Sherlock Holmes: Clive Merrison
Dr. Watson: Andrew Sachs
Writer: Bert Coules
Banking on the success of the BBC’s Complete Sherlock Holmes, Bert Coules was once again commissioned to bring the magic of Sherlock Holmes to the radio. In doing so, he wrote and produced ten pastiches, all based on throw-away references found within Canon. The result is an astonishing collection of pastiches, almost worthy of Doyle himself.
Overall this series is fantastic. That cannot be stressed enough. The undertaking of Canon was commendable, but this; this is above and beyond anything I ever expected. That Coules would go to such lengths, to create such brilliance, is worthy of both my praise and my admiration.
Coules captures perfectly the delicate balance between personal and professional, showcasing the true depth of Holmes and Watson’s friendship while still managing to write engaging, interesting, and often mysterious cases.
Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes:
To date, I still consider Clive Merrison to be one of the great Holmeses, if not the greatest Holmes. Surely he deserves acclaim for creating the Sherlock Holmes of an entire generation (not to mention genre). He still remains the Holmes of Canon, more so than any other Holmes before him, and for that he deserves our admiration.
Andrew Sachs as Dr. Watson:
Sadly, Michael Williams, who played Dr. Watson in the BBC’s Complete Sherlock Holmes, had passed away before the recording of the Further Adventures. Sachs was chosen to replace him, and it is quite obvious that a good decision was made.
Sachs plays a very different Watson from his predecessor. He comes across as almost young, a little soft-spoken at times, and yet still completely confident in his place in Holmes’ life (and work). Sachs brings a dignity to the role that I wasn’t particularly expecting, and while he certainly wasn’t my favourite Watson, he is a far better Watson than many, carving out his own place quite distinctly. I will confess; it was a little jarring at first to hear Clive Merrison play off a different actor, but within a few episodes I was quite satisfied with William’s replacement.
The Madness of Colonel Warburton
In the first of Coules’ ‘pastiches’, The Madness of Colonel Warburton tells the story of a son’s worry concerning his father’s sanity. Colonel Warburton has become quite enamoured with a pair of ‘mediums’ who claim to be able to speak to his deceased wife. This occurs through a series of séances (a nod, no doubt, to Doyle himself) and results in Warburton’s (seeming) devotion to the couple; so much so that he changes his will, leaving the whole of his estate to the Besmers.
Holmes, commissioned to find proof against the Besmers, does his best to set the story straight, although doing so will implicate the very man he is trying to save. This is a fascinating case (worthy, in fact, of Canon –and, indeed, the story’s title comes from a reference found originally in The Engineer’s Thumb). Fast paced and quite engaging, the listener will have no difficulty imagining they are listening to an original.
The student of subtext, too, will be quite pleased with this story, for it showcases Holmes and Watson’s relationship (particularly in regards to Holmes’ cocaine use) exceptionally well. Indeed, the opening scene is particularly amusing, for we are treated to Holmes’ sighs and moans as he injects himself with cocaine –although, I did at first mistake the almost sinful sounds Holmes was making for something else entirely. Warburton’s tale, too, is quite rich in subtext, for the story alludes to Colonel Warburton’s desire to protect his son from disgrace. Although this disgrace is not specifically mentioned, Warburton does use the term ‘indiscretion’ and one can easily imagine that this might imply a homosexual love affair. Quite apropos, then, that this should open Coules’ follow-up series.
The Star of the Adelphi
Coules’ The Star of the Adelphi is a fascinating look at the private lives of public figures. In this case actors and we soon learn that all the world is, literally, a stage. Sorting out who is acting, and who is telling the truth proves quite difficult for Holmes, as he attempts to solve the murder of a well known, and well respected, stage actor.
This is quite the engaging story, Coules managing to weave the perfect mystery (indeed, I confess, I was unable to solve this case before its conclusion). It’s a fascinating look, too, at fame and notoriety (something of which Holmes himself was only too familiar). That Coules can write such an engaging story, while still inserting social commentary is quite remarkable.
Holmes and Watson are at their best in this dramatization, their partnership obviously quite strong, Watson contributing equally to the case, Holmes including Watson in all his proceedings. It is quite easy to imagine (even without the Moriarty reference) that this case takes place late in Holmes and Watson’s relationship. It is quite apparent, then, that Coules not only knows, but respects, the full depths of Holmes and Watson’s friendship.
The Star of the Adelphi is based on a reference found in The Second Stain.
The Peculiar Persecution of Mr. John Vincent Harden
The Peculiar Persecution of Mr. John Vincent Harden is based on a reference found in The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist. In this pastiche, Holmes receives an unusual metallic object in the morning post, which convinces him to look into the death of John Harden. Nothing is as it seems, however, for Holmes, unable to find a motive for murder, must search out an alternate solution. The metallic object, which was retrieve from the interior of Harden’s stomach, proves to be key (both figurative and literally) to putting the entire case together.
