Sherlock Holmes: Clive Merrison
Doctor Watson: Michael Williams
Over a period of nine years, the BBC adapted and recorded the complete Sherlock Holmes Canon for radio under head writer, Bert Coules. It was the first production company to do so, and both Clive Merrison and Michael Williams would be the first actors to portray Holmes and Watson in each of the original stories. The series itself is epic; the adaptation so realistic that most herald it as the pinnacle of Sherlock Holmes radio adaptations.
In short, this series exceeds brilliance. It is, without a doubt, the most definitive Sherlock Holmes radio adaptation to date. In fact, it is quite doubtful that such a feat should be attempted again, for the series managed to obtain perfection, making the need for additional radio dramatizations obsolete.
The stories themselves remain quite true to Canon, though at times they do deviate. This deviation, however, is quite warranted, as the series manages, through artful storytelling, to fill in the holes Watson’s original stories so often contained. The series manages this by expanding upon popular Sherlockian theories, making this series somewhat ‘family’ friendly, for there are many inside jokes which only learned Sherlockians will recognize (though it is highly unlikely that this will distract the casual listener).
A lot of precision went into the making of these plays. The stories themselves are all exceptionally well researched, the attention to detail in recreating them quite apparent. The plays stay quite true to the era, too, the listener instantly transported to Victorian London (indeed, I spent a good portion of my time listening to this series during my morning cycling commute, and often found myself drifting away from the swarm of early morning traffic: to date I have six scars that I can attribute to this series, all of which my own fault, for it is entirely too difficult to avoid getting hit by traffic when one is no longer aware of the existence of cars).
It is obvious, too, that this series was quite well funded. The recordings are crystal-clear; the props (i.e. sound effects) incredibly realistic. There is so much enthusiasm surrounding this series that one instantly gets the impression that, in addition to money, a lot of love and passion went into making this series. Truly it shows in everything; in every episode, every line, every scene. In short, the series is brilliant, because those that were involved in its making made it so. Their love for Sherlock Holmes became our love for Sherlock Holmes; and a more fitting tribute we could not desire.
Most of the episodic reviews reference head writer, Bert Coules, as head writers tend to have oversight of an entire production. However, we would be remiss to credit the incredible team who brought this series to life. More information on the series, along with a full list of producers, directors and writers, can be found here: http://merrisonholmes.com/
With any adaptation, part of what makes an adaptation so endearing is its case. This remains quite true for the series, for the cast are, without a doubt (especially given the visual limitations of radio) what make this series work.
Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes
I will first confess that it did take me some time to warm up to Merrison’s version of Holmes. So used was I to Rathbone’s Holmes, or Brett’s Holmes, that it was hard to see an alternate take on the Great Detective.
Merrison does give us an alternate view on Holmes, and now, looking back, I believe that his interpretation of the character may be the one that is closer to Canon. His Holmes is rude. His Holmes is selfish. His Holmes is preoccupied by his own projects (be they chemistry experiments or cases). His Holmes is, in short, the Holmes of Canon.
His Holmes, too, is quite endearing, for beneath the cold exterior that calls to mind a machine rather than a man, there is the man; a man filled with uncertainty and insecurity. Merrison gives us this Holmes; shows us glimpses so that we can deduce his existence. In short, Merrison presents what is quite possibly the most three-dimensional version of Holmes to date. And he does all of this with only his voice.
Michael Williams as Dr. Watson
Within moments of hearing Williams portrayal Watson, I knew, the moment I next pick up Canon and turn to a story, it will be his voice that I hear. He is, without a doubt, the quintessential Watson.
His Watson is the Watson of Canon. He is strong, and steady; reliable and dependable. His is intelligent and perfectly suited to the role of Holmes’ partner and biographer. Watson is the ideal Victorian gentleman. Williams makes me believe this.
Best of all, perhaps, Williams Watson is realistic. He feels like a real person. We get to know this Watson, to appreciate this Watson, and, indeed, to love this Watson. It is always a relief to find a Watson worthy of standing at Holmes’ side; in Williams’ case, we needed to find a Holmes worthy of standing at Watson’s side.
Other Noteworthy Characters
Unlike many television adaptations, the BBC radio dramatizations did not necessarily employ the same supporting cast (indeed, there were two Lestrades and four Mrs. Hudsons). As such, rather than examine the actors involved, we will instead examine the characters themselves.
The Scotland Yarders
Because the adaptation follow Canon (almost to the letter), there is quite the mix of Scotland Yard Inspectors (unlike most film and television adaptations which showcase only Lestrade). The series remained quite true to the canonical interpretations of Scotland Yard (and her inspectors). Lestrade, for example, is an intelligent, ambitious fellow, not quite as smart as Holmes, but more than capable of performing his job (again, a deviation from most adaptations which paint Lestrade as a complete idiot). The same can be said for any inspector; each carrying his own strengths and weakness, depending on Doyle’s word.
Sadly, this role was somewhat reduced in this series (tragic considering one of the actresses chosen to play Mrs. Hudson was none other than Dame Judi Dench). Mrs. Hudson does appear on the on and off occasion, but she is reduced to single lines, mostly to answer Holmes’ questions or complain of Holmes’ mess. While I would have liked to have seen her role increased (much like Granada had done), I must confess that her role was handled with grace and dignity. A shame, though, that she appeared so infrequently.
I must confess; I was initially quite disappointed with the casting of Mycroft. He began entirely too soft-spoken and seemed quite weak against Merrison’s decisive (and cold) Holmes. This quickly changed, and by his second appearance I was really quite taken with John Hartley’s performance. His presence seemed to fill the room (and this despite my being outside), the sense of commanding authority one would expect in Mycroft perfectly fulfilled.
Perhaps above and beyond any other character, Moriarty is utterly brilliant. He is played by Michael Pennington, and a more fitting Moriarty could not have been found. Every single line of dialogue rings true, Pennington conveying the perfect master criminal. Indeed, he gave me shivers.
Mary Watson, nee Morstan
I must confess, usually I block Mary’s existence from my mind, choosing instead to focus on Holmes and Watson. That is impossible to do in this adaptation, for Mary is, quite simply, a fantastically engaging character. The series did the impossible here and actually made me like Mary. I felt for Mary. I cared for Mary. And I think that speaks for itself.
It is important to note that the writers subscribe to the theory that Watson had two wives. This second wife has been created, and given a fairly substantial role. She is quite realistic, and quite amusing at times (perhaps even more amusing is that her presence only serves to increase the homoerotic subtext between Holmes and Watson). I am certain a few individuals may resent her inclusion in this adaptation, but I assure you her presence, while noticeable, does not in the least distract from these stories.
While we will examine the subtext of each individual episode, it is important to note that this is, by far, the slashiest adaptation of any variety I have seen/heard/read to date. Perhaps it is in the adapting of Canon, or perhaps simply the chemistry between Merrison and Williams; whatever it is, the series made this slasher giddy with glee. Indeed, any adaptation which includes the line:
[Mary] accused me of marrying her under the false pretense that while all the world believed she held my heart, in reality it belonged to Holmes.
Must be considered slash-friendly.
Stories were adapted in the order in which they were written, they are presented here in the same manner.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
A Scandal in Bohemia
I will first confess that, while often amusing and quite entertaining, A Scandal in Bohemia is not one of my favourite stories. This is possibly due to external circumstances, for I must confess that I have never understood the mainstream desire to pair Sherlock Holmes with Irene Adler. Fortunately, then, this adaptation remains authentic to Canon and does not portray Adler as anything other than a woman who bested Sherlock Holmes. It is quite clear that he grudgingly admires her without feeling any emotion akin to love or desire. Having been quite nervous regarding where they might take this story, I must confess that I was quite relieved.
Overall, the story is quite brilliantly done. The story itself follows Canon almost exactly, but there is enough room for interpretation that the acting (Merrison, especially) directs the story rather than the story directing the acting. Here Merrison plays up Holmes’ loneliness and awkwardness at having lost Watson to a wife. There is an incredible hesitancy in Holmes and Watson’s interaction, which speaks to the unspoken love between them. The pacing is spot on, Holmes and Watson inching their way back to a place of comfort until, as the story closes, they are as close as they were before Watson’s marriage.
That they included the Boswell comment is also quite ‘squee’-worthy.
Holmes and Watson’s awkward stumbling aside, Coules’ version of SCAN is also quite remarkable in that the supporting cast is perfectly suited to their characters. No one seems out of place; indeed, the actor chosen to play the King of Bohemia was so realistic that I felt humbled in his presence. The actress chosen to play Adler was also quite remarkable; refreshing and dynamic, just as we would imagine Irene to have been.
Overall, though, it is the exploration of Holmes and Watson’s relationship that makes this story as good as it is. Truly Coules recognizes the importance of the Holmes/Watson dynamic, for it is quite well showcased in this story, and throughout the series.
The Red-Headed League
The Red-Headed League has long been a favourite of mine; indeed, I suspect it ranks high with most Holmes fans. The skillful blend of drama, adventure, suspense and comedy set the story above and beyond many of Holmes’ cases. Bert Coules’ adaptation is no exception. It follows Canon to the letter, exploring all of the elements which made the original story so enjoyable to read. He goes a step further, though, adding depth and insight into Holmes and Watson’s relationship.
Watson is married in this tale, and yet it is quite clear that his heart and loyalty belong to Holmes. Indeed, at one point Watson tells us:
[Mary] accused me of marrying her under the false pretense that while all the world believed she held my heart, in reality it belonged to Holmes.
This theme is apparent throughout the adaptation, with Watson abandoning his wife in favour of Holmes, and Holmes appearing quite distraught over Watson’s marriage (and quite contemptuous of Mary herself). Indeed, in the final scene of the play, as Watson takes his leave, Holmes reaches for his cocaine, the implication quite clear; that Holmes’ cocaine use stems from his loneliness and the loss of Watson. Even as Watson admonishes Holmes for turning to this artificial substance, Holmes, his tone thick with bitterness, tells Watson to go home to his wife. Holmes’ jealousy is quite apparent, as is Watson’s regret.
All around, an amusing, exciting case, and yet its true value lies in its examination of Holmes and Watson’s relationship. Bert Coules does not shy away from what we already know. His Holmes and Watson clearly love one another, and clearly suffer as a consequence.
