Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Top 10 Greatest Television Sherlock Holmes (Of All Time) Part II

Well, let's not waste anymore time. I'd like to think for the past week you've all been mulling over what my top five picks would be. If that's not the case, so be it. But, anyway, let us continue.

#5 - The Crucifer of Blood (1991) - This at times flawed, but harmless Sherlockian effort was born from the mind of Paul Giovanni's successful play of the same name. I admit to having a soft spot for this adaptation, as I find it an enjoyable film, though not perfect. The main reason to watch is the plot, which is a streamlined version of The Sign of Four. The new plot heightens suspense and manages to condense a lot of the novel's exposition. What's more, the climax plunges into the realm of film-noir, something lacking in most Sherlock Holmes films.

Charlton Heston, whose filmography is as long as one's arm, if not longer, takes a reasonable stab at the role of Sherlock Holmes, and pulls off the role well. What's more, Heston seems to be having a grand old time playing the great detective, and honestly who could blame him? Richard Johnson's Watson is more level-headed and serious than the norm, but too old to be romancing Miss Irene St. Clair (played by Susannah Harker), and their scenes together are positively cringe-worthy. A solid cast of familiar English character actors also put in appearances. Edward Fox's Major Ross is the epitome of stubbornness and antagonism and Simon Callow's Inspector Lestrade is a fun, though dim-witted police representative. The Crucifer of Blood is a fun, theatrical yarn and comes recommended from me, though I daresay this made-for-television film may not be everyone's cup of tea.

#4 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002) - I know what is going through your mind: How could this be on a Top 10 List? Or, How can this be so close to number one? I'll tell you how: it's because it is my Sherlockian guilty pleasure. By no stretch of the imagination a perfect adaptation, this version of Hound boldly tried to do something different, taking the well-loved novel and putting a more contemporary spin on things. A true sign of the times, this adaptation features a rough-around-the-edges detective, as played by Richard Roxburgh, who takes the law into his own hands on more than one occasion. Paired with Ian Hart, one of the better Watson's of recent times, the two are an unusual, and rather dark version of Doyle's intrepid heroes.

The Hound of the Baskervilles isn't shy when it comes to atmosphere either, with a moody score and evocative location filming on the Isle of Mann. There's also a bit of fun to be had from Richard E. Grant's Stapleton as well as a truly creepy seance held by Dr. and Mrs. Mortimer at which the hound makes a truly startling appearance. Speaking of the hound, the computer-generated demon dog, though pretty unconvincing, seems to be a force to be reckoned with. All in all, The Hound of the Baskervilles is an oft-critised adaptation, and though not perfect in every respect, makes for entertaining viewing when one is open to a change of pace.

#3 - The Sign of Four (1983) - Ian Richardson, star of 1983's The Sign of Four is a sadly overlooked name when it comes to Sherlock Holmes. He shines his brightest in this version of Doyle's novel, which brilliantly takes Doyle's novel and enthuses it with elements of true Gothic horror. This tinge of the horrific is what makes me rate this particular adaptation so highly. Included herein: a brawl between Holmes and Tonga, the deadly pygmy, a chase aboard a fairground merry-go-round and through a hall of mirrors and a rip-roaring boat chase down the Thames.

Aside from the excellent Ian Richardson are some equally fine performances. David Healy makes for a good foil as Watson, Joe Melia is a creepy, one-legged Jonathon Small, Clive Merrison, BBC Radio's Sherlock Holmes, is a thoroughly malicious Bartholomew Shalto and Thorley Walters is at his manic best as John Shalto. Yet, none of them can match Richardson, surely one of the best actors to take on the role of the great detective. Taking the part to heart, Richardson's performance is distinctly Doylean in style, prefiguring both Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and it is easy to picture Richardson when one reads the canon. Though he returned to the role for a second time in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983), The Sign of Four is a more entertaining and thoroughly remarkable Doylean adaptation.

#2 - Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012) - There was no doubt that Sherlock was going to be represented on this list, it was just a matter of which episode and where will it fall? Of all the episodes (and there's only nine to pick from), the one I had to showcase was the brilliant A Scandal in Belgravia, arguably the finest 90-minutes committed to television screens in the last decade. Right from frame one and its resolution to the Series 1 cliffhanger to the end of the credits, A Scandal in Belgravia is a roller coaster ride of suspense, thrills, laughs and tears.

