16. Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville (2012, TV)

IMDB score = 8.5/10

Holmes and Watson? = Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Synopsis = Sherlock and John investigate the ghosts of a young man who has been seeing monstrous hounds out in the woods where his father died.

Defense by Paul Thomas Miller:

Like all the BBC Sherlock episodes, this contains those Easter egg elements we all enjoy. The story opens with a nod to Black Peter’s harpoon opening scene. There’s Holmes’s rail against boredon, Sir Henry being replaced with Henry Knight, Undershaw Meat Suppliers, the bet bluff from Blue Carbuncle and plenty of other little nuggets.

Like all the BBC Sherlock episodes, there are nice little examinations of the Canonical characters and how they would have operated in real life. We see what would happen if Holmes played Cluedo. We see Watson learning the trick through his exposure to Holmes’s methods (he identifies a caller by the way they ring the doorbell). We see what would happen if Stamford was right about Holmes testing drugs on his friends. And there is a delicious moment where we get to see how he’d be affected if Holmes could no longer trust his own senses.

Like all the BBC Sherlock episodes it has it’s moments of comedy. Selden’s light signals from the moor are turned into the flashing headlights of doggers, for example.

But what makes this episode special is the freshness they bring to an over-told story. The Hound of the Baskervilles has been done to death in film and TV adaptations. There are, for example, five different versions of it on this very 35 Worst Films list. And at least two of the remaining films contain references to it that I know of. When you watch a lot of screen Holmes, it is possible to begin to get bored by the story. Where this version really comes into its own is by balancing the essence of the original story with a whole new plot. It gives us something at once new and familiar to enjoy.

All the original characters are here, but they are all slightly altered. Instead of Laura, with have Corporel Lyons. Butler Barrymore becomes Major Barrymore and so on. The plot is recognisable: the hounds transforms from a legendary curse to a modern conspiracy theory. The torment of the Baskerville family by someone they thought was a friend is still there, but now it is the Knight family who are victimised. The horror of the novel is there throughout, but especially heightened in the scene where Watson believes he is locked in a room with the hound. They mess with exactly whodunnit, but the feel remains the sameright up to the villain dying on The Great Grimpen Mine Field.

Far from being a bad Holmes film, this is a strong example of why so many of us originally fell in love with BBC Sherlock; the genius was in the ability to perfectly balance the Canon, the existing scholarship and a whole new take on The Master.