A Case of Identity
If perhaps a little more formulaic when compared to the episodes we have heard so far, A Case of Identity is still quite brilliant, the adaptation remaining so true to Canon that I was instantly transported back to my first reading of the story.
Clive Merrison is in top form in this adaptation, his Holmes an utter delight throughout the entire tale. Indeed, our first glimpse of an enraged Holmes (readers will undoubtedly recall the hunting crop threat which sent Mr. James Windibank running) is so compelling that one cannot help but shiver at the raw passion in Holmes’ voice.
The story itself has long inspired rage in me (akin to the rage Holmes must have felt upon discovering that Mr. Windibank was responsible for his step-daughter’s unhappiness). In this adaptation, particular attention has been paid to the background story, showcases the true deplorability of Mr. Windibank’s actions. Sadly, as such, Holmes and Watson’s roles are rather limited. That is not to say, however, that the tale is without subtext.
Indeed, the story is quite slashy. Holmes and Watson’s interaction, in addition to being quite amusing, consists entirely of familiar, intimate banter. There is even a telling scene in which Holmes draws the blinds, telling Watson to remain by the fire while he (Holmes) casts the room into darkness (and privacy).
Overall, a fantastic tale, with enough Holmes and Watson interaction to keep the listener happy while still focusing the adaptation on the case itself, which, while interesting, is most notable for the emotions it inspires.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
While remaining quite true to Canon, The Boscombe Valley Mystery concentrates on the background story, bringing Holmes and Watson into focus only when warranted. This creates a very interesting take on the original tale; it is certainly more fleshed out and well rounded.
Perhaps, however, my favourite part of this adaptation was the role of Mary Watson, nee Morstan. Here she is utterly fabulous; completely supportive of her husband, despite knowing that she is competing for Watson’s affections and attention. Too often Mary is relegated to the background (and technically this is Watson’s doing) so it was quite nice to see her take a more prominent role.
We see too why Holmes was fond of Mary, for Watson compares her (on several occasions) to the Great Detective, an act which has its own amusing implications.
The story itself is quite well told, the adaptation blending Watson’s original tale of drama, romance and humour into an incredibly vibrant play. They even managed to include a segment with Holmes complimenting Lestrade on his leather leggings. This was, of course, overshadowed by the inclusion of a snarling Sherlock Holmes: Merrison manages to capture Holmes’ intensity exactly.
The adaptation also manages to blend some theory into its telling, with Watson’s Australia background examined in relation to the case. Too few scholars have devoted attention to Watson, and so, as a Watson fan, it is quite refreshing to see him gain the spotlight.
Overall, the entire adaptation makes for a very well-rounded story. The plot is exceptionally well done (remaining quite true to Canon while extrapolating on several theories) and manages to perfectly combine everything that made the original tale so compelling.
The Five Orange Pips
The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips is one the more dramatic Sherlock Holmes stories. This translates exceptionally well into radio, and so I found myself quite swept away by this adaptation. The atmosphere alone (complete with pelting rain and howling wind) gave me goose bumps.
Nothing, though, could prepare me for listening to Michael Williams’ opening narrative. Watson’s words in the original tale are bleak and yet exceedingly poetic, and so, to hear this narrative rendered in Williams’ soothing, melancholy voice literally stole my breath.
The story is made infinitely better by the actor chosen to portray John Openshaw. Indeed, his entire performance was quite compelling. This is particularly noteworthy as the bulk of the adaptation centered on Openshaw’s background and narrative.
Sadly, given the focus of the story, The Five Orange Pips is distinctly lacking in subtext. That being said, it is still more than worth listening to. In fact, the vividly real atmosphere and compelling plot are more than enough to distract the listening from the absence of subtext. Indeed, there were times when I was forced to glance out my window in search of the ferocious gale that I felt certain must be battering my house. Imagine my surprise when my eyes were met with sunshine.
The Man with the Twisted Lip
In keeping with the original story, Coules’ version of The Man with the Twisted Lip is a delightful blend of suspense, drama, comedy, and adventure. This adaptation is particularly gripping (in fact, I listened to it while on the treadmill, and was surprised by the passage of forty-five minutes –a remarkable feat considering how much I loathe jogging).
The story begins in an opium den, and the bleak, hopeless atmosphere of the place is captured perfectly. The Lascar is particularly brilliant; so much so that I would have been quite delightful had his role been expanded.
In fact, all the supporting cast molded perfectly to the characters from the original story. This, interspersed by Watson’s thrilling narrative, gave this story an incredibly realistic feel. In fact, of all the adaptations I have reviewed to date, I think this may very well be my favourite.
It helps that both the story and the adaptation are rich in subtext. As in Canon, Watson abandons his wife for the evening; throwing his lot in with Sherlock Holmes, sleeping next to Sherlock Holmes in a double-bedded room, and waking to an ejaculation. At times I found myself clapping with glee.
Overall, the adaptation is nothing short of brilliant.
The Blue Carbuncle
Coules’ version of The Blue Carbuncle is perhaps the most touching of all his adaptations. The story transcends its original mystery, becoming a tale of Holmes and Watson, and the fragileness of their relationship during Watson’s marriage.
Coules has altered the date, so that, instead of taking place a few days after Christmas, the story takes place on Christmas Eve. Here, we see Holmes alone and decidedly lonely, the sorrow of the holiday quickly vanquished by Watson’s visit.
There is such uncertainty; such awkwardness between Holmes and Watson, like they’re not quite sure how to interact now that Watson has left Baker Street and taken on a wife. Holmes appears almost shy, while Watson clearly longs for Holmes to once again rekindle their pre-Mary intimacy.
Despite this hesitancy, it remains quite clear that Holmes is the single most important thing in Watson’s life (so much so that he abandons his wife over Christmas in favour of spending the holiday with Holmes). It remains clear, too, that Holmes misses his Watson; far more than he is willing to admit.
In fact, Holmes is quite giddy when Watson offers to stay and assist Holmes in his investigation. At one point, after Watson has given him a Christmas gift, he even becomes choked up, his voice cracking as he utters, oh, my dear fellow.
The final scene, however, is what gets me every time. It brings tears to my eyes all while plastering a grin on my face. My heart breaks when Watson announces that he should be heading home, only to soar when Holmes overcomes his pride and cries out, Watson, wait. Holmes’ awkward silence speaks volumes here, as does Watson’s eventual realization that Holmes is willing him to remain. I was positively giddy by the time Watson invited himself to Christmas dinner, and then once again rendered insensible upon hearing Holmes’ genuine whisper of thanks. Indeed, if you can’t find the will to listen to the entire dramatization, at the very least listen to the final scene.
The Speckled Band
Unlike the original story, Coules’ version of The Speckled Band is distinctly lacking in subtext. That being said, it is still more than worth listening to.
Heavy emphasis has been placed on Miss Stoner’s story; and the events which transpired at Stoke Moran. The secondary characters come to the forefront, the actors chosen to fill the roles exceeding expectation. In short, The Speckled Band is an intense, dramatic story which holds the audience captive; so much so, in fact, that the lack of subtext is barely noticeable.
There are, of course, several scenes which hint at the subtext contained within the original tale. Like Canon, the story begins with Holmes waking Watson, and this scene is indeed quite touching. Later we are treated to Holmes and Watson sharing a single compartment on their train journey to Stoke Moran, and while we are perhaps still distracted by Holmes’ death-defying heroics in boarding the train, it is impossible to miss Holmes once again gently waking Watson from his slumber.
That is not to mention the late night stake out, which, like Canon, is exceedingly suggestive. Holmes is also quite protective of his Watson in this adaptation, giving the impression that he and Watson are far closer than decorum would allow them to reveal.
The adaptation is also noteworthy in that it features an exceedingly brilliant Watson. Indeed, Watson is above his game, coming to conclusions long before Holmes does; his conclusions inevitably turning out to be right. As a Watson fan, I found myself quite delighted in his portrayal.
Overall, despite lacking in Holmes/Watson interaction, this adaptation is quite brilliant. It perfectly captures the original story, complete with its sense of mystery and exotic flare.
The Engineer’s Thumb
The Engineer’s Thumb is perhaps one of the lightest adaptations in terms of Holmes and Watson interaction. The dramatization follows Canon almost exactly, with the bulk of the story belonging to Victor Hatherley (the engineer).
In a gripping, compelling story, Hatherley narrates the events of the prior evening which cost him his thumb. Holmes and Watson appear only as background characters, prompting and encouraging Hatherley’s story. Despite this, the adaptation is still quite fascinating to listen to; the story enough to carry the dramatization even without the Holmes/Watson subtext.
Unfortunately, Coules’ version of The Engineer’s Thumb does warrant several complaints. Hatherley, at times, comes across as a complete idiot, making the character far less sympathetic than the Hatherley of Canon. There is also a slow cadence at times, for the bulk of the story is told through narrative, Hatherley (and at times Watson) literally reciting past events. This is particularly unusual, for although the narrative does appear in Canon, one would expect Coules to have fleshed out and dramatized the monotony of these scenes.
Overall, though, the story is still quite interesting, the telling of it dramatic enough to satisfy any audience.
The Noble Bachelor
Coules’ version of The Noble Bachelor is an example of how skillfully Coules was able to blend Canon with theory. In this particular adaptation, the original story is interwoven with the tension created by Watson’s upcoming marriage to Miss Morstan. Indeed, at one point Holmes goes so far as to suggest that Miss Morstan may (like Hatty) have a prior claim elsewhere which would leave Watson wifeless and alone. It is quite evident, throughout the adaptation, that Holmes is trying desperately to talk Watson out of marrying.
Holmes and Watson aside, The Noble Bachelor is also noteworthy in its casting. The role of Hatty is played to perfection; as is her father, not to mention Flora Miller. In fact, the whole of the adaptation is so well cast that at times one forgets that they are listening to a radio dramatization.
Holmes is particularly fascinating in this adaptation, for here he is seen interacting with nobility. This presents an interesting aspect of his personality, for we soon see that Holmes commands the respect and awe of everyone he comes into contact with, regardless of their station. Holmes’ mastery in this adaptation is awe inspiring.
