Usually I go through these episodes blow-by-blow, but this time I won’t because a) I’m kind of busy this week and b) this one won’t really stand up to that kind of scrutiny.
That’s not to say it’s not a fun episode, it is. It’s basically a little documentary on Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are a few factual errors, but I’m not enough of a Sherlockian to get upset about that. The In Search Of… ethos adds the interesting twist in that instead of just saying, ‘this is a show about Sherlock Holmes’ they say ‘who was Sherlock Holmes?’
Spoiler: it was Doyle.
So basically, we start with Nimoy in a library talking about Sherlock Holmes. The rest of the first half of the episode is a mix of early British film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, interviews with Sherlockians and dodgy reenactments.
The movies are kind of fun. I’d not seen some of these early versions of Holmes, and the In Search Of… people clearly couldn’t get the rights to the Basil Rathbone series, let alone anything later. The interviewees are also pretty cool – one is Peter Lovesey, a very enjoyable crime writer, who was writing Victorian mysteries around this time. A guy from some Sherlockian society is interviewed in Baker Street, and adopts the common Sherlockian position that the question of whether Sherlock was or was not a real person is irrelevant. I think this is intended to forward In Search Of’s argument that Holmes was real, but honestly I’m not sure.
The second half of the episode has a lot of re-enectments to illustrate the George Edalji case. This really is an interesting story, in which Edalji – wrongfully convicted of a crime – wrote to Doyle for help clearing his name. Using some similar techniques to his fictional hero, Doyle did just that and got Edalji a pardon. Doyle’s involvement brought this miscarriage of justice to popular attention, which helped lead to the setting up of Britain’s modern appeals court system.
It’s a damned interesting story, but the show’s conclusion – that Doyle was Holmes – is kind of silly.
Did Doyle have things in common with Holmes? Absolutely. But there were other aspects to Doyle as well. Take the Cottingley Fairies case, for example, and tell me Holmes wouldn’t have just laughed at the whole thing. I don’t pick that one incident lightly – Holmes was an ultra-rationalist materialist and Doyle was a sentimental spiritualist. Holmes was the sort of person who would be able to take an episode of In Search Of… to pieces with barely a thought, while I suspect that Doyle would watch and wonder ‘what if?’
So no. While the fact that Doyle did some Sherlock-type things in his life is frankly super-freakin’-cool, it doesn’t mean that Doyle was Holmes.
Still, the old Holmes films were fun.
Nimoy: “Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary.” He gives the line such a good reading, though of course Holmes never said that in any story written by Doyle.
Unexpected subject: 6/10, Interesting interviewees: 7/10, Cool old footage: 7/10, Reenactments: 5/10, Nimoyness: 7/10. Overall: 32/50. Pass.