Again, I find myself amazed by Coules’ brilliance. This is yet another pastiche worthy of Doyle. The story is fascinating, the case well put together (providing both suspense and intrigue) and Holmes and Watson utterly in character. Indeed, there was not a moment spent listening to this play that I wasn’t completely enthralled.
At this point, too, I am warming up quite nicely to Andrew Sachs. He portrays a very different Watson from his predecessor, Michael Williams, and yet his Watson remains completely believable. There is something positively scintillating in Holmes and Watson’s interaction in this play, and I suspect that has a lot to do with Sachs tendency to play up Watson’s more romantic nature.
Overall, yet another exceptionally well done pastiche. Truly Coules should be quite proud of this work.
The Singular Inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson
While only the fourth in the series, already The Singular Inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson has earned the top notch on my favourites list. With a lengthy introduction to Holmes and Watson’s domestic life in Baker Street, how could it not? Beyond this adorable opening scene (Holmes and Watson playing a game of mind reading, complete with innuendo, teasing, and delightful banter), the story itself is also quite remarkable.
Holmes, blocked at every turn by Scotland Yard, sets about solving the mystery of a top notch burglar, aptly called, The Ghost. This is not an easy feat, for Holmes is pitted against renowned Scotland Yard detective, Athelney Jones. Jones is vying for credit on this one, and wants Sherlock Holmes nowhere near the case.
Naturally, then, it is Sherlock Holmes who solves the case, by discovering a rather obvious (and entirely too convenient) clue. A bit of mud, laced with sawdust, leads Holmes to a local side show, where he meets his suspect, Gorgiano, aka, Miss Gloria Wilson.
The story does not end there, unfortunately, for the only complaint to be found in this pastiche is it’s rather drawn out ending. Were Holmes’ investigation to have carried on longer, and Miss Wilson’s reunion with her grandfather have been cut, then undoubtedly this would have become one of the finest pastiches of our generation.
Then again, perhaps I am merely biased. It is not every day you meet a Victorian master thief, and then discover that she is a woman.
The Singular Inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson is based on a reference found in The Problem of Thor Bridge.
The Saviour of Cripplegate Square
Based on a reference found in The Sign of Four, The Saviour of Cripplegate Square tells the story of one of Holmes’ earlier (pre-Watson) cases. Holmes, still relatively new to the world of detection, finds himself investigating Mr. Guttridge, who is suspected of having murdered three infants in his wife’s care.
Mrs. Guttridge runs an orphanage (though Watson will refer to it as a baby-farm) where she takes in unwanted babies; for a fee, of course. Her maid, a Miss Jenny Snell, believes that she witnessed Mr. Guttridge tampering with the children’s medicine. Holmes, flexing unused muscles, immediately sets to work investigation.
This is a remarkable pastiche (not just in its subject matter, which is at times quite shocking –particularly the finale, which will not be commented on, so as not to spoil the reader) in that it showcases Holmes’ tentative beginnings. We see Holmes assume a disguise for the first time, and Holmes break into a home for the first time. We see, too, Holmes’ challenges and difficulties with transferring all of his theory into practice. This is quite the vulnerable Holmes, and it is quite remarkable that he should share this side of himself with Watson.
While truly this story belongs to the case, Holmes and Watson’s interaction provides a nice, touching counterpart to an otherwise disturbing story.
The Abergavenny Murder
In a slight deviation from Coules’ other Pastiches, The Abergavenny Murder showcases Holmes and Watson’s penchant for deductive reasoning, all without ever leaving the comfort of Baker Street. One would think, then, that this story would prove quite dull, yet this is not in the least the case.
Holmes and Watson, bored and looking for a way to pass the day, soon find themselves in the midst of a case that lands, literally, on their doorstep. Their client, having rushed into the sitting room at Baker Street, manages to utter two complete sentences before collapsing onto the ground, dead from a heart attack.
From here Holmes and Watson must identify who the man was, what it was that he wanted, and a way to help him. This proves more challenging than one would imagine, but Holmes and Watson are both up to the task, the story resolving itself rather neatly, much, we are sure, to the disappointment of Inspector Lestrade.
Engaging subject matter aside, what truly sets this pastiche apart is that it (the story) belongs entirely to Holmes and Watson. No other character is introduced (save for our brief introduction to their as of yet unnamed client). As such, we are treated to an entire episode devoted to Holmes/Watson interaction, complete with bantering, teasing, the sharing of personal history, compliments, and a sense of comradery which, until now, only Doyle had perfected. Simply brilliant.
The Abergavenny Murder is loosely based on a reference found within The Priory School.
The Shameful Betrayal of Miss Emily Smith
Sadly (and almost in counterpoint to the brilliance that was The Abergavenny Murder) The Shameful Betrayal of Miss Emily Smith is decidedly, well, lacking. It is certainly not up to Coules’ usual standards, anyway.
Perhaps this is due to the long, drawn out storyline, with multiple plot twists and too many characters to adequately keep track of. I could see what Coules was going for, but I suspect he reached too high. For this he was burnt.