Overall, The Noble Bachelor is a fantastic example of what makes Coules’ adaptations worth listening to. The Holmes and Watson relationship is quite prevalent, and yet the whole of the story belongs to Canon, the telling of Doyle’s original tale so skillfully done that one cannot help but applaud.
The Beryl Coronet
In another case-focused adaptation, The Beryl Coronet still manages to blend the intrigue of the case with the domesticity of Holmes and Watson. Indeed, throughout the introduction of the case (which belongs largely to Mr. Holder) we are acutely aware of Holmes and Watson, and the comfort and ease which exists between them. It is quite clear, right from the start, that Watson is completely enamored with Holmes.
Holmes on his own is particularly brilliant in this case, and Coules’ adaptation pays close attention to this. Holmes comes across as quite masterful, at times rendering the audience dumb-struck with his brilliance. Indeed, at times it is next to impossible not to break out into applause.
While overall the bulk of this adaptation focuses on the case, and on Holmes’ involvement in the case, there is still ample Holmes and Watson interaction to keep even the most devoted slasher happy. A lovely look into Holmes and Watson’s friendship, with particular emphasis on Holmes’ unparalleled powers of deduction.
The Copper Beeches
One of the things that sets Coules’ adaptations above and beyond so many other radio dramatizations is the attention he pays to detail. This is particularly true when it comes to Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and the domesticity which existed within Baker Street’s walls. This is particularly true in The Copper Beeches, the whole opening of the case devoted to Holmes and Watson and the domestic comfort which surrounded their every day lives.
When we do finally get to the story, we are as warm and content as Holmes and Watson are, seated next to their fire. Our introduction, then, to Violet is quite surprising, for one would expect to feel slighted at the interruption, and yet, the actress chosen to play Violet is so utterly charming that we immediately forget Holmes and Watson, and the morning she’s interrupted.
The story itself is incredibly well told; highly visual, Violet’s narrative (alongside the flashbacks) is quite compelling, and engaging, the listener automatically transferred through time and space. Indeed, the dramatic conclusion is quite breathtaking.
Finally, in keeping with the original story, the dramatization ends with Watson’s confession that he stepped into the role of pimp. He’s hopes that Holmes might manifest some interest in Violet are crushed, and we can only shake our heads, knowing that Watson will soon understand Holmes’ lack of interest in the fairer sex.
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
A long standing fan favourite, Burt Coules does Silver Blaze justice in this compelling, engaging adaptation. The story begins with a dramatized back story (in contrast to the narrated back story found in Canon, and this change is quite welcome) before truly opening in Baker Street.
The Holmes and Watson interaction in this episode is simply delightful. The adaptation begins with a rather snarky Watson, who, frustrated by Holmes’ constant dismissal of his work and writing, takes to dismissing Holmes and Holmes’ habits. Holmes’ reaction here is the key, for never have we seen (or rather, heard) Holmes more hurt.
Holmes rallies, though, turning the topic of conversation to Watson’s impending marriage (and Holmes’ disapproval of the event). It is quite apparent that Holmes is still trying desperately to keep Watson from marrying. There is a decided feel of longing in this scene, and one can easily picture the forlorn expression Holmes must have worn as Watson steadily ignored Holmes’ objections.
The pair do make up midway through the story, despite Holmes once again appealing to Watson to change his mind regarding his upcoming nuptials. Watson ignores this, but does manage to spend some time wooing Holmes with his romantic notions of country life. That the story ends with Holmes’ validation of Watson’s work (and writing) is also quite significant.
Holmes and Watson aside, Coules’ Silver Blaze is also quite notable in its depiction of Holmes. Truly Holmes is at his finest here, Merrison perfectly portraying Holmes’ brilliance, his aloof attitude, and his single-minded character. All together, a perfectly rounded story, and fitting tribute to the original.
The Yellow Face
The Yellow Face is notable for its profound message of tolerance and acceptance. It is a serious story, meant to enlighten readers. Coules’ adaptation captures the story’s message perfectly, and yet it is still quite light-hearted, Holmes and Watson quite playful in this dramatization.
The story begins with Holmes and Watson in Baker Street, Holmes bored and contemplating cocaine, Watson trying desperately to distract Holmes’ attention. It is here that the topic of love first comes up, and it becomes quite apparent that Holmes and Watson are speaking of each other. This is quite a touching scene, Holmes’ longing for Watson, and Watson’s need for Holmes, quite apparent.
This playful scene soon gives way to Holmes and Watson taking a romantic walk in the park. Although Holmes pretends to be quite put out by this walk, it is quite obvious that he is enjoying himself immensely. At no point does the listener doubt that Holmes is completely content to spend his day rambling through London on Watson’s arm.
Holmes and Watson are soon cast into the background, however, as the story picks up with Canon, the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Munro coming to the forefront. Honouring Canon, the story itself is quite poignant, a fact which does not escape Holmes, for he too is moved by this touching display of human decency.
The Stockbroker’s Clerk
Coules’ version of The Stockbroker’s Clerk presents a very interesting look into Holmes and Watson’s relationship during Watson’s marriage. The case itself is quite prominent (and, indeed, dramatic) but the dramatization still allows for several subtle glimpses into Holmes and Watson’s relationship.
There is Holmes’ arrival at Watson’s practice, Watson exceedingly excided by Holmes’ presence, and later, by Holmes’ invitation. Holmes, too, is quite thrilled to be spending time in Watson’s presence; and even more thrilled when Watson agrees to accompany him to Birmingham.
While the bulk of the adaptation focuses on the plight of Mr. Pycroft, it is the unusually awkward interaction between Holmes and Watson which truly makes this dramatization fascination. It is quite apparent, right from the start, that Holmes is still uncertain how to approach a married Watson; Watson still hesitant as to his place in Holmes’ life.
Overall, Coules’ The Stockbroker’s Clerk is a well rounded take on the original.
The Gloria Scott
The Gloria Scott is easily one of my favourite stories. It doesn’t tend to rank high on many lists, but the insight into Holmes’ first case, and indeed, into Holmes himself, automatically endears this tale to me.
Coules’ adaptation follows Canon almost exactly, Holmes’ meeting with Victor Trevor (who, incidentally, Holmes calls by his first name, a sign of incredible intimacy) reminisce (in spirit rather than circumstance) of Holmes’ first meeting with Dr. Watson. As their relationship grows, we are instantly reminded of Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and the many years in which the trust between them built up.
And no greater trust there is than to witness Holmes sharing this aspect of his past. The story itself is quite exciting, but it is the privileged glance into Holmes’ youth that captures our hearts (and, indeed, Watson’s).
Perhaps, however, the most notable aspect of this adaptation is Holmes’ playful amusement. He is quite clearly enjoying himself throughout the story, as, we suspect, is Watson. The interaction between Holmes and Watson, although sparse, is what makes this dramatization truly delightful.
The Musgrave Ritual
Before we touch on the actual adaptation, allow me to just say that any case which involves Holmes and Watson wrestling about on the floor of Baker Street is automatically classified as a favourite. That Coules kept this scene in his adaptation is a mark of how well Coules knew Holmes and Watson, and their readers. Although decent detective stories, what truly set Sherlock Holmes apart was his enduring friendship with Dr. Watson.
Needless to say, the scene is also exceedingly slashy.
The bulk of this adaptation belongs to the case (as one would expect) and Coules more than does this marvelous story justice. Everything from the casting (the actress chosen to play Rachel, in particular, is quite compelling) to the pacing, to the atmosphere is so exceptionally well done that one can almost smell the musty scent of parchment which surely accompanied the 17th century ritual. Indeed, at times I lost myself in the story, so caught up was I in hearing its conclusion (and this despite having read the story on numerous occasions).
Finally, and perhaps the most delightful of all, was the finale. That this tale should end in Baker Street, Holmes and Watson the perfect picture of playful domesticity, was enough to leave me smiling for days.
The Reigate Squires
The Reigate Squires presents the perfect opportunity to explore both Holmes and Watson’s personalities, along with the true depths of their relationship. Coules’ adaptation, then, takes full advantage of this opportunity, elaborating on Holmes’ collapse in Lyon, as well as Watson’s frantic concern for his friend’s well being. This elaboration allows Coules to touch on another, more delicate issue: Holmes’ cocaine use.
We see in Watson’s frantic worry his concern that Holmes might lapse into drug use. Watson becomes desperate, then, to remove Holmes from London and temptation. Holmes seems to sense this as, despite his initial objections, Holmes does agree to accompany Watson into the countryside. This touching moment in their relationship is captured perfectly in Coules’ adaptation.
From this point forward Coules’ version of The Reigate Squires follows Canon almost exactly (save for the removal of several scenes) with Holmes being dragged into an investigation and Watson protesting Holmes’ involvement. Watson’s worry is quite predominant throughout this section.
We see, too, a Watson who is very protective (and, indeed, defensive) of Holmes. This concern on Watson’s behalf is validated on several occasions by Holmes, the listener automatically sensing that Holmes is quite touched by Watson’s concern.
Overall, an excellent story, with a very interesting glance into the doctor-patient side of Holmes and Watson’s relationship.
The Crooked Man
Following Canon almost exactly, Coules’ version of The Crooked Man is a case-heavy adaptation, the story of Henry Wood and Nancy Barkley taking centre stage, even above Holmes’ investigation.
That being said, the story still offers several elements of interest to the student of subtext. Holmes is quite dependent on Watson in this story, relying on him on several occasions; indeed, once Watson’s assistance proving to be the key to unlocking the mystery. Watson comes across exceptionally well in this case, the story allowing Watson to expound his own background, Watson’s army days more than hinted at (much to the listener’s delight).
Best of all, perhaps, is the overall message of the story, which Coules keeps perfectly intact. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and it is quite obvious that this message refers, not just to Henry and Nancy, but to Holmes and Watson as well.
Finally, no story would be complete without Holmes teasing Watson mercilessly for his penchant of rescuing damsels in distress.
The Resident Patient
Coules’ version of The Resident Patient is another case-centric adaptation. Particular attention is paid to the strange relationship between Blessington and Trevelyan, which is itself quite heavy in homoerotic subtext. Holmes and Watson’s relationship is present, although not as thoroughly examined as it has been in previous stories.