The episode brilliantly balances character pieces and writer Steven Moffat expertly peels back the outer layers of the great detective's being looking at Sherlock Holmes, the man. Benedict Cumberbatch handles himself brilliantly in the episode as does Laura Pulver as Irene Adler. Though somewhat side-lined, Martin Freeman's John Watson is always likable and Mark Gatiss' Mycroft is at his manipulative best. Complimenting the fine performances are the wonderful references to the canon which is willing to bring a smile to any Sherlockian's face. A Scandal in Belgravia is a beautifully executed episode, and surely the crowning achievement in this brilliant television run. So, how could anything top it?

 #1 - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-1985) - Unlike my other television show picks on this list, I could not narrow this down to one episode. Jeremy Brett's debut performance as Sherlock Holmes is the finest set of Sherlockian adaptations ever made. With beautiful attention to detail and acting as a loving tribute to Doyle's work, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is elevated by fine writing and truly awe-inspiring acting. Watching this series always reminds me just how fine Jeremy Brett's portrayal of the great detective truly is.

To work with Brett is the finest Dr. Watson the screen has ever seen in the form of David Burke. The two share such fine screen chemistry, which makes their performances so much more genuine and come the season finale in The Final Problem, all the more moving. While the quality of Granada Television's Sherlock Holmes series' were consistently high, their debut season, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the high water mark. Surely if a Sherlockian has not seen this series, they are missing something brilliant, and it must be seen as it provides some of the finest adaptations of the Conan Doyle canon ever made.

Well, that's all for yet another Top 10 list. What did you think this 'round? A bit more controversial than my Top 10 Movie list? Any TV shows or television movies I left out? Feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Top 10 Greatest Television Sherlock Holmes (Of All Time) Part I

It's time for television to get its time in the limelight since it was removed entirely from my last Top 10 list. This time I look at the best of the best when it comes to television shows, episodes and TV movies. Keep in mind that this is of course all subjective, and I hope to defend a few of my choices when we get 'round to them. So, let's plunge right in!

#10 - A Royal Scandal (2001) - Okay, so the controversy starts already! I'll say it now: I like Matt Frewer's Sherlock Holmes. So often he's put down for being an unworthy footnote in the history of Sherlockian entertainment, but he is judged too harshly. Sure, his first outing in 2000's The Hound of the Baskervilles was a bit too over-the-top, but it seemed pretty clear to me that Frewer was having an absolute ball playing Holmes, and that carries through in this made-for-television movie.

By the time that Frewer starred in A Royal Scandal, he'd toned down his theatrical performance a bit, and I'd say that his performance here is his most down-to-earth and humane. An extremely clever combination of Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia and The Bruce-Partington Plans, the complex plot showcases Holmes and Irene Adler as well as a group of German spies and a pretty villainous Mycroft Holmes. Frewer's performance is grand, in particular the fine scene in which he relates to Watson how he was duped by Miss Adler in the past. Speaking of Watson, Kenneth Welsh is an excellent Watson, oneof the finest in most recent years, but a sadly overlooked one. His firmly grounded performance helps to reign in Frewer's Holmes, making their chemistry on screen all the better. Though it may be Sherlockian heresy to say that I like all of Matt Frewer's Sherlockian turns, A Royal Scandal stands out as one of the best.

#9 - The Master Blackmailer (1994) - I was never fond of the feature length Granada Sherlock Holmes stories. In my mind changing the formula which worked so well was tampering in a domain in which they did not belong. It did not help that Jeremy Brett was beginning to show signs of failing health as Granada attempted to switch formats, so when the series needed a leading man to carry off the switch successfully, it did not have one. Yet, The Master Blackmailer is easily the best of the feature-length TV films, and a fine example of Granada's high quality, even in its later years.

The real star of The Master Blackmailer is Robert Hardy as Charles Augutus Milverton, the titular blackmailer. Hardy's performance is excellent, wonderfully evocative of Doyle's original descriptions. The screenplay supplied by Jeremy Paul is equally well done, managing to expand on Doyle's original (arguably slim) story and transforming it into a two-hour television film. Yet, most of the plot details from Doyle's original short story are contained, and very little is actually altered when it comes to the movie's plot. Add to this Jeremy Brett, who still manages to show he could still be on top form, along with the ever likable Edward Hardwicke as Watson, and you have a recipe for an extremely well-written, well-acted television film.

