The second episode of the BBC/PBS series Sherlock attempted to modernize the much loved Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskerville’s by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I am starting to wonder where the line is between modernizing a story and just over-thinking a story.
WARNING: This review has spoilers for both the original mystery and the Sherlock episode. Read on at your own risk!
The original The Hound of the Baskerville’s is an absolute classic. It has a great balance of everything you look for in a good mystery, while still being pretty straightforward. A legend told of an ancestor in a Baskerville family who abducted a young woman. She escaped and he set his dogs on her, chasing her across the moors. They found her dead of exhaustion, and then the evil man was attacked by a huge hound that locals say they hear calling for Baskerville blood on the moors generations later. Eventually a young Sir Henry Baskerville inherits the estate and comes from America to live in his ancestral home. Strange things start happening, and people warn him to leave Baskerville Hall and never return. A concerned friend of the family gets Sherlock Holmes involved, and John Watson is sent to look after Sir Henry’s safety. All the while Holmes is watching from a distance. Add in an escaped convict and a woman who is pretending that her husband is her brother, and you have a wonderful story. Oh, and the spectral dog? The explanation for that is simple enough too. Take a big mean black dog, teach him to find a certain person and attack them, and then cover the dog in phosphorus which gives of a luminescent glow at night, and you have a nasty ghost dog!
Sherlock didn’t just modernize this story. I feel like they spoiled most of the fun of it. Baskerville Hall became a high security top-secret government lab that experiments on animals. Sir Henry Baskerville became a rich young man haunted by seeing his father killed by a “gigantic hound”, and further tormented by it in order to discredit him. The hound turned out to be a chemical-induced hallucination. There was no relative out to get Sir Henry’s inheritance, no curse on the Baskerville family, no escaped convict, and no woman pretending to be who she’s not. The only original bits of the story that were left intact were the hound itself and the fact that Sherlock somewhat used John as bait.
I was disappointed with the episode, and yet I am not sure how else they could have modernized this story. The whole chemical lab idea just seemed so contrived to me. The writers couldn’t find another way to create a big bad dog without it actually being a dog with phosphorus on it, so they took it to another extreme and drugged the intended victims into believing that the dog they were seeing was ten times bigger with evil red glowing eyes. All this was a means to discredit one man who knew too much. Really? I am not impressed. Yet I suppose this is the consequence of tackling a story that, in order to bring it to our day and age, our technology and modern science have to play their part.
Much of the redeeming aspects of this episode come from it’s humor and the acting. As usual John Watson takes the brunt of the humor. Remember the part in the original story where Holmes sent Watson to protect Sir Henry but then watched everything that when on from a distance? Sherlock takes that to a new level. At first he thinks that the chemical is in the sugar at Henry’s house, so he gives John a dose of it in his coffee. Then he sends John into the lab to find something, locks him in, and uses the intercom in the room to project the snarling noises of a dog. He watches his experiment progress from a security surveillance room as poor John panics and locks himself in a cage!
I applaud the actors for their excellent skills, but though I think their work made the episode worth watching, I was simply unimpressed with the radical modernization of the original story. I give this episode of Sherlock three SpaceGypsy Wagons.