famous creation. Therefore, I make the argument that these characters may never have existed. Going forward, would Agatha Christie have gained notoriety for creating Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, two characters who both have their links to Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle revolutionized the mystery genre. Next time you walk into the mystery section of your local bookshop thank two people - Edgar Allan Poe for creating the genre and Doyle for turning it into what we know today.  With the creation of Sherlock Holmes, the literary world, the movie industry et al were changed forever. There are few things which have not been impacted by the world's foremost expert in criminal detection. And that's how a Sherlockian sees the world.


I would just like to take a moment and thank my fellow bloggers. So many of you who have visited this site and left comments I am indebted to as you truly inspired me to start this blog. Your websites are all bookmarked on my computer and they make for very entertaining reading. I don't think I'd be where am I today without your sites. So I thank you.

And to all my readers, I thank you too! Here's to 2014!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel"

"Touched by an Angel" is quite brilliant. That is the only way I could possibly consider starting this review. It is only the second Doctor Who novel which I have finished (despite the fact that I own quite a few), but it was a fantastic book. It's full of wonderful, real characters, a fine plot and is actually quite thought-provoking. This review will also focus on the fine audiobook version which I bought on which was performed by Clare Corbett. So, let's take a closer look.

Mark Whitaker is an ordinary man. He is employed at a London law firm, and goes through day-to-day life without incident. That all changes when he receives an envelope in the mail - enclosed are wads of bank notes and a letter, written in his own handwriting. The letter includes a list of instructions which if followed will allow Mark to save his wife - who died in a car accident nine years earlier. Soon, Weeping Angels are on his trail and there is only one man who can save him - the Doctor.

What works best about "Touched by an Angel" is its characters. Mark is the central character of the novel and he is a very identifiable, very real man. As we're introduced to him, you cannot help but feel so bad for Mark and his lose. Given the opportunity to save his late wife, one wonders if they would jump at any similar opportunity (though this is a sci-fi novel). While we're on the subject of characters, the representation of the Doctor, as played by Matt Smith, is excellent. The same must be said for Amy Pond and her husband Rory, the Doctor's companions. Author Jonathon Morris has captured the actor's voices brilliantly, and he manages to weave these characterisations with his original ones.

The plot of "Touched by an Angel" is also interesting. In terms of Doctor Who, it is unusual as the Doctor travels back in time and follows Mark Whitaker throughout different stages of his life. While this may not sound incredibly exciting, it is very interesting. The plot further adds depth to the characters. This low-key, character-driven story is indeed at odds with the typical Doctor Who story, and I think that it would be difficult to adapt to the screen. That's not to say that it wasn't an entertaining book - just a different one.

Sadly, the book wasn't perfect. Scenes set in the 1990's include just about every possible '90's reference or cliche. And whenever the plot picked up some steam (towards the end), it felt at odds with the rest of the story. I also cannot help but feel that Jonathon Morris likes the Weeping Angels too much as they crop up everywhere in the story. As opposed to their appearances on TV, the Angels are not used sparingly here, and this does diminish their creepiness.

As I wrote at the top of this review, I listened to this book via the audio version available on The novel was read by Clare Corbett who did an excellent job, giving each other their own distinctive voice. She also managed to do an excellent impression of Matt Smith's enthusiastic Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan's Amy Pond. My only complaint would be that her voices for other male characters did fall a little flat as it sounded like she was out of breathe speaking their parts. Nevertheless, Corbett did a fine job and I wouldn't say no to listening to another Doctor Who she reads.

"Touched by an Angel" was an excellent Doctor Who story. It features some fine characters and plot elements and the story cannot help but make you feel a number of emotions. It was a grand book and I hope to finding more Doctor Who-related items penned by Jonathon Morris. "Touched by an Angel" receives 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Great Hiatus

Hello all! I like to begin by saying that the month of October was an incredibly busy one for me, so my output on this blog was minimal. Then, as soon as my schedule cleared up, I was all set to return to The Consulting Detective, when I encountered some problems with Blogger. It appears as though the problem has not yet been remedied - specifically it involves being unable to format my text around pictures. If any of my fellow bloggers are experiencing difficulties, fell free to leave a comment below.

So, what can you expect from me coming soon? Well, in five days (10 November), it will be this blog's one year anniversary and I am working on my celebratory post. In addition, I have a review on the way for the Doctor Who novel, "Touched by an Angel" by Jonathon Morris. The review will focus on the book as well as the audiobook version read by Clare Corbett. Reviews are also on the way for the two most recent episodes of "Agatha Christie's Poirot": "The Big Four" and "Dead Man's Folly."

On the Sherlockian front, there is going to be another addition to the Portrait of Perfection category - the 1979 film, "Murder by Decree" starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes. I will also be looking at the novel, "The Valley of Fear" and why it is underrated by the Sherlock Holmes community. 

Thank you to all those who read this blog. I promise you some more material on the way.