Notably, there are several Holmes/Watson scenes which provide interesting commentary on the true nature of their relationship. The opening scene has Holmes deducing Watson’s thoughts based almost entirely on Watson’s facial expressions. At one point, Holmes states, “your eyes are particularly eloquent,” a comment which is sure to delight every slasher.
Then, there is the scene in which Holmes and Watson are approached by a prostitute, Holmes reacting with bashful confusion, Watson with abject horror. They manage to chase the girl off by telling her that they wish to be alone; an obvious allusion to their true sexuality.
Overall, The Resident Patient is a well rounded, engaging case, but perhaps its most noteworthy feature is the portrayal of Blessington. Blessington is utterly fabulous in this adaptation, his character at turns inspiring amusement, sympathy, and foreboding.
The Greek Interpreter
Coules’ version of The Greek Interpreter is quite remarkable in that it encompasses all of the aspects which first made Doyle’s stories popular. From a dramatic, often thrilling plot, to the touches of humour found throughout the tale, to the touching comments on friendship and family, The Greek Interpreter really does present the best of Doyle.
We shall begin, of course, with the plot. Coules’ adaptation follows Canon almost exactly, the tale of man with the sticky plaster face gripping the audience almost from his introduction. The atmosphere of this story is brilliantly set (including some of the best uses of sound effects in the entire series) the listener instantly transported through the streets of London, and out, into the countryside.
The story pauses occasionally, its weight made lighter by perfectly time humour. Listeners will recall Holmes’ attempts to break down a door (that’s what happens!) as well as the banter between Holmes and Mycroft, and Holmes and Watson.
Mycroft is a little too soft spoken in this adaptation, and while this is jarring at first, by the end of the dramatization the audience will likely forget their quibble with the actor chosen to play the role. Fortunately, Mycroft’s interaction with Holmes is spot on, Mycroft stepping into the role of older, distant brother, almost perfectly.
Finally, although limited (by focus on the case), Holmes and Watson’s relationship is also quite prevalent. Indeed, Holmes introduces Watson as his constant companion and dear friend; a telling statement, especially when one considers that Holmes is making this introduction to his brother. Then there is Watson whispering ‘Norbury’ in Holmes’ ear. A frantically worried Watson begging Holmes to leave the poisonous atmosphere of a charcoal filled room also comes to mind.
Best of all, perhaps, is Holmes and Watson’s ramble through the park, ending in a picnic. A more romantic ending we cannot imagine.
The Navel Treaty
Of all Coules’ adaptations, The Naval Treaty is perhaps the least engaging. It follows quite closely to Canon, and yet there is something decided off. Even Holmes’ infamous rose soliloquy is somehow lacking, the powerfully poetic monologue seeming rushed and out of place.
Worst still, the story is completely devoid of slash. Holmes and Watson do interact, but the bulk of the case belongs to the back story, which is told largely through narration, resulting in the story carrying a sense of long-windedness.
Overall, it’s still quite worth listening to, but I will confess that, several times during the dramatization, I found my thoughts drifting to other things (nothing more exciting than my weekly grocery shopping trip, I might add, which should tell you just how flat this adaptation was).
You can’t expect every adaptation to hit the mark, and The Navel Treaty is clearly a miss.
The Final Problem
Coules’ version of The Final Problem marks the pinnacle of this series. Indeed, the story itself is often considered one of the highlights of Canon, and so it is not surprising that this dramatization should stand out above previous episodes. It is quite obvious, throughout this adaptation, that Coules both knows and respects Canon. He manages to expand upon a touching story, while still remaining true to the tragic, and yet somehow heroic, story within. Truly, this is his masterpiece.
Particular note should be given to Holmes and Watson, and their relationship. Indeed, a more fitting tribute to their friendship has not been written. Watson’s affection and dedication to Holmes is quite obvious throughout this adaptation; his horror and despair upon learning of Holmes’ death simply heart-wrenching.
We see, too, Holmes need and affection for Watson. It is quite apparent, throughout this adaptation, that Holmes’ heart belongs fully to Watson. We need only call to mind Holmes’ hushed farewell, the longing and regret in his voice plain for all to hear. Truly, despite the gripping plot, this story is one of love and friendship.
The plot, however, cannot be forgotten, and it is here that we remark upon the brilliance of Moriarty. A better actor could not have been cast.
In short, there is nothing lacking in this adaptation, the dramatization, like the story, reaching perfection.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Empty House
How impossible, it seems, that, after listening to The Final Problem, Coules should surpass himself. He does exactly that, though; The Empty House a masterpiece beyond words. It is touching, endearing, romantic, and completely engaging.
The story begins with a flashback to the events in The Final Problem, and here we are once again treated to Watson’s grief (and tears). We soon learn that this flashback is a dream, and that Watson is, in fact, sitting next to his dying wife, dreaming of Holmes. Mary’s comment that everyone he [Watson] loves seems to leave him is exceedingly fitting.
Watson’s sorrow and heartache eventually give way to the story itself and the introduction of what is to become Holmes’ return. The return is simply stunning, the fainting scene so perfectly orchestrated that I actually winced in sympathy. The memory of this scene, however, fades into obscurity as we bare witness to Holmes and Watson’s touching reunion. Indeed, Holmes’ soft-spoken apology, combined with the Watson’s torn confusion (between hurt and glee) brought a tear to my eye.
The story is, at times, quite funny, too. Watson questioning whether or not Mrs. Hudson fainted (in light of his own lapse in consciousness) was delightfully distracting.
Finally, as the case comes to a close, and Holmes and Watson once again find themselves in Baker Street, we are treated to the most intimate of scenes, Holmes, awkward and uncertain, asking Watson to move back into Baker Street, with Watson, shocked and speechless, accepting graciously. I must confess, by the time the dramatization ended, I was weeping openly.
Despite the overall brilliance of this adaptation, I do have one quibble. Holmes as the bookseller was rather unconvincing. This is quite unusual as Holmes’ other disguises have translated exceedingly well onto radio. In this instance, however, I found Holmes’ manner entirely too gruff; more befitting a sailor than a bibliophile.
The Norwood Builder
The third season of Coules’ Sherlock Holmes adaptations continues to prove itself a strong season, the momentum gained in The Empty House continuing in what is an utterly delightful and entirely fantastic story.
While the case itself is quite interesting (fans will, of course, grin at the memory of Holmes enthusiastic solving of the case), here we are more drawn to the story of Holmes and Watson. Their interaction is quite touching in this tale, Watson slowly establishing his old place in Holmes’ new life, Holmes, changed by his three year hiatus, now entirely more open where Watson is concerned.
There relationship is still quite playful, but this playfulness is interspersed with serious conversation; confessions that Holmes of old would have undoubtedly swallowed. It is here that Coules extends a theory, suggesting that it was Holmes who requested that Watson temporarily suspend his publications of Holmes’ cases. Watson’s upset, and Holmes’ apology, are quite striking, reminding the reader that Holmes is, indeed, a changed man. Holmes of old would not have confessed the following:
You’re invaluable to me in ways beyond the literary.
It is interesting, too, to see Holmes’ frustration (indeed, he, at times, becomes quite angry) and how capable Watson is of calming Holmes with only a soothing word or two. Even in his frustration, Holmes is in top form, his delight at discovering a bloody thumbprint where one should not exist had me grinning for hours.
Overall, The Norwood Builder is a delightful tale; quite worthy of following on the heels of The Final Problem and The Empty House.
The Dancing Men
Coules takes a creative approach in the telling of Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men. The dramatization begins in the middle of the story (with Holmes and Watson’s arrival at Ridling Thorpe Manor) and then alternates moving forward with a series of flashbacks. This is quite an interesting style, and, surprisingly, works quite well.
We see Holmes’ investigation as though we were an outsider, our confusion slowly lifted (much, we imagine, as Inspector Martin’s was) as the case proceeds. One would expect this process to be jarring, but, in fact, it is rather delightful, the process serving to thoroughly engage the listener.
The downside to this style, however, is that Holmes and Watson’s interaction is fairly limited, the bulk of the story belonging to Hilton and Elsie (and, incidentally, both roles were perfectly cast). That being said, the few Holmes/Watson scenes scattered throughout the episode are quite endearing.
Overall, with its focus on the case and back story, Coules’ version of The Dancing Men is quite the treat.
The Solitary Cyclist
I should first confess that The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist is one of my favourite (if not my favourite) stories. Violet Smith is an unforgettable character, one whom I identify with and aspire towards. Needless to say, then, I was particularly eager to hear Coules’ adaptation. It is sad to say, then, that I was disappointed.
The introduction is entirely too long, and seems out of place with the rest of the story. Our introduction to Miss Smith’s fiancé comes across as entirely pointless (as it was, I am sure, meant to cast suspicion on Cecil, and yet, his role as a suspect was never touched upon).
The story is also quite broken, distinctly lacking in flow and containing entirely too many ‘song’ scenes. In fact, by the second act I was already twitching with rage from the inclusion of too much singing.
To make matters worse, the story is very Holmes and Watson, and Holmes/Watson light. There is the occasional shared scene, and even some occasional independent scenes which prove quite endearing (the Holmes boxing scene, for example, is fantastic, and, later, the ‘Watson doctoring Holmes’ wounds’ scene is quite delicious) but for the most part the case simple rambles along, touching on no particular character for too long.
Not even Violet Smith, which is perhaps the biggest disappointment. Doyle’s Violet Smith is strong, independent, capable, and completely self assured. Coules’ Violet Smith lacks most of these qualities, coming across as soft-spoken, meek, and helpless.
From start to finish the adaptation is, at best, weak. It’s worth listening to, but certainly only once.
The Priory School
While fairly case-centric, Coules’ version of The Prior School is possibly one of the more endearing adaptations to date. The Holmes/Watson interaction is decidedly lacking in subtext, and yet, both Holmes and Watson’s enthusiasm (for the case and the country air) is too charming to fault the production for its absence of slash.
The story is quite well told, following Canon almost exactly. In fact, the dramatized version of The Prior School is far more entertaining than the original story (which, while fascinating, was by no means one of Doyle’s best works). Holmes and Watson come across as school boys, their eagerness and excitement translating well to an audio medium.