That is not, however, to say that the story is completely lacking. Some elements were quite interesting (the subplot, which I must confess confused me throughout the tale, comes together in a moment of startling brightness –literally a light bulb went off in my head– rounding out the story nicely). Holmes, too, is quite up to his usual snuff, and I was delighted to witness Holmes and Watson engage with a reader of The Strand (and hence Watson’s stories). Aside from this, however, the story (particularly the poorly written fairytale) was at best weak.
The Shameful Betrayal of Miss Emily Smith is based on a reference found in The Norwood Builder.
The Tragedy of Hanbury Street
Based on a reference found in The Golden Pince-Nez, the Tragedy of Hanbury Street finds Holmes investigating the suicide of a sixteen year-old girl; a volunteer from the Hanbury Street clinic for the poor. Wrought with twists and turns, along with an additional suicide, this pastiche is actually quite masterfully done.
Although perhaps shy on Holmes/Watson subtext, the story does showcase both Holmes and Watson, along with the Holmes-Watson partnership. It is the case, however, that proves truly interesting, the audience the last to connect the pieces. This creation of a seemingly unsolvable mystery is what makes this case so delightful to follow. At no given point was I able to even glimpse the finale, let alone come close to uncovering the eventual solution. As a listener, I felt quite engaged, completely drawn in to the story, watching the events unfold, the clues materialize, just as Holmes and Watson did. It was quite impressive, actually.
My only complaint is that, perhaps, at times, the story was purposely dropped in order to keep the listener in suspense. Holmes, for example, tells Watson how Mr. Crosby dies, and yet this information is not shared with the listener. This being kept in the dark is quite frustration, even knowing that revealing said information likely would have cut the broadcast short a good fifteen minutes.
Overall, though, The Tragedy of Hanbury Street is quite well done. I enjoyed it rather thoroughly.
The Determined Client
In The Determined Client, Holmes is contacted by a woman whose father is believed to have shot and seriously injured his nephew, before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. Miss Addleton is convinced of her father’s innocence, claiming that not all of the facts fit the final solution. Holmes, his curiosity piqued by a single element of the case, instantly agrees to undertake the clearing of Mr. Addleton’s name.
Things, however, do not go smoothly for Miss Addleton, or her father, for Holmes soon discovers that the evidence that would prove Mr. Addleton’s innocence is the same evidence that was put in place for Holmes to find.
Needless to say, the plot of this particular pastiche is rather well done. The case is fascinating, gripping, intriguing; in short, everything that one would expect from Canon. It does not end there, for in addition to an excellent case, we are also treated to several rather delightful elements.
Holmes and Watson are quite endearing together (both in terms of their partnership, and their friendship) in this episode. Watson, too, is quite cunning, proving quite the loyal (and useful) companion to Holmes –something Holmes does not hesitate to admit. All of this, however, is overshadowed by Holmes’ introduction to the local Sergeant. Oh, my Sunday helmet, indeed!
The Determined client was also based on reference found within The Golden Pince-Nez.
The Striking Success of Miss Franny Blossom
I must confess; I am rather torn on this episode. The case itself is quite good, telling the story of the murder of a Colonel’s step-son, and then, later, the murder of his presumed killer. From the start, the obvious motive of a gambling debt appears to be at the centre of the plot, but as the story continues, we soon discover that advancement and reputation play an even bigger role.
An interesting case, then, worthy, perhaps, of Canon, but sadly Coules goes a little too far, taking too many liberties, destroying what might have otherwise been a fascinating (if, albeit, formulaic) plot. Coules, for reasons I have yet to figure out, introducing what can only be considered a love interest. For Sherlock Holmes.
She appears in the form of a Mrs. Ricoletti and we are led to believe that Holmes had past dealings with her and her late husband. From the outset of the case Mrs. Ricoletti goes out of her way to attract Holmes’ interest. In fact, she’s quite blatant, even going so far as to suggest that Holmes ditch Watson and take her to the opera instead (something we are pleased to note does not happen). And while, yes, Holmes does put off her advances (and they are advances), he is still far more familiar with her than with any other woman we have seen to date, including Irene Adler.
This is so incredibly out of character for Holmes that the scenes between him and Ricoletti become uncomfortable, awkward even. In short, this attempt to sexualize Holmes is so distracting that, what should be an interesting case, becomes nothing more than a flawed (painfully, at times) pastiche. Truly this was quite disappointing.
The Striking Success of Miss Franny Blossom is based on a reference found within The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Following up a series as successful as the Complete Sherlock Holmes is no easy task, and yet Coules manages to do so with poise and grace. If anything, he has exceeded my expectations here. True, the series is not without its flaws, but then, so too was Canon. Of all the pastiches I have encountered, it is this series which stands out foremost in my mind as the epitome of a good pastiche. More so than that, the series itself is worthy of Canon, the weaving of these ten new cases quite simply masterful. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes easily earns five out of five pipes.