“Sherlock”: A Reincarnation

November 29, 2010

A new version of the Sherlock Holmes tales—in which the master sleuth is recast as one of our contemporaries—has debuted (Oct. 24, 2010) as a PBS Masterpiece Mystery series titled Sherlock .

The inaugural episode fittingly parallels the first of the Sherlock Holmes stories created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet , published in 1887. The modernized makeover's title, "A Study in Pink," sets the tone for the new approach: the original story is a backdrop to the new one, but only sometimes will story elements be copied; at other times they will be reversed or otherwise played with.

In "Pink," for example, a murder victim (one of four, in contrast to Scarlet which has two) writes "RACHE" in blood before dying. However, whereas in Scarlet the victim was not intending to write "RACHEL," as Inspector Lestrade had guessed, but instead wrote the German for "revenge" as Holmes recognized, in "Pink" the opposite is the case. And in both versions a ring is an important clue and poison the manner of death, while only in "Pink" is detective work a risky business for Sherlock.

Thus, the new story can be appreciated purely on its own terms, but for the Holmes aficionado there are many details to provoke a knowing wink or to elicit a smile of recognition. As a devoted Sherlockian, I was delighted on both levels.

Written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the exaggeratedly fast-thinking detective; Martin Freeman as his ex-army-doctor sidekick, John H. Watson, M.D.; and Rupert Graves as a challenged Lestrade. They and a fine supporting cast do justice to these rollicking 90-minute episodes with their clever premise and dramatic presentations. That there are three of the Sunday adventures—including "The Blind Banker" (October 31) and "The Great Game" (November 7)—prompts one to hope more will be forthcoming.