It helps that the adaptation was particularly well cast. The actors are perfectly suited to their roles, their performances only adding to the dramatic atmosphere. Overall, this is an exceptionally well put together, well rounded production, with Holmes and Watson at their individual finest, their teamwork nicely showcased.
Coules begins the story of Black Peter with a gruesome introduction. We are given a glance at the inside of Peter Carrey’s cottage, complete with swarming flies and a chilling description of Peter’s blood soaked corpse. The scene then flashes over to Holmes in the midst of his own investigation: attempting to drive a harpoon through the body of a dead pig. The sound of Holmes missing his mark, combined with the faint remembrance of Peter’s screams is enough to chill the listener’s heart; not to mention capture the listener’s attention for what will be one of Coules’ finest adaptations.
While the story itself does drive this adaptation, there are several interesting scenes which showcase Holmes and Watson, and their relationship. We are first treated to Watson’s jealousy where Hopkins is concerned (and it was delightful to note that it was Watson, and not Holmes, who first made the connection between Stanley Hopkins’ initials and Holmes’ –S.H.). Indeed, it is only after Hopkins joins the investigation that Watson becomes quite cranky.
So much so, that Holmes and Watson take to squabbling. This does not last long, however, as Watson soon apologizes, explaining that he is simply upset over the coming anniversary of the day he met Mary Morstan (his widow). Holmes, it is interesting to note, appears quite uncomfortable with this explanation.
Holmes will rally, however, for later, in the concluding scene, Holmes accompanies Watson to visit Mary’s grave, confessing that he envies Watson; for he has loved and been loved. It is quite obvious here that Holmes is looking for affirmation (undoubtedly needed, given Watson’s preoccupation with his dead wife).
Overall, this is quite the excellent story, with Holmes and Watson’s relationship explored in an interesting new light. The best praise, however, is reserved for the casting of the harpooner (and Black Peter’s murderer) Patrick Cairns; an utterly delightful performance.
Charles Augustus Milverton
Although quite slow in its build up (our introduction to Milverton, his clients, and his servants seems to last an eternity), Coules’ adaptation of Charles Augustus Milverton is still quite delightful.
The dramatization, while extending quite a good deal of focus on the case, manages to highlight the very best of Holmes and Watson’s relationship. Once we have gotten past the story’s introduction (which I will confess, did vex) we once again find ourselves in Baker Street. Holmes’ disgust for Milverton is spot on, and it is interesting to note that Watson seems to share Holmes’ dislike for Milverton.
We are treated, then, to Watson observing and deducing, Holmes utterly amused and entirely too pleased by Watson’s participation. We, of course, cannot help but agree with Holmes; Watson was quite scintillating.
As the story continues, we once again find ourselves witness to Holmes in disguise (this time as the plumber, Escott) and, while not in the least slashy, I will confess that listening to Holmes woo and flirt with Agatha was absolutely priceless. Watson’s later remonstration only served to heighten an already delightful scenario.
Perhaps, however, the most delightful element of this adaptation is Holmes’ refusal to allow Watson to participate in his plans of breaking into Milverton’s home (Holmes unwilling to put Watson at risk) and Watson’s staunch loyalty as he threatens to go to the police should Holmes prevent his coming. This scene obtains perfection, the love and affection between the men blindingly obvious.
Then, of course, there is the handholding. One really can’t ask for anything more.
The Six Napoleons
Coules’ adaptation of The Six Napoleons is, to date, perhaps the most dramatic of his Sherlock Holmes series. The episode opens with a flashback to the original theft of the black pearl (later found inside the Napoleon bust). Coules fills in what was only hinted at in Canon, fleshing out a vivid and engaging story, complete with a score worthy of the big screen.
We then find ourselves back in the present, Holmes and Watson hanging out with Lestrade, enjoying some general camaraderie. The scene is quite amusing, and perfectly suited to follow such an intense introduction. As the original case opens, and we find ourselves in familiar territory, we cannot help but note the affection between Holmes and Watson. Holmes waking Watson the next morning is not a scene to miss.
Playful flirting aside, Coules does not shy away from the social commentary found within the original story. Indeed, he takes it a step further, leaving no doubt in the listener’s mind that England had failed her immigrant communities.
This seriousness does not last long enough to bog down the story, Coules soon shifting his attention back to Holmes and Watson. We are treated to more playful flirting, this time Holmes poking fun at Watson’s writing. This lasts until another appearance by Lestrade, Coules’ Lestrade mirroring Canon in his admiration and awe of Holmes. Indeed, as we approach the final scene, complete with applause and Lestrade’s most touching speech, we see at once the wonder Holmes elicits in Lestrade. Truly, while Holmes and Watson are quite brilliant, this story does, in part, belong to Lestrade, and truly his character is a testament to Doyle’s original.
The Three Students
The Adventure of the Three Students has always been a favourite story of mine; the very thought of Holmes and Watson vacationing together in a thinly veiled university town should satisfy any student of subtext. It is delightful to note, then, that Coules’ version of The Three Students follows Canon to the letter. Indeed, Holmes and Watson are the perfect couple in this story, the true nature their relationship beyond obvious.
Holmes is particularly noteworthy in this adaptation. Animated, energetic and humourous; Holmes is on his game. This plays perfectly against Watson, who seems more relaxed than we are used to seeing him (we suspect this has to do with the time he spends observing the young lads training on the athletics field).
Perhaps the most delightful element of this adaptation is the actor chosen to play the role of Miles McLaren. Indeed, this role was fantastically cast, McLaren abrasive and rude while still managing to charm the audience completely.
Overall, Coules’ version of The Three Students is utterly delightful.
The Golden Pince Nez
Coules’ version of The Golden Pince Nez makes for a compelling dramatization. Although there is little in the way of Holmes/Watson interaction (save for a very domestic introduction, which is ripe with subtext), the adaptation does provide valuable insight into their professional relationship. We see Holmes and Watson at their most efficient (Watson following Holmes’ progress with interest, Holmes using Watson as a sounding board for his theories). Indeed, it is this side of their relationship which few students of subtext examine, and yet, it is this side of their relationship that is pivotal to understanding their romantic relationship.
Holmes and Watson aside, the adaptation is also quite noteworthy for its atmosphere. Between the pounding rain, screaming wind, and crackling fire, no expense has been spared in recreating the great gale of Canon.
It is also interesting to note that Coules’ adaptation deviates somewhat from Canon. Anna (the professor’s wife), who, in Canon, commits suicide via self administered poison, instead chooses to end her life by jumping in front of a train. This is a far less subtle solution, and yet, does add a sense of drama. Indeed, it also proved to be quite surprising.
Overall, a very interesting tale, with some interesting insight into Holmes/Watson and their relationship (both private and public).
The Missing Three-Quarter
Coules’ version of The Missing Three-Quarter begins with a very domestic picture of Holmes and Watson. The two men, ensconced in Baker Street, are quite at ease as they speculate on a note Holmes has received. There is much teasing, some banter, and a good deal of flirting that takes place during this scene. This is only made more remarkable by Watson’s deduction and Holmes’ amazement. Indeed, Watson has truly impressed Holmes in this scene.
Added to this sense of intimacy is Coules’ inclusion of Holmes’ drug use. Watson, clearly concerned, worries over their current lack of cases, mentioning Holmes’ past tendencies to reach for his syringe when bored by inaction. Holmes responds to this statement by reassuring Watson that his cocaine days are behind him. He then goes on to thank Watson for weaning him from the substance. Coules touches on this delicate topic with a brilliance too few adaptations have seen.
Their intimacy is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Cyril Overton. Here we are introduced to a truly fantastic character (his quick manner of speech simultaneously sending Holmes’ mind, and the listener’s mind, reeling. Our introduction to Overton is truly a testament to Canon.
The story itself is quite interesting, the tone decidedly light (excluding, of course, its conclusion). Holmes and Watson remain quite close throughout the telling of it, the true nature of their relationship quite apparent.
Finally, no adaptation would be complete without excellent casting in the role of Pompey. Truly, the ‘actor’ chosen to play Pompey excelled in the role.
The Abbey Grange
Coules’ version of The Abbey Grange begins on a high note; with Holmes leaning over Watson’s sleeping form, gently shaking him awake. It is here that we first learn of the case, and soon Holmes and Watson are heading out to investigate.
The case itself is pretty standard, and is consistent with Canon, but Coules has expanded upon Holmes’ characterization, truly showing Holmes’ obsessive compulsive nature. Even in reflection, I can still hear Holmes chanting, “beeswing”.
Coules has also fleshed out Lady Brackenstall’s narrative, creating a series of flashbacks that continue throughout most of the investigation. At one point, Watson even dreams of her narrative. Sadly, this technique (though we later learn it is meant to insert the Randall family dialogue into the listener’s subconscious) falls short in that distracts heavily from the story.
Overall, however, the adaptation is quite well put together. Holmes and Watson are quite the couple, their bickering-banter absolutely adorable.
The Second Stain
The opening of The Second Stain is very reminiscent of Charles Augustus Milverton. In fact, the similarities are so striking I had to double check to see which adaptation I was listening to.
The story does soon deviate, however, the true case set up (occurring in Baker Street) a stroke of genius. Indeed, Mrs. Hudson announcing the arrival of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, moments after Holmes has deduced (via their carriage) that their visitor is not likely to be someone of importance, is utterly fantastic.
As the story continues, we are presented with several delightful elements, as well as several less desirable elements. The adaptation remains, for the most part, quite true to Canon, and Holmes’ frustration with the case, and later his giddiness at having solved the case, are simply masterful. That being said, the adaptation could have done without Lady Trelawney Hope’s maid’s back story. Here Coules expands upon a suggestion found in Canon, and it distracts, somewhat painfully, from the true case.
Overall, though, the story is quite delightful, Holmes and Watson perfectly in character and as close as ever.
His Last Bow
Coules’ adaptation of Wisteria Lodge is perhaps the most outlandish of his series. The opening scene sets the tone for this dramatic adaptation, screams mingling with tribal sounding percussion an attempt to draw the reader into the jungles of South America. The scene then segues into a voodoo ritual, complete with the slaughtering of a chicken. Ten minutes in, the listener is already questioning their desire to continue listening.
