When season 2 of Sherlock was announced last year the producers confirmed that they would be re-imagining the most famous Holmes case of all time - The Hound of the Baskervilles. The original story by Arthur Conan Doyle is well regarded by many to be one of the all time great entries in the world of crime fiction. Given the popularity of the original book and the success thus far of the current TV series, it is safe to assume that last nights episode was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated instalment of the show since it’s inception. Too bad then that it was so underwhelming.
Now don’t get me wrong, a sub par episode of ’Sherlock’ is ten times better than any other show on TV at the moment, but it is a shame to have to admit that last nights episode was more reminiscent of the first season entry ’The Blind Banker’ than it’s original source material. Like the Blind Banker it was slightly patchy, at times predictable, oddly cliché and really felt like it was struggling to meet it’s 90 minute duration. Of course credit is due to the producers for choosing to adapt such a famous story, it was certainly a bold move and one which in essence was a risk worth taking unfortunately it just didn’t pay off which is surprising seeing as how it was written by horror aficionado Mark Gatiss.
Gatiss clearly didn’t have enough material in his script to fill the required feature length of the episode, both he and director Paul McGuigan sacrificed the story for atmosphere which would have been slightly more forgivable had this been a 40 minute episode. The best episodes of Sherlock juggle multiple mysteries and move at break neck speed, this time however it was a one case mystery (let’s be honest, nobody cared about the glow in the dark rabbit) that plodded along with no real sense of urgency. The reasoning behind Sherlock taking the case was pretty weak as was the silly superfluous subplot with Watson investigating an unintelligible Morse code signalling. The scene with Mycroft and Moriarty at the end of the episode felt like an afterthought, I would like to call it a subplot but it really was just a single scene. A sting at the end to wake the audience up and remind them to come back next week. It would have been far more satisfying had that plot point been expanded upon it surely would have made for an engaging subplot and one which may have rescued this episode.
Another problem this week was Russell Tovey, who played Henry Knight. Tovey was absolutely horrifying to watch, he was totally unconvincing in the role and choose to over act every chance he got. His final scene should be screened at all acting schools from now on to remind the students of why ‘less is more’ when it comes to on-screen performances. The purpose of his character was to convince the audience that there may be some truth to the rumours of a gigantic beast with glowing red eyes stalking the moors, but Tovey’s poor acting really defeated that notion and as a result you were never really convinced for a second that there was really anything out there. The entire time you are simply left counting down the minutes until Holmes solves the mystery.
Making Baskerville a military research facility was an inspired choice on paper but unfortunately it just didn’t fit the tone of the series, writer Mark Gatiss knew this and spent too much time trying to ground the facility into the realism of the show that it just slowed down the story too much. The scenes spent inside there were boring to watch. With other episodes the exposition scenes are normally spun at a quicker pace with a visual flair, but this time it was tedious to watch with the actors just standing still and talking to each other in a horribly bland white room filled with cages. All the lens flairs, writing on the walls and rotating camera moves couldn’t elevate those scenes above pure mediocrity. Every character both in the research facility and in the town were poor clichés. The grumpy no nonsense General who has it in for our heroes but reluctantly agrees to help them out towards the end, the overly friendly publican who is most definitely hiding a dark secret and the painstakingly obvious villain of the piece unconvincingly disguised as a helpful do-gooder.
The script for this episode felt like it was written during the first season and forgotten about until now. I say this because it’s the only rational explanation I can think of as to why the trust and respect Holmes and Watson earned from one another over the course of the show so far has been forgotten about. This episode sacrificed the evolution of Holmes and Watson’s partnership in favour of cheap gags. Using Watson as a guinea pig for the fear toxin began as a humorous running gag with the sugar but ended up becoming a little sadistic when Holmes was clearly enjoying himself watching Watson on the CCTV hiding in a cage. I hated the way that their relationships was played for laughs during this episode as opposed to the equal footing they have had in the show up until this point. Also the joke about people mistaking the pair for a gay couple is getting really old now.
Seeing Holmes doubt himself was a pleasure to watch and it was wonderfully played by Benedict Cumberbatch but overall his character did take a huge step back from ’A Scandal in Belgravia’ which saw grappling with emotions and becoming slightly more sympathetic towards those around him. Holmes who had previously defended Mrs Hudson from US agents and Mycroft’s short temper was back to square one this week by making a fool of his landlady in front of Watson by proudly deducing that her current love interest has two wives. While we all know that Holmes is very cocky with his deductions it was rather unfair of him not to broach the subject more delicately.
I hope that next week’s season finale is a return to form and that when the show is inevitably renewed for a third round that it’s second episode does not suffer from the ‘middle child’ syndrome that haunts seasons 1 and 2.
This article was first posted on January 10, 2012