TV Review: Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

Sherlock

S2, E2: ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’

Sherlock makes a dog’s dinner of a classic.

Grade: F+

***SPOILERS FOR ALL EPISODES OF SHERLOCK UP TO S2, E2****

The Hound of the Baskervilles has always been a superlative adventure yarn. It is spooky, suspenseful and the titular hound is legitimately terrifying. I don’t think it’s the best puzzle in the books necessarily, but it’s a ripping tale and I’d think it would play to Sherlock’s strengths: night-time chases, bags of atmosphere and a splendid, charged exchange between Holmes and Watson. It’s partly epistolary, which you’d think would lend itself splendidly to the text-appearing-on-screen device popularised by the show. As well as nice irascible voice-overs from Cumberbatch and Freeman.

Instead, we get…whatever this is. Watered-down X-Files, supremely shitty CGI and badly-written posturing. It’s like the first draft of a fanfic. Which – yes, I know Sherlock is Holmes fanfic. But this is like bad Sherlock fanfic. Isn’t it a bit early for Moffat to be parodying his own creation?

‘Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound.’

Henry Knight (Russell Tovey, everyone’s favourite werewolf) is in a terrible state. When he was a very young boy, he saw his father being torn to pieces by a monster. He’s in therapy, but after he wakes up in a sinister Devon wood surrounded by the footprints of ‘a gigantic hound’, he’s convinced something needs to be done. Sherlock, initially and uncharmingly dismissive, has his interest piqued. He and John go down to Devon and inveigle their way into a military installation called Baskerville, where all sorts of Doctor Moreau-esque gene-splicing is said to be conducted. He also drags Henry out onto the moors at night, where a guttural snarl sends both men reeling with shock and terror.

‘I don’t have friends.’

Whatever it is they see, it’s enough to send Sherlock into a miniature nervous breakdown. And look – I fully accept that it is difficult to adequately show something so bone-chillingly terrifying that it thrusts the Great and Powerful Sherlock Holmes off his axis. Especially on a limited budget. I get it, I do. But without letting us in on what Sherlock saw or thought he saw, we really have little idea of why he is sitting by the fire with shaking hands musing about what a terrible thing emotions are. Which- sigh. We’re not talking about Victorian sentimentality, Sherlock. We’re not talking about strong emotion – or your little dalliance with Mistress Misogyny from last episode. We’re talking about something that scared you because you cannot immediately explain it.

Which, normally, would be a delightful conundrum that would pique and excite Sherlock. But because the show has decided that it’s been too long without a Sherlock tantrum, they have him make an intolerable grievance out of an unexplained phenomenon. They also have John be uncharacteristically dense and unsympathetic to his obviously shaken friend, patronising him about being rational. So, having first yammered about how his body is letting him down and implied that he thinks he’s losing it, Sherlock takes umbrage at John’s suggestion that….he might not be on peak form? Whatever, it’s just an excuse for Sherlock to go into a sub-par Sherlock scan and then insult John. Everybody’s reactions in this scene seem to be 30 degrees off, and fully 30 per cent more..extra…than the context would suggest.

‘I don’t have friends. I only have one.’

John’s upset, and Sherlock is as effusively apologetic the next day as you can imagine. He even brings John tea, which John, touched and disturbed, drinks. He points out that the tea has sugar, but Sherlock pulls such convincing Bambi eyes that John drinks anyway. Back they go into Baskerville, where John becomes speedily convinced that a terrifying monster matching Sherlock’s description is after him. John uncharacteristically gibbers with terror, Sherlock pulls him out and tells him he’s been slipped a hallucinogenic. And poor old John takes until the end of the episode to realise what surely any of us are thinking the moment that Sherlock says ‘hallucinogen’: Sherlock’s slipped him the drug to test a hypothesis. And I confess I was spitting nails when I first saw the episode about Sherlock’s roofying his friend. But this hypothesis is one lonely spark of elegance in this clodhopping episode, so you know what? Discuss amongst yourselves. I don’t have the energy to get into the ethics of it. Or how betrayed I feel that the best part of the show – the friendship between John and Sherlock – is as easily sold out as this.

