Saturday, May 23, 2009

Radio and TV Holmes

I finally watched all 39 episodes of the Holmes TV show starring Ronald Howard and H. Marion Crawford, and I'm sad to come to the end. I also listened to the radio theatre plays on the Sherlock Holmes Society of London website, and found that two of them were dramatised by Chris Drake instead of M. J. Elliott. I finally managed to finish reading The Sign of Three semiotics book, then gave my poor head a rest with a simple children's book about Holmes and the Irregulars called The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas.

Overall the TV series was good, especially character-wise. The domestic scenes between Holmes and Watson, and their interactions with Lestrade, were very amusing and satisfying. It's so nice to see Holmes being a playful imp instead of some rigid stuffshirt. He acts quite young, and laughs easily and naturally. In more than one case he seems fascinated with magic tricks or cards, trying to perform the illusions himself. Holmes likes overcoming Watson's objections to breaking and entering, and he often relies on Watson to create diversions for him, or to improvise some bold action to disarm the villain when he himself has no clear plan of capture. Watson is truly his partner in that sense, though Holmes still has a tendency to keep secrets. He is also fallible and sometimes gets into trouble, like when he's in jail in "The Baker Street Bachelors" and Lestrade laughs at his predicament. In "The Singing Violin," Holmes manages to botch his trap for the killer so much that he gets stuck inside a closet while the murderer is alone with his drugged, helpless stepdaughter. He really should have placed the girl in the closet and himself behind the changing screen. Holmes is reduced to having to threaten from the closet, "Don't touch her, or I'll kill you!" Funny how Holmes always gets so protective about stepdaughters. Then Watson finally arrives with Lestrade to save the day.

I like that Watson is awed by Holmes's deductions, but not by Holmes himself. He feels free to complain about Holmes's VR, chemicals, poisons, etc. Oddly, Watson is given a quirk of knowing every single train timetable from the Bradshaw Railway guide; it's treated as if this were his superpower, so to speak. In Baker Street, many times Watson is shown casually sprawled upon a chaise lounge, with or without a book, and he looks so charmingly Bohemian when he doesn't get up, even for a client. On one occasion we even see Watson at home in a bathtub, and then in just a robe when he answers the door. I was flabbergasted when, in "The Shy Ballerina", Lestrade wakes them up in the middle of the night and they each walk out of their bedrooms wearing only nightshirts. No dressing gowns thrown on, or even pajama pants. Just long nightshirts with slits up the sides that made me stare too long at their bared legs. And after answering the door, they just stand around a while talking to Lestrade in that distracting state. After I got my mind used to that, I could go back and notice the cute humor in Watson asking sleepily, "Did you knock?" and Holmes answering, "I'm inside, Watson. Not outside!" They are quite the bickering married couple. I was almost relieved that Holmes and Watson never appeared in their nightshirts again. Any other times that they were roused out of their bedrooms, they were shown with dressing gowns on.

The cases sometimes felt too rushed, and employed broad stereotypes about ethnic groups, due to different sensibilities in the 1950s, but many of the cases had the right flavor of the canon. I think I recognized one of the repeated actors as being in Without a Clue. Lord Smithwick I believe. I liked some recognizable adaptations of VALL, REDH, ENGR, SPEC, MUSG, as well as some of the original cases. The "Perfect Husband" case really made me upset and afraid for the threatened woman, as did the "Jolly Hangman." The "Careless Suffragette" reminded me very much of the depictions of the absurd suffragettes in Mary Poppins, and the "Christmas Pudding" case made me feel as homey as BLUE. The "Exhumed Client" particularly impressed me for a scene where Holmes spends the night in a death trap room, assuring Watson that he'll call for help loudly if anything happens. By the time that Holmes realizes that he's been poisoned, he cannot call out to Watson louder than a whisper, and we see him fall helplessly while Watson is sleeping elsewhere. I wonder if Holmes contemplated the pitiful irony of his words then? Fortunately, Watson wakes up in time to go save Holmes and give him an antidote. The best part of the rescue was that we actually got to see Holmes in real, genuine danger, not faked danger like when he malingers to trap a killer. The final case is reminiscent of THOR's solution, though the characters are changed.

The show would have been even better if they had done more cases further on, and I wish they hadn't cut Mycroft out of the Interpreter episode. But then again, in a longer series they might have felt compelled to include Mary Morstan and Irene Adler at some point. I wonder how they would have done Moriarty, FINA, and EMPT if it came to that? (The "Christmas Pudding" episode did have a trace of EMPT in it, with the attempt on Holmes's life.) They also hinted at Holmes's retirement by showing him capture a queen bee in Baker Street. Holmes would have been more accurate if we'd seen him taking cocaine or at least exhibiting some symptoms of depression. Still, as far as they went, the series was faithful to the spirit of the canon.

As for the radio theatre plays, I didn't find any other references to "Kate," though I did gather that M. J. Elliott has some sort of thing for Rachel Howells of MUSG. In two of the dramatizations, MUSG is brought up and Watson explicitly calls MUSG a failure because Rachel Howells got away with murder; she apparently is the woman who defeated Holmes in the FIVE reference, not Irene Adler. Must be setting the story before SCAN then.

By the way, I found M. J. Elliott on MySpace, but still have no idea where I can obtain copies of the rest of his adaptations that aren't on the Sherlock Holmes Society of London site.

SPEC and BERY were both dramatized by Chris Drake. In editing SPEC, Drake made some perfectly logical cuts, such as the long opening paragraph about "the untimely death of the lady" and "widespread rumors"; the digression about Mrs. Farintosh's case is not missed either. But other cuts were non-trivial, such as his elimination of the line "I believe it was an excuse to move me from my room." I also thought it was unfair that Drake attributed the gypsy theory to Watson; Holmes was the one to think the gypsies had broken into the shutters. He only changed his mind to the snake solution later, as he admits in the story. (Drake doesn't attempt to change the snake in any way.) Indeed, it seems as though Holmes was the one pushing Miss Stoner to suggest the gypsies as the "speckled band" because he asked "were the gypsies there?" during Julia's death.

There are also some unnecessary bits left in, such as the conversation about going over the stile; why couldn't Watson just narrate a summary that, "We arrived in Stoke Moran that afternoon and met Miss Stoner"? That would eliminate much rambling, along with the problem of the stile that would let the animals escape; I notice that Drake was willing to omit mention of the "unrepaired breaches" in the wall, so why not omit the stile as well, and just have us pretend that Miss Stoner lent them a key to the gate? I'm glad, though, that Drake and the actress were good enough to convey that Helen thinks Holmes's suggestion of the cat is absurd. Helen was not seriously suggesting that the saucer of milk was for the cheetah; she just did not know how else to reply to Holmes's insistence on the milk.

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