#8 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet (1968) - A while back I reviewed this series (or what's left of it) on a whole, and though I came away with some mixed feelings, it is for the most part a good Sherlockian effort. The highlight for me was without doubt the adaptation of A Study in Scarlet. By eliminating both the introductory stages of the novel and the American flashback, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes managed to condense the mystery into an hour, with surprising good results.

The scenes never feel rushed, though there's a lot of plot to include, and Peter Cushing carries it all. His performance is toned down from his last turn in 1959's The Hound of the Baskervilles, but his softer, more gentle Sherlock Holmes is still a pleasure to watch. He has excellent screen chemistry with his Watson, Nigel Stock, which greatly enliven the episode. The examination of the crime scene features it's dialogue almost verbatim from Doyle's original, and Cushing pulls it off brilliantly, spouting out some of the episode's finest lines: "Rache is German for revenge." Though this show ran the gambit in terms of quality, A Study in Scarlet is a quality episode, and a surprising one in that it was the first time the story had been filmed since 1914.

 #7 - Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004) - I can hear you all sputtering in front of your computers: "But...you reviewed this and gave it 2 stars out of 5! How can this possibly be on the top 10 list?" Well, I've had a change of heart. It doesn't happen a whole lot, me being the person so fixed in my ways that I am. Yet, on a recent re-watch of Case of the Silk Stocking, I was struck by how hasty my judgment had been before, and how much merit this made-for-television movie really deserves.

Sure, the plot is more likely to be found on an episode of Law and Order than Sherlock Holmes, but the cast performs very well. Rupert Everett's Holmes is a melancholic thinking man, and it is perhaps at first jarring to see the great detective portrayed as quiet individual. Ian Hart makes for a fine Dr. Watson, and he plays off well opposite Everett. It's a shame that the two men couldn't share more scenes together. Again, in terms of plot, it is a little odd to find Holmes and Lestrade analyzing the psychosis of the murderer in order to track him down, but if you're willing to go along with it, than it works. At least it's detective work of a kind, and in another time, Sherlock Holmes would have made an excellent criminal profiler. Is Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking perfect - no. But should every DVD copy be found and destroyed - good heavens no! It is a well though-out change of pace, and every once in a blue moon, there's nothing wrong with that.

#6 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982) - My recent discovery of the much-loved Russian Sherlock Holmes series of the 1980's was one of the most spectacular finds in recent memory. While the entire series was filmed with much love, the efforts of cast and crew seem at their highest when it came to this adaptation of Doyle's most famous work. Remaining doggedly faithful to the source material, this adaptation of Hound is a Sherlock Holmes TV movie of epic proportions, cramming so much plot into its 2+ hours. Plot aside Vasily Livanov is in top form as Holmes, and Vitaly Solomin carries much of the film on his own as Dr. Watson, and he proves to be one of the best Watson's in screen history.

The atmosphere is brilliantly created, the lonesome Russian countryside, though not exactly an exact fit for Dartmoor, evokes a great deal of mystery and isolation. This is reinforced by a haunting soundtrack, and a truly creepy hound, which sadly only appears on screen for the briefest of time. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a real gem for any Sherlock Holmes fan, due mostly to its strong adherence to Doyle's source material. Yet, the adaptation does not drain the life from the story, which makes this an incredibly entertaining movie too. Next time I'm in the mood for Hound and I've got two hours on my hands, I think I'll make a return visit to this particular adaptation.

Well, that's all for now. What do you think of these picks so far? Too many controversial ones for your liking? Feel free to leave a comment below and return next week for Part II.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review - "Sherlock Holmes and the Body Snatchers"

In January of 2013, I reviewed Dean P. Turnbloom's first Sherlock Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire. I was pleasantly surprised by Turnbloom's book as it was far more complex and deeper than I ever expected it to be. So, when I learned that Turnbloom was writing a follow-up, I anxiously awaited its release. That sequel, Sherlock Holmes and the Body Snatchers is the subject of today's review.

Picking up right where Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire left off, this novel finds Holmes and Watson disappointed in being unable to stop Baron Antonio Barlucci, the titular vampire, as well as his latest victim, Abigail Drake. However, Miss Drake's body is recovered in a lifeboat and taken to a mortuary in Canada. Inspector Walter Andrews of Scotland Yard is assigned to travel to Newfoundland and identify the body, but by the time he arrives, Miss Drake's body has disappeared. It seems as though someone has absconded with her body leaving numerous corpses in their wake. Inspector Andrews follows the clues to New York City where a number of people are beginning to be murdered. Each one has been found their bodies completely drained of blood. This is enough to entice Holmes and Watson to cross the Atlantic. Once in the Big Apple, the great detective is faced with one unnerving question - has the Ripper taken up roots in New York or are the killings the work of a vampire?