There are other quibbles to be found in this adaptation, but perhaps the most striking is our introduction to Inspector Baynes. Baynes, notable for having earned Holmes instant respect, comes across as entirely too young. It is quite hard to picture the man who managed to keep a step ahead of Holmes throughout the entire case. Each line of dialogue calls to mind a rookie constable, not the talented inspector Baynes was meant to be.
Then, of course, there are the continual inclusions of flashbacks (to both South America –again with the tribal percussion and haunted screaming– and to the strange voodoo rituals which are merely referenced as a blind in the original story). These flashbacks are quite offsetting, distracting from the true story.
In fact, the only saving grace to be found in Wisteria Lodge is the interaction between Holmes and Watson. From their opening scene (with Watson reading to Holmes from his yet unpublished version of HOUND) to their playful banter and amusing attempts at deduction, Holmes and Watson are very much the couple they have always been.
The Cardboard Box
The story of The Cardboard Box is perhaps the most gruesome of all the Sherlock Holmes stories. Coules’ version can be credited, then, for losing nothing in its dramatization. At times chilling, Coules’ adaptation follows Canon exactly, elaborating only to increase the horror of the original tale.
Noteworthy elements include our introduction to Lestrade’s suspect (a medical student and once lodger of Miss Cushing, the poor woman who received the severed human ears). The actor chosen to play this role was exceptionally cast; his manic sounding laugh bringing much needed comic relief to the tale.
The pacing of the story is also quite remarkable. The first half is devoted to Holmes’ investigation, the second half to the retelling of the crime. In the end, Jim Browner’s narrative sent shivers up my spine, while still managing to appeal to my sense of empathy.
Overall, this is quite the well executed story, the tale itself coming to the forefront, despite several instances of delightful Holmes/Watson interaction.
The Red Circle
Coules’ version of The Red Circle is an extremely well put together adaptation. There are so many threads within this story (the story of Mrs. Warren and her lodger, the story of Holmes and Watson, the story of the Red Circle) that it can be quite challenging interweaving them. Coules manages to do exactly that, and seamlessly.
There are, however, a few moments that lack the finesse one would expect from Coules; the story does slow down somewhat towards the climax, the final few scenes involving the Red Circle told exclusively through narrative –a dry medium, at best. That said, there is still ample to hold the listener’s attention. Particular applause should be given to the actress chosen to play Mrs. Warren; her performance simply delightful.
Perhaps, however, the most noteworthy element is the interaction between Holmes and Watson. They are quite the couple in this adaptation, Holmes and Watson bantering, bickering, and teasing. They even go so far as to finish each other’s sentences. Of course, all of that becomes a mere footnote as the listener reaches the conclusion. Words cannot express the glee one experiences upon discovering (alongside Watson) that Holmes has surprised Watson with opera tickets. If only every adaptation could end with a date.
The Bruce-Partington Plans
Coules’ version of The Bruce-Partington Plans is a fantastic adaptation. The story begins with our second introduction to Mycroft and we are instantly reminded of how well cast this role was. Even without the benefit of sight John Hartley fills the room with his presence. Truly we are witness to one of the greatest Mycroft’s of our time.
The story then shifts (indeed, the whole of the adaptation shifts between multiple story lines, and yet, despite this, it still remains quite coherent), bringing us into Baker Street. Here we are witness to a bored Holmes and I must confess; listening to Holmes sign under his breath is amusing beyond comprehension. Watson’s annoyance at Holmes’ impatience is also quite delightful.
Indeed, it is Holmes and Watson’s interaction that makes this dramatization so compelling. They behave like a couple of school boys, eager at discovering their first case. There is a decided air of freshness around them, both Holmes and Watson in high spirits throughout the dramatization.
Overall, this is perhaps one of the most well rounded of Coules’ adaptations. It has everything a fan could desire; Holmes/Watson interaction, a commanding story, a sense of drama, and comedy. In short, The Bruce-Partington Plans is a fantastic listen.
The Dying Detective
While Coules deserves his own accolades for this brilliant adaptation of The Dying Detective, the true brilliance behind this masterpiece is found in Clive Merrison’s performance. We have previously mentioned the brilliance of Merrison’s acting, and of his portrayal of Holmes, and yet one does not get the full sense of his range (and, indeed, depth) without first listening to this dramatization. Truly, his portrayal of a delusional, delirious Holmes is award worthy.
Michael Williams holds his own, utterly convincing the audience of Watson’s distress. Despite knowing the final resolution, we, in listening to the slight edge of panic in Williams voice, are completely convinced that Holmes is on death’s door, mere moments away from the end. This speaks to Williams’ decided talent; not an easy feat, especially when compared against Merrison’s performance.
While it is the performances of the actors which make this particular dramatization noteworthy, it is also interesting to note that Coules has deviated from Canon in one small matter. As the case comes to a close, we are treated to an angry Watson, who refuses to forgive Holmes. Unlike the true story, that has always painted Watson as a bit of a push-over, this feels true and complete. Bravo to all involved in this adaptation: Bravo!
Lady Frances Carfax
In direct contrast to the assertive Watson we find in The Dying Detective, here we are treated to a very used and abused Watson, Holmes relentless in his maltreatment of Watson, Watson without complaint. This is actually quite distressing, for Watson does try exceedingly hard to please Holmes in this story, his work and efforts all for not. In fact, while I have on occasion pitied Watson, I have not yet hated Holmes. Here I believe I have come closer than ever before.
That it is not to say that the adaptation is not worth listening to. On the contrary, it is exceptionally well put together, the case flowing seamlessly amidst back story and elaboration. Holmes and Watson, too, have their moments, their friendship maintaining a pivotal role in the story.
There is added depth, too, for we are treated to insight into Watson’s feelings on Holmes’ death in The Final Problem. Having been sent to Switzerland, it is only natural that Watson should have cause to remember the tragic events which first stole Holmes out from under him. The underlying sense of melancholy which comes from such a memory is quite prevalent throughout the story, and, indeed, a distinct improvement on Canon.
The Devil’s Foot
You will, I am sure, forgive the incoherence of this review. While I would like to tell you how engaging Coules’ version of The Devil’s Foot is, and how seamlessly put together this adaptation was, I am, at present, still insensible due to the sheer amount of squee.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘squee’, picture a hysterical pre-teen girl who has just received a hug from the star member of her favourite boy-band. Now, multiply this reaction by ten and you will come close to approximating the concept of ‘squee’.
My God, people; the shiny. Following Canon almost exactly, Coules’ adaptation deviates only slightly in its introduction. Here we are treated to an explanation for Holmes’ declining health (which I will leave unspoiled). Holmes collapse soon gives way to the well remembered vacation, and I must confess; the entire premise speaks of romance, intimacy and love.
Of all Coules’ adaptations, it is The Devil’s Foot which firmly suggests in our mind the true depth of Holmes and Watson’s feelings for one another. As the story continues, and we are treated to Watson’s concern, Holmes’ deference, and their eternal bond, we remain convinced that Holmes and Watson are very much in love, and very much committed to one another. Truly, no other adaptation is so deserving of the term ‘squee’.
His Last Bow
Coules’ adaptation of His Last Bow marks a deviation from Canon. Until now, most of Coules’ work has remained quite true to Canon, but here, perhaps due to the nature of the story, liberties have been taken, theories have been explored, and back story has been added. This does not necessarily make for a better story.
His Last Bow is told in pieces, the entire adaptation spent flipping between scenes; from the present into the past, then into the future, then into the past, until all sense of time is lost. This is still done remarkably well, the editing so masterful that the listener is quite able to follow each thread in the story.
It is the theories, however, which distract from the overall tale. Coules suggests that Holmes and Watson lose contact immediately following Holmes’ retirement, and that this case marks a long awaited reunion. There is a decided sense of melancholy in following this theory, and it distracts from what is otherwise a fascinating look at the build up to World War I. Indeed, the politics and history is quite well researched, and would likely have carried the story on their own. Sadly, we are distracted from this due to the awkward lack of chemistry between Holmes and Watson.
Still, it is worth a listen, Coules managing to create a thoroughly enjoyable tale from what little Canon provided.
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
The Illustrious Client
Coules’ version of The Illustrious Client is an interesting take on Canon. In this adaptation, Watson is set to marry a second time (some ten years after Mary’s death). This back story automatically distracts from the original subtext found within Canon, and while we will late come to appreciate the Watson/Jean storyline, it is quite hard to swallow in this adaptation.
Jean aside, the story itself falls rather flat. The original tale is quite dramatic, the mystery surrounding their illustrious client, and the introduction to Van Gruner (along with his sorted past) quite engaging. This cannot be said for Coules’ dramatization. Indeed, at times the tale is quite slow (even the infamous fight scene between Holmes and Van Gruner’s thugs fails to hold the listener’s attention).
That being said, Van Gruner was exceptionally well cast, and manages to make up for what the script lacked. Students of subtext will also be pleased to hear Watson offer to beat up Gruner in Holmes’ defense. Words cannot describe the amusement of that particular scene.
The Blanched Soldier
Oddly enough, despite Watson marrying for a second time in this adaptation, The Blanched Soldier is one of the slashiest, if not the slashiest, of Coules’ adaptation. Deviating from Canon, the story opens at Watson’s wedding. Holmes is in attendance, and seems quite depressed over the prospect of losing his Watson to yet another wife. He puts forth a brave front, though, Watson remaining oblivious to the slight quiver in his voice that only the audience can hear.
From this point the story splits, half following Holmes’ investigation (and, indeed, this remains quite true to Canon, including the subtextually charged relationship between James and Godfrey). The second half follows Watson on his honeymoon, and it is this half which provides the more interesting examples of Holmes/Watson subtext.
Unbeknownst to the new Mrs. Watson, Watson has arranged, not for a honeymoon, but rather, for a recreation of the trip he and Holmes once took across Europe on their flight from Moriarty. This includes a stop over at Reichenbach Falls, where Watson attempts to ‘put a ghost to rest’. Throughout this journey, Watson passes the time in discussing his intimate friend and companion, Sherlock Holmes.
If this isn’t good enough, upon discovering where they are (and the relevance of their pilgrimage) Jean Watson becomes quite furious. It is quite evident, throughout this adaptation, that she cares little for Holmes, Holmes invoking only one emotion in her; jealousy.
