Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Rules Are Wrong!

This is a review of The Hounds of Baskerville and as such contain spoilers. 

Oh Gatiss you! You clever, clever devil you!
I love Mark Gatiss. I love watching him on telly, I love his preoccupation with horror, I find him very eloquent, intelligent and interesting and I have been meaning to read his books, of which I heard nothing but raves, for a while now. But I have to admit I had my doubts about his scriptwriting abilities. His Doctor Who episodes, The Lazarus Experiment and Night Terrors didn’t impress me very much and his Sherlock episode from the previous series was only OK, but not brilliant. The introduction of Moriarty in the end of that episode was disappointing for many and has affected the overall enjoyment of the episode. 

The Sherlock Holmes story; The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a precious story for many, even for non Holmes aficionados. Personally it's not my top favourite, but I do like it a lot. Surprisingly, it is the most famous story of the Sherlock Holmeses and been adapted to death. I never liked any of the onscreen adaptation I have seen of this story and gave up watching them very quickly.

Therefore it wouldn't come as a surprise that I was a bit anxious before watching The Hounds of Baskerville. I feared that after the wonderful start to the series, my disappointment would be too much to handle. The good thing about being a sceptics is that it is great to be proven wrong.

The response to The Hounds of Baskerville in the Sherlock sphere didn't seem to be as enthusiastic as mine, and a lot of people, dedicated Holmes fans as well as casual viewers, didn’t like this episode as much as the first. I don’t know why, but I will try to get over it.

Before anything else, I want to take a moment and admire the oh so dramatic style and character of this episode: the scenery, the camera work, the atmosphere the pace of it and the excellent suspense, which kept me at the edge of my seat even though I predicted the outcome, well, having read the book I knew the outcome, but it's not a difficult one to figure out even in the book, everything in the episode was so different to previous episodes, and it stood out in its excellent off beat exception, much like the original story.
Moment over. 

While A Scandal in Belgravia was pouring down with Sherlock Holmes references that stretched beyond the books and celebrated a Sherlock Holmes culture, The Hounds of Baskerville went in a different direction. While it had its little throws towards other stories, The Hounds of Baskerville was a lot more contain and focused on its original story with the wonderfully clever solution taken from The Devil's Foot story.

Whether it was the subtle change to the title, the choice to change Henry’s last name from Baskerville to Knight, possibly making him a paranoid version of Don Quixote that contradicts Sherlock’s rationalism and logic, very fittingly played by Russell Tovey, the mixing and changing the characters names and who's who from the book, or the several plays on words (hound, H.O.U.N.D, dog, dogging, which in Conan Doyle's time actually meant following) and use of location, everything served the broad feel of the episode which brilliantly captured the mood of the book.  

Sherlock is famous for being master of disguise and Watson have said in A Study in Scarlet that he would have made a brilliant actor. This talent of Sherlock often becomes a comedy aspect in some adaptations (Guy Richie I'm looking at you) and is quite difficult to adapt to the screen nowadays without the audience figuring it out.  Sherlock's talent of deception is particularly important to the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles and in my view is masterfully used in Gatiss' version of it

Of course Sherlock knows how Watson take his coffee! His sulking, as if he will be offended if Watson refused this peace offering coffee, is the little touch which makes both Sherlock and Cumberbatch the fantastic actors they are, not only does he know how Watson drinks his coffee, he knows how to make him drink it the way he wants him to drink it. 

In a conversation I had with a friend about the episode, she claimed that she wasn't scared of the dog and so didn't understand why Sherlock would be so afraid and dramatically affected. I didn't think Sherlock was ever scared beyond the split second when he saw the hound for the first time. A split second in which, for the first time ever, I saw the image of Sherlock Holmes exactly how I visualised him the first time I read The Hound of the Baskervilles. I can't explain what it was exactly, but everything in that frame, from the facial expression which is a combination of fear and determination, right down to his posture, was my Sherlock, the way he was in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Everything that happened after that moment, in my opinion, was an act to convince Watson of his genuine fear and plant the image of the hound in his head. The end scene where Sherlock doesn’t understand why the owners of the dog didn’t have the heart to kill the dog, and asked Watson whether it was a sentiment, convinced me that he never really doubted himself, and was never really scared.

In Gatiss' version, Sherlock turns Watson, quite literally, to a lab rat, which is not that different from what Holmes does in the original story, in which Holmes' manipulation and deception is particularly cruel towards Watson. Both the story and the episode showcase their friendship and Watson's loyalty and admiration for Holmes. It is also a testimony to Watson's own unique character that he not only allows Holmes to manipulate him in such a way and forgives him, and not for the first or last time either in the stories at least, but perhaps he admires him even more. 

Maybe my theory is wrong, or maybe because Sherlock Holmes is my hero I just can't accept his self doubts, but to me, Sherlock's elaborated deception ties in very neatly with the story and the overall nature of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  

My only two complaints about The Hounds of Baskerville are with regards to the mind palace scene and the dog itself. Though I enjoy the Minority Report-esque of it, and can never resist a virtuosic Cumberbatch with the face of a dog or Elvis, I felt it was an empty show offy moment, which was wonky and unnecessary. The dog, I think, should have remained unseen, it would have had a stronger impact this way.

However, the dramatic suspense and atmosphere, the Watson of this episode, for Martin Freeman is truly brilliant here, the skilful scriptwriting, but above all my The Hound of the Baskervilles Sherlock moment make me declare The Hounds of Baskerville the best onscreen adaptation to The Hounds of the Baskerville story I have ever seen. Thank you Mr. Gatiss, my faith in you as a scriptwriter is now restored.     

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