Read this one FIRST!
Once more, Mr. Turnbloom has managed to surprise me with his plots. Sherlock Holmes and the Body Snatchers is a complex, well-plotted, well written novel. So many plot threads are woven throughout the book's pages, and each one is nicely wrapped up in the finale. Turnbloom takes his subject matter incredibly seriously, even when he's writing about vampires in New York City. Along with the fine plot are the excellent characters. Each character is developed in depth and you will emphatise with them as you read. Even the recurring characters from the first novel are reintroeuced once more - which is good since it had been over a year since I read Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire.

But what of Sherlock Holmes? Well, he's rather sidelined again, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as the other characters are so interesting. He comes across similarly as he did in the canon, as does Dr. Watson. Turnbloom utilises Watson's point-of-view in the scenes which feature the intrepid detectives, which is different from previous novel which was told entirely in the third person. What's more, Turnbloom nicely emulates the canon's style of writing, but perhaps writes a bit more naturally than Doyle. What does that mean? It means that the characters pause, breathe heavily and clear their throats mid-sentence, which at first may be something of a stumbling block to the reader, but is easily overcome.

There are a few downsides to this novel though. Holmes does too little detective work for my taste and by the time he has summed up the problem for the principle characters, the reader is already in possession of the truth. There's also the fact that if the reader has not read Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Vampire he or she is liable to be very lost. Characters are introduced and the reader is expected to know of their importance already, and events which transpired in the first book are referenced and hinted at, and then never fully explained. Therefore, I highly recommend reading Turnbloom's first novel before moving onto its sequel.

I was once more surprised by Dean P. Turnbloom's Sherlockian efforts. Sherlock Holmes and the Body Snatchers was a complex, well-written and excellently plotted novel which pit the world's greatest detective against the forces of evil once more. I therefore do not hesitate in awarding the novel 4 out of 5 stars.


Sherlock Holmes and The Body Snatchers is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USA, Amazon UK,Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle,  KoboNook andApple iBooks (iPad/iPhone).

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why the "Doctor Who" Fandom Must Embrace Colin Baker

This time last year I was in the midst of my so-called Sixth Doctor Challenge as I tackled every Doctor Who story which featured the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker. One year on, my opinion of the Sixth Doctor has not dramatically altered. He was, and still is, my favourite Doctor of the Classic Series, and I thought it's about time that some fans see why it's not impossible to love the Sixth Doctor.

This post (or would it better to call it a rant) will be structured somewhat differently from the usual analysis. I will take on a few of the common problems viewers have with the Sixth Doctor and turn them on their head. The first such criticism is his personality. It would be a severe understatement to say that the Sixth Doctor is over-the-top. That in itself is not a problem. The Sixth Doctor is a nice contrast to his predecessor who was up to that time, the most humane and reserved incarnation of the renegade Time Lord. To have another such interpretation of the role would I think simply be too much of the same, and the vast change was welcome (let me make it clear that I do like Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, so don't get me wrong). Besides, in the past, a regeneration had brought about a dramatic change in the Doctor's personality. So, a Doctor filled with bombast and theatrics was a nice new direction in which the series could travel. Perhaps the facet of this Doctor's personality which most fans take umbrage with is his cold demeanour and condescending attitude.

Interestingly, it is this aspect of the Sixth Doctor which I like the most. Despite the fact that the Doctor is a good man and a hero, it doesn't mean he always has to be a goody-two-shoes. The Doctor has lead an incredibly damaged and harsh life, things which any normal being would not have been able to handle. To think that he can simply brush all this off and move on is ludicrous. What's more, the harder, rough-around-the-edges personality manages to make the Sixth Doctor more understandable and realistic - well as real as an alien with a time-travelling space ship can get!

And while we're discussing things which fans dislike about this Doctor, I can hardly avoid the elephant in the room - the coat. Yes, Colin Baker's vibrant, patchwork coat of many colours is pretty distasteful. It is surely a bit of an eyesore at first, but after a while I actually got used to it and found that it was not as bad as people make it out to be. Since the Sixth Doctor's tenure, people more creative than I have been altering the Doctor's look, and recently some nicely recoloured pictures (such as the one at left) show what the Sixth Doctor may have looked like in a less outlandish wardrobe. One final thought concerning the Sixth Doctor's costume: Colin Baker wasn't fond of it either and urged to wear all black, in keeping with the Doctor's darker character. He was of course overruled.