Things only improve upon their return, for Watson (Jean tagging along like an unwanted third wheel) meets with Holmes to read over Holmes’ latest case (which Holmes has written). It is here that it becomes quite obvious that, wife or no wife, Holmes and Watson are very much a couple. That this scene ends with Holmes stating that he has become a great admirer of my Watson is simply icing on the cake. Truly, an outstanding adaptation.
The Mazarin Stone
Coules’ version of The Mazarin Stone deviates somewhat from Canon in that it explores the build up to the story; focusing a good deal of attention on the case itself, and Holmes’ involvement leading up to its conclusion. Coules also explores Watson’s role in the story, Watson away on holiday with his new wife at the time the stone is stolen.
It is Watson’s vacation which allows for much of our subtext, for despite spending two weeks in the country with his wife, Watson seems completely preoccupied by Holmes. He thinks of Holmes, and speaks of Holmes, and writes to Holmes; all to the objection of his wife, who, from her own lips, admits to jealousy where Holmes is concerned (a fact that Watson shares with Holmes, much to Holmes’ amusement).
We see, too, Holmes’ dependence on Watson, and just how out of sorts Watson’s marriage has left the Great Detective. At one point, Mrs. Hudson, sensing Holmes’ loneliness, offers to stand in for Watson, offering an ear during the height of Holmes’ investigation.
Overall, the story is quite well put together, Coules’ elaboration a drastic improvement on Canon. What was a mediocre story at best (not to mention a highly contested story) becomes quite enjoyable, and quite believable. Truly the fixing of The Mazarin Stone stands out as one of Coules’ greatest achievements.
The Three Gables
Following Canon almost to the letter, Coules’ version of The Three Gables deviates only in its introduction. Here Watson has returned from a weekend out of the city where he has been visiting a friend. We soon learn that he has neglected to inform Holmes of this trip, an act which causes Holmes a good deal of worry and panic. Indeed, it is quite delightful to note Holmes’ concern; Holmes openly admitting that he was frantic with worry.
Holmes and Watson aside (although it should be noted that it is Holmes and Watson and their interaction which truly drives this story), the listener will also find themselves delighted in the casting of Steve Dixie. From his first appearance in Baker Street to his subdued presence later on in the story, the actor chosen to play Dixie gives an outstanding performance.
Overall, The Three Gables is an interesting enough story, perhaps not the best of Coules’ adaptations, but certainly worth listening to.
The Sussex Vampyre
I must confess; I am rather torn on this adaptation. In terms of the story itself (and it should be noted that The Sussex Vampyre is considered one of the weakest stories in Canon) the adaptation falls rather flat. It is entirely overdone; overly dramatic in its attempts to appear macabre. The misdirection (which does exist in Canon) which attempts to paint Mrs. Ferguson as a vampire is so forced it becomes cliché.
That being said, the dramatization does shift between the Ferguson household and Holmes and Watson in Baker Street, and it is in Baker Street that the story becomes, not only tolerable, but quite endearing. Holmes and Watson’s interaction (and, indeed, Holmes’ reaction to the case) are spot on. In fact, their interaction almost makes up for the melodrama of the Ferguson household.
This interaction is not limited to characterization, but indeed will prove of great interest to the student of subtext. Holmes and Watson, in addition to bantering and enjoying easy comradery, also engage in a good deal of flirtation. At one point, Watson reads to Holmes from a copy of Dracula, and one must confess that the passage Watson chooses is somewhat erotic. The entire scene is ripe with sexual innuendo and tension; so much so that the listener feels somewhat like they are intruding on a very private moment.
Overall, Coules’ version of The Sussex Vampyre is a weak adaptation, but made infinitely better by the blatant homoerotic subtext.
The Three Garridebs
The Three Garridebs is undoubtedly one of the slashier stories found in Canon. It is odd, then, to note that this is not the case when it comes to Coules’ adaptations. In fact, despite retaining its touching story of friendship, Coules’ version of The Three Garridebs is quite possibly the least slashy of his adaptations.
The case itself follows Canon almost exactly, adding only some additional background to flesh the story out. It is Holmes and Watson and their relationship which has been altered. Coules deviates from Canon by suggesting that it was during this case that Watson first resolved to propose to his second wife (Jean in Coules’ adaptations). He spends a good portion of the episode searching for an engagement ring and twittering nervously over love and his desire for a scented companion.
The above means that the infamous scene between Holmes and Watson is made bittersweet; indeed, the same can be said for most of Holmes and Watson’s interaction, for Holmes is once again faced with the prospect of losing Watson to a wife, while Watson is once again faced with the guilt of abandoning Watson.
We sense, too, Holmes’ repeated attempts to confess his feelings to Watson (my pipe and my Watson, Holmes states as amongst the things he could not live without) and yet Watson is too preoccupied by Jean to pay Holmes any notice. Even Holmes’ frantic worry at Watson’s injury is toned down (likely in an attempt to heterosexualize what has long been considered a homoerotic scene). Sadly, it is this heterosexualization that leaves the listener (be they a student of subtext or otherwise) quite disappointed with the way The Three Garridebs was handled.
The Problem of Thor Bridge
Coules’ version of Thor Bridge, while well rounded, well cast, and quite true to Canon, is remarkable in that it gives Clive Merrison the opportunity to flex a variety of muscles. In this adaptation Holmes’ mood range from giddy contentment, to dreary depression, to tense excitement; all while maintaining Holmes usual brilliance in the field of deduction. Indeed, this adaptation truly showcases Merrison’s talents as an actor.
In addition to Merrison, the dramatization is also quite interesting from a Holmes/Watson perspective. Gone here is the back story regarding Watson’s marriage. In its place we find Holmes and Watson living in complete domestic bliss. In fact, they are so utterly married throughout this adaptation that they even joke on the subject.
The romance, however, has not dwindled (unlike Mr. and Mrs. Gibson’s marriage), Holmes and Watson spending a good deal of time flirting outrageously. This is particularly noticeable in the final scene, Holmes’ smugness combining with Watson’s coyness in such a way as to convince the listener that, shortly after the closing music, Holmes and Watson retired to [the same] bed. All around, this is a delightful adaptation, a relief considering our disappointment with the previous dramatization.
The Creeping Man
While remaining quite true to Canon (although the adaptation does at times feel quite rushed) Coules’ version of The Creeping Man is disappointing in its treatment of Holmes and Watson.
Indeed, there is a good deal of tension between Holmes and Watson; so much so that their relationship feels almost hostile. This is particularly true on Watson’s behalf, and yet no real explanation is given for why Holmes and Watson should be quarreling.
To add insult to injury, this is never addressed or resolved. Holmes does not bat an eyelash at Watson’s pissy demeanor, nor to Watson express any real grudge. In the end, we are left with nothing but our confusion and a sour taste in our mouths. Truly, of all Coules’ adaptations, this is one to skip.
The Lion’s Mane
Of all Coules’ adaptations, The Lion’s Mane is perhaps the one that should be listened to first, and often. It is, without a doubt, the most brilliant of all Coules’ adaptations.
The dramatization deviates from Canon on several fronts, all to the benefit of the story (and for the enhancement of subtext). We begin with the introduction, which provides a very unique perspective on Holmes’ methods by allowing Holmes to narrate. From here, Canon deviates, and instead of merely sending Watson the story, Holmes invites Watson to Sussex for the weekend. We soon learn that Holmes has planned (complete with props) to reenact the entire case for Watson’s benefit –and it should be noted that it is quite obvious that Holmes has put a lot of forethought and planning into this game.
Before this bit of “fun”, however, Holmes and Watson engage in a different kind of reenactment. William Gillette has just penned his play, and Holmes and Watson act out the entire first scene (reading their lines, at least). This provides quite a bit of amusement, for while at first we are quite perplex by why Holmes and Watson sound so hollow, the scene itself is quite endearing. Holmes’ reaction to learning of his ‘love interest’ is also quite enjoyable.
This eventually leads into a conversation regarding the past, and we see that Coules has shifted the focus of this case from the mystery to Holmes and Watson’s relationship; complete with inside jokes, and the listener will enjoy hearing that Watson did not intend to refer to the head “llama” in The Empty House.
All of this marks a very sweet reunion. It is made even sweeter, however, when Watson expresses his jealousy at Holmes having made friends during his retirement. Watson’s possessiveness here is quite apparent.
It is at this point that Holmes begins his reenactment, Watson eagerly falling into the role of detective. It is quite apparent, throughout the story, that Holmes and Watson are both quite thrilled to be once again sharing in a mystery. Their interaction (complete with old-married couple bickering, and flirting) left me positively giddy. Truly, this adaptation can only be described as brilliant.
The Veiled Lodger
Coules’ version of The Veiled Lodger is one of the more case-centric adaptations in his series. Following Canon almost to the letter, The Veiled Lodger focuses primarily on Mrs. Ronder and her story. The dramatization does deviate in that it also shows (theorizes on) Holmes’ initial involvement in the case. This actually creates some confusion, for the adaptation shifts between three distinct time lines (the present re-telling of the tale, the initial incident at Mr. Ronder’s circus, and Holmes’ initial interest in the case).
Despite this confusion, the case is quite interesting, Mrs. Ronder’s story quite engaging. We see, too, Holmes and Watson’s empathy for the woman; a refreshing reaction for prior to hearing Mrs. Ronder’s tale, both characters seemed rather removed. Indeed, aside from Watson’s amusing ogling of the circus performers (both male and female, it should be noted) no attention is paid to either Holmes, or Watson.
Perhaps, then, not the best of adaptations, but still interesting none the less.
Shoscombe Old Place
Coules’ version of Shoscombe Old Place is quite delightful. The case itself is quite fascinating, and yet, Coules primary focus is on Holmes and Watson, and their relationship.
The pair are, quite literally, married in this adaptation. Indeed, in addition to their usual banter and teasing, we are also shown Holmes laughing at Watson’s jokes. Holmes, too, relies a good deal on Watson in this adaptation, and here Holmes is shown to be quite appreciative.
The adaptation is perhaps best noted for its imagery. The listener will quickly recall the image of Holmes and Watson walking Lady Beatrice’s dog (a domestic act, indeed!) and Watson teaching Holmes to fish (amusing as well as endearing). In fact, throughout the adaptation Holmes and Watson are practically inseparable, and Coules goes to great lengths to showcase their codependency.