A classic of the canon with all sorts of potential for a gangbusters adventure, and instead we have an iffy mystery with terrible special effects (oh, to see the ‘Hound’ in the climax is to die a thousand deaths of embarrassment) that – worst of all – makes zero use of Cumberbatch and Freeman’s relaxed buddy chemistry.

So why not give it an outright ‘F’? Well, hindsight is clairvoyant, after all. I know that the premiere of the third season is coming, and that episode’s grade must reflect the unimpeachable nadir. The asymptote. While it exists, the mere badness of this episode must pale into insignificance. So there you go, Baskerville: have your F+.

Deerstalking: Holmes canon nods

  • ‘Seven per cent stronger’ is, of course, a reference to The Seven-per-cent Solution.
  • ‘My mind’s like a racing engine’ is a reference to ‘my mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built’ from The Man with the Twisted Lip.
  • ‘Once you’ve ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’, tweaked from the very famous original line in The Sign of the Four. I feel as though it was wasted in this context.
  • ‘Grit on the lens’ is a portmanteau of ‘Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.’ From A Scandal in Bohemia.
  • From the original story:
    • The show feints at sending John ahead instead of going himself as in the original, but in the episode the two set off together.
    • Barrymore, Mortimer, Lyons, Stapleton all get name-checks. Henry Knight is of course Sir Henry Baskerville (who I assume would actually be a baronet since the title was inherited?)
    • ‘You may not be the most luminous of people, but as a conductor of light you are unbeatable’ slightly tweaks ‘It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.’
    • The meat kept out by the B&B owners for the dog echoes the food left out for the escaped convict Selden by the housekeeper.

Odds and sods

  • Oh, yeah, the actual plot. Hush-hush government installation working on chemical warfare with disastrous outcomes. Chap found out. Chap was bumped off. Chap’s son saw the off-bumping. Chap’s son was gaslit with hallucinogenic gas to destroy his credibility.
  • John and Sherlock have apparently played Cluedo before – with disastrous results. Also John sniggers at Sherlock’s cheekbones and coat-collar. John even calls Sherlock Spock (groan). I am increasingly convinced that Moffat has been browsing tumblr memes.
  • Sherlock seems terribly convinced that he recognises female writing. His track record on the show would beg to differ.
  • Oh, the show loves to have Sherlock be a tit for no good reason. Tee-hee, Sherlock makes digs at John’s love-letters! Tee-hee, Sherlock is a douche to the traumatised young man talking of the night that his father was violently killed!
  • The owners of the B&B assume that John and Sherlock are together. John issues a flustered denial. A nation mutters ‘har de bloody har’ under its breath.
  • I would fully expect John to be the chauffeur rather than Sherlock, but apparently Freeman can’t drive so Cumbers had to. Isn’t real life tiresome?
  • I do rather enjoy John snapping into full-on military mode, as does Sherlock.
  • Okay, look, the Watson of the books was a ladies’ man, with experience of women across three continents. But John doesn’t come across as a ladies’ man in this series so far. He comes across as a sex addict with ADD. It’s really alarming.
  • Er-why does Henry have a gun?
  • How many times do they reuse that shot of Sherlock atop Hound Tor?
  • Sherlock gets a diagnosis! The A-word, even!
  • Why does Mycroft suffer Sherlock to roam around, anyway? Seriously, why?
  • Explain to me what was the point of Dr Mortimer? Did she contribute anything to the story? Anything at all? I’ll wait.
  • Sherlock, frustrated at his elegant hypothesis being disproven, meditates to remember the information. Only he calls it going into his mind palace. And for the next ten seconds I cringe so hard my toenails are permanently driven into the balls of my feet, as Discount Minority Report happens and Sherlock literally spasms every time he realises something. It is just…oh, it’s gloriously dumb.
  • Oh yeah – Mycroft lets Moriarty go. Moriarty has scratched the word ‘Sherlock’ into his walls. Oh God, brace yourselves people. The Campest of Camp Followers is coming back.

4 thoughts on “TV Review: Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

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