Those who have come to the Sixth Doctor's defense have lifted some of the blame from Colin's shoulders - and relocated the blame onto the writers and production staff at the time. If this is true, who behind the scenes is to blame? John Nathan-Turner, who had taken up the reins of Doctor Who in the early '80's? Eric Saward, script editor and writer? Or BBC executives? Let's take a quick look at these three potential suspects (this is a mystery blog after all). John Nathan-Turner (who preferred to be called JNT and the nickname has stuck) took over the series during Fourth Doctor Tom Baker's last season, which has garnered mixed reviews from fans. Things improved a bit once Peter Davison took over the part of the Doctor who has appeared in some fan favourite episodes, and to this day current showrunner Steven Moffat has voiced his praise of this portion of the series' history. This, in conjunction with the fact that Nathan-Turner helmed the series during the Seventh Doctor's years, which included a number of other well-received episodes, seems, in my opinion, to clear Nathan-Turner of blame.

The finger of suspicion is next directed at Eric Saward, script editor and writer. Saward in part instilled the series with its dark themes. Evidence of Saward's dark style is glimpsed in all three of the episodes he wrote for the show: Earthshock, which killed off one of the Doctor's companions, Resurrection of the Daleks which is the closest Doctor Who has ever come to be an absolute gore-fest and Revelation of the Daleks, which relocated the focus from the Doctor to the villain and dealt with murder and cannibalism! Yet, for the most part, Saward's work as script editor was pretty good, and with the exception of such episodes as Mark of the Rani and Timelash, the entirety of the Sixth Doctor's tenure is pretty enjoyable, even if it's not the highest quality in Doctor Who's fifty years of existence.

Cut Colin Baker some Slack
So, we turn to the BBC, who in the 1980's seemed to take one of their most popular shows for granted, and very nearly drove it off the air. This lead to the Sixth Doctor having one of the most disjointed tenures in the history of the series, which included scrapping an entire season's worth of episodes. By getting rid of all these episodes, the plan to have the Doctor mellow out over time never came to fruition, and Colin Baker, understandably upset by the whole thing, bowed out of the whole enterprise. Since then, the views of the fandom has turned against the Sixth Doctor, and he sadly appears on the bottom of most people's "favourite Doctors" list. So, why am I writing this? What change will I bring about in the world in my crusade to vindicate Colin Baker? Well, Colin Baker is such an overlooked actor in the history of the legendary franchise, something which is criminal. As much as I love the ever-wonderful Peter Cushing, his two minimal contributions to the legacy of Doctor Who seem to garner more recognition than this canonical Doctor.

So, if you're a Doctor Who fan I'd love to hear from you. Are you a fan of the Sixth Doctor like me and do not understand all the hatred leveled at poor Colin Baker? Or do you hate the Sixth Doctor with a passion? If so, why? Is it his personality? The writing? The coat? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What is Peter Cushing Month?

To those of you who see and observe, you may have noticed a new tab at the top of this blog. It is announcing Peter Cushing Month, what shall be a month-long celebration here on The Consulting Detective.

As usual, I'm the last one to learn anything. Last May, May of 2013, would have marked one-hundred years since Peter Cushing's birth on 26 May,1913. I learned this news in June, at the earliest, and I recall distinctly that I was contemplating some kind of  belated celebration, but nothing ever came to pass. Then, not long ago after I completed my list of the Top 5 Basil Rathbone films, I considered doing the same to honour Peter Cushing, but I ran out of time. So, vowing that I would celebrate one of cinema's finest actors on this blog at some point in time, I waited.

Now the beginning of May is only a month away, and starting on 1 May, I will devote a series of articles and reviews to the films of Peter Cushing. Included will be reviews of such films as: The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, Captain Clegg, The Evil of Frankenstein and The Mummy as well as others. Further articles will examine Cushing's numerous on-screen efforts with Christopher Lee and a countdown of the greatest Hammer Horror films, the studio at which Cushing gained so much fame.

I invite you to come back to honour Peter Cushing's 101st birthday and if you wish to share your thoughts and opinions about this great actor, feel free to leave a comment below. I am looking forward to it, and I hope you are too!