One quibble, perhaps, occurs in the story’s introduction. Watson, a medical doctor, is forced to look up the word epitheliums, and this instantly strikes the audience as quite strange; for surely an educated medical man would know this term without being forced to reference it.
Perhaps Watson’s mind was elsewhere, for this story does explore Watson’s seeming gambling addiction. Indeed, it is at the final scene, Watson spending his war pension on the Derby race, that affords us a delightful scene between Holmes and Watson. In it, Holmes, disguised as a local tout, gently teases Watson for his addiction, before joining Watson in celebrating his win.
The Retired Colourman
The Retired Colourman ends Coules’ adaptations (save, of course, for the novels) and so it is fitting that this story should carry such a melancholy tone. Indeed, from the very beginning Holmes and Watson are seemingly off, and we sense the slow build up to the inevitable conclusion (of both the story and their partnership).
It is here that Coules explores theory rather than merely adapting Canon. Although he does manage to do the story justice, he also suggests a rather bleak end for Holmes and Watson. Watson has remarried (the listener will recall Jean) and is living now in Queen Anne Street. Holmes is facing his impending retirement to Sussex. Their relationship has become strained, tense even.
As the story progresses, we see Holmes’ regret at having never told Watson of his feelings. We see, too, Holmes’ inability to open up and simply tell Watson the truth of his heart. We see Watson frustrated and annoyed with Holmes’ continual abuse.
Finally, we see Holmes slipping out of London, a day earlier than planned, leaving Watson without having ever said goodbye. This is not the fate I foresaw for Holmes and Watson, and, in fact, as theories go it is amongst the least of my favourites. It is bleak and depressing and heart-wrenching. It is final in its finality. It strips away hope and so, despite enjoying this adaptation a good deal (for it was exceptionally well orchestrated, acted, and written) I cannot say I loved it. I cannot even say that I liked it, much.
A Study in Scarlet
Since discovering Sherlock Holmes, I have longed for a decent Study in Scarlet adaptation. So few mediums have attempted the story, and those that have hardly do it justice. I was thrilled, then, upon first listening to Coules’ version of STUD.
The adaptation itself is longer than Coules’ listeners will be used to. It is broken into two parts, each part just shy of an hour (as opposed to the 45 minute short story adaptations). In the first half, Coules begins with an introduction to Watson. We are taken onto the front lines in Afghanistan, where we are witness to Watson’s multiple wounds (and Coules does take this liberty, and it works exceptionally well). This opening segue is quite dramatic, providing a good deal of insight into Watson and his history.
Coules then (ambitiously, I might add) sets about introducing Sherlock Holmes (and, more importantly, introducing Holmes and Watson to one another). Holmes is, at first, a little over the top (almost manic at times) but he soon settles down, he and Watson tentatively working towards building what would soon become an infamous friendship.
Coules manages, throughout this dramatization, to intersperse Canon with theory. He explains the whereabouts of Watson’s bull pup (and we cannot help but snicker of Holmes’ poor ankles, and Stamford’s good luck). We see the evolution of Holmes and Watson’s friendship, and their partnership, Coules expanding beyond what is given in Canon.
Most importantly, we see Holmes and Watson tentatively forming a relationship, the attraction between them obvious right from the start. Throughout the story we are witness to Holmes’ wooing (and, indeed, Holmes’ excitement at having discovered a partner in Watson). Truly, Coules has paid a good deal of attention to Holmes and Watson’s relationship (whether he intended to or not).
The first half intersperses Holmes and Watson’s meeting, and their growing friendship/partnership, with the arrival of Drebber and Strangerson in London. The second half opens with Jefferson Hope’s arrest, the story then shifting into the second story found in Canon and titled, ‘The Country of the Saints’. Here emphasis is placed on Hope’s story and so it is here that we find one minor flaw.
Throughout STUD (and, indeed, in previous adaptations) Coules chooses (either through script, direction, or casting –it is impossible to say which) to portray Americans as overly dramatic. There is not, in fact, a single American in this story who does not portray the exact stereotype of what an American is presumed to be. As a Canadian, with regular exposure to Americans, this is quite jarring. There is only so long a girl can listen to a fake twang before it becomes quite irritating.
Overall, however, Coules’ version of A Study in Scarlet is utterly fantastic. Truly, this is one of the best (if not the best) STUD adaptation out there.
The Sign of the Four
The Sign of the Four is, to many, the pinnacle of Canon. The story itself is utterly brilliant; dramatic, mysterious, romantic, and loaded with character development. It is an absolute thrill, then, to be able to state that Coules does Canon justice. Indeed, his version of SIGN approaches perfection.
Coules doesn’t shy away from showing the more seedy side to Sherlock Holmes (unlike so many adaptations). The story opens (as it does in Canon) with Holmes injecting a 7% solution of cocaine. This scene is brilliantly handled, Holmes’ reaction to the stimulant fantastically researched.
Then, of course, there is Holmes and Watson’s interaction. Throughout Coules’ version of SIGN there is a good deal of tension between them. This is pivotal, for it will later help to explain Watson’s sudden (and incomprehensible) interest in Mary.
Despite this (and a deviation, actually, from Canon) Coules attempts to improve on Canon by justifying Watson’s seeming case of love at first sight. This was actually handled quite well (certainly better than Canon, which to this day boggles my mind). Coules does this, fantastically enough, through Sherlock Holmes. We see Holmes deducing Watson’s interest, and then going so far as to tease Watson regarding it.
While, yes, this does distract from the subtext contained within the story (and, indeed, Coules’ version of SIGN is significantly less slashy than the original) it actually gives weight to the possibility of Watson meeting, falling in love with, and proposing to a woman within the span of a few hours.
To give credit, Coules does eventually show Holmes’ dejection at the prospect of losing Watson.
Coules’ SIGN is also quite noteworthy in its cast of characters. The actor chosen to portray Thaddeus Sholto is particularly enjoyable, the character an exact replica of the Sholto I first heard in my head upon reading the story. Wiggins, too, is quite enjoyable; as are, in fact, the entirety of the Baker Street Irregulars.
In the second half of Coules’ SIGN, a good deal of focus is placed on Mary and her relationship with Watson. This comes across as quite forced, which is actually in keeping with Canon. Fortunately for the student of subtext, there is also a good deal of tension between Holmes and Watson (regarding Mary) which more than makes up for the overtly romantic dribble surrounding Watson and Mary. The final scene, in which Holmes reaches for his cocaine bottle, quite literally took my breath away.
On a final note, props must be given to the sound technicians for successfully recreating a dramatic chase scene. One would expect this to have been impossible without narration, and yet, using only dialogue and sound effects, we are instantly transported onto the Thames. This is not, of course, the only exceptional use of sound, for the dramatization’s entire score deserves recognition. It is, without a doubt, one of Coules’ masterpieces.
The Valley of Fear
The original novel is split into two distinct stories. The first follows the tragedy at Birlstone Manor House, while the second is set some twenty years in the past, and tells the story of the Scowrers. These two stories are interrelated (although we do not learn this until the end of the first section, the second section, entitled The Scowrers, providing history for the first half of the novel) and come together only upon completion of the novel.
Coules attempts to piece together the past with the present by intermixing these two sections. Shifting between scenes set in Vermissa (from the second half of the novel) and scenes set in present day in London (from the first half of the novel), Coules quite masterfully creates an engaging, and easily followed story.
The story of the Scowrers is particularly noteworthy, for, despite this being a radio adaptation, the listener, through a sound created mood and atmosphere, is instantly transported back in time and across the ocean. All of the Vermissa scenes are intensely vivid, the imagery startling in its clarity.
Meanwhile, back in London, Holmes and Watson are in the midst of an investigation. Here we are treated to a good deal of Holmes and Watson alone in Baker Street. It is pleasing to not that, in addition to the usual bantering and bickering (like an old married couple), Holmes and Watson are as close as ever. The intimacy between them is quite apparent, right from the opening scene.
The Valley of Fear (both Canon and Coules’ adaptation) is also remarkable in that it expands upon the character of Moriarty. Coules handles this quite well, convincing the audience that Moriarty is lurking over their shoulder, a named shadow they cannot quite see.
Overall, this is one of Coules’ better adaptations, the story perfectly told. Coules managing to blend together two distinct tales with such grace that the audience momentarily forgets they are listening to a dramatization. Throughout this adaptation, I could have sworn I was there, watching the story unfold in real time. Truly, a fitting tribute to one of Doyle’s masterpieces.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps Doyle’s most popular story. It has been adapted numerous times, in numerous mediums. Indeed, one could spend a lifetime absorbing HOUND adaptations without ever running out of new material.
One would think, then, that the story had been done to death. That there was nothing that could be done with it that hadn’t been done before. This is, in some respects, quite true, and yet Coules still manages to create a masterpiece.
Coules’ version of HOUND is very loyal to Canon, while still managing to seem quite fresh (not to mention suspenseful). The eerie stillness of the moor combines with the haunting cries of the hound to create a sinister and foreboding atmosphere. Even the weather is used effectively in this adaptation; the listener instantly transported to the moors of Dartmoor, where they experience her moods and tempers.
The adaptation is not, however, without its faults. As we have mentioned previously, the BBC tends to cast Americans who sound, to the British ear, stereotypically American. This has, on more than one occasion, proved quite the distraction.
Overall, though, the adaptation is brilliantly pieced together, Holmes and Watson at their finest, with Coules’ attention to detail very obvious. Even now I swear I can hear the faint cries of that gigantic hound. A truly gripping performance.
The epic adaptation of the complete Canon should be enough to convince any Holmes fan to invest time and money in this series. On the off chance that it is not, I will simply say that Coules’ series is, by far, one of the greatest (in not the greatest) adaptations I have ever absorbed (in any medium). Truly this is something every Holmes fan should listen to, twice. Merrison and Williams become Holmes and Watson, their voices lingering in my head, making me long for the cold darkness of winter so that I might curl up next to the fire and crack open my annotated copy of Canon. This series is award worthy, Coules’ brilliance shining throughout each of the fifty-six stories and every single one of the four novels. A fitting tribute to Canon, and completely worthy of five out of five pipes.