Sherlock – The Hounds of Baskerville – TV Review

And so we come to the second episode of the second series of Sherlock – The Hounds of Baskerville. You’ll never guess which Holmes story this is based on…

I feel I should say a little about the original Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s a well-written adventure story and an actual whodunit. Admittedly, it’s pretty obvious whodunit in the book, as there’s precisely one character, if you ignore the obvious red herring, who is in any way suspicious. But there’s also a structural issue with the story – it’s rather constrained by the set-up. If you have a mystery story concerning a big killer glow-in-the-dark doggie, you have to seriously limit the appearances of said pooch, otherwise people will realise that it’s just a big dog covered in glowing paint. But in a classic mystery, you know it’s not going to be a supernatural explanation, so you find yourself waiting for someone to actually see the dog and point out the obvious. Yes, there are a couple (or is it one?) off-page maulings, but I found myself, as the book went on, waiting and waiting for the damn dog to turn up. And it does and the story basically ends there.

So, no, it’s not a favourite of mine, so I was fascinated by what Mark Gatiss was going to put together to make ninety minutes of twisty-turny telly. In some ways, Steven Moffat had it easy last week, using A Scandal In Bohemia as his source material. Gatiss had many more restrictions – big scary dog, Dartmoor, no game-playing. Basically put our modern day Sherlock into what is, so far, as traditional a mystery as he’s faced.

I have to say, he did a bloody good job of it. The notion that the dog might be a genetically-engineered killer hound trumps the supernatural explanation by being rather more plausible and the goings on at the Baskerville research base made for an interesting background to the nightmare of Henry Knight, who, as a child, saw his father ripped to death by a killer hound and is now being haunted by the same creature.

Cumberbatch and Freeman were on top form as always, and it was nice to see Rupert Graves (as Greg!) make an unexpected appearance, but the kudos here need to go to Gatiss and the director Paul McGuigan for making a genuinely scary piece of television. Yes, there were jokes and mysteries, but some of those sequences, especially Russell Tovey (absolutely first rate) alone in his conservatory with something outside… scary without resulting to gore. Always the best kind of scary.

There were a few unanswered questions –

  • Whose idea was it to cast two Little Johns (Gordon Kennedy and Clive Mantle) in the story? Where was Nick Brimble?
  • How hard did the casting director think, going from something with big dogs in it to Russell Tovey? I presume they watch Being Human.
  • Plotwise, how did John get exposed?
  • And what was going on in that last scene? Perhaps the person who has hacked John Watson’s blog might have something to say about it…

So overall, another great 90 minutes of television, despite a slightly obvious villain, and full of great references to the original story without being a slave to it – Sherlock almost sending Watson to Dartmoor alone, the flashing lights – was that really a bad pun? – and my favourite, the Grimpen Mine Field.

I do worry about next week’s episode though… I fear bad things.

13 comments

  1. Conceptually I agree, this was absolutely spot-on, finding intelligent modern-day equivalents amid the delightful comedy and genuine scares. And you are right about Gatiss being a bit constrained by the desire to be fairly faithful to a whole novel. I actually wished that Tovey had been given a little bit more to do (more complex dreams perhaps with clues parceled gradually out) and I thought the sequence with John menaced in the lab, especially given the revelation of the motive behind it, was a bit overlong and felt a little bit like padding. So a smidgen lest good than last week’s for me, but wonderful stuff none the less. Given that Steve Thompson’s was definitely the weak link last year, it looks like he has been given a lot more to work with here and, from what’s been used in the trailers thus far, I am genuinely looking forward to see where they go with it – sublime TV. They won’t make us wait another 18 months for our next SHERLOCK fix will they?

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  2. Oh, Russell Tovey is in this, that’s surely all to the good. In honor of all the Sherlock hoopla, I did a piece on Michael Dirda’s new Conan Doyle book and for him reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the age of ten was one of his seminal literary experiences!

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    • Tovey really is excellent – playing posh as well, which is a bit of a surprise.

      I think, to be honest, I read the original book far too late – it was one of the first Holmes books that I read after reading a LOT of Agatha Christie, so I was always going to find the mystery a let-down. Your article is fascinating – I think he must have read it at exactly the right time. I do appreciate that it’s a great book – it’s just not what I wanted it to be, i.e. a decent mystery.

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  3. As a modern take on the classic story, Hounds of Baskerville was certainly fun and the story played wonderfully with the characters of the original work (Stapleton’s role in the story). The Dartmoor setting was also a welcome change from the urban environment of the previous episodes. The Doctor Who-ish horror was certainly something new to the series and made it all the more entertaining.

    And regarding how Watson got exposed, I think Sherlock mentioned that the gas might’ve been leaking from the pipes (which at first only seemed like an excuse to divert the question of why Sherlock thought Watson was exposed to it, but it might have been a honest guess…)

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  4. Great Review!

    I personally loved this episode and the rest of the series. But the last episode was something else. It was spectacular. The worst thing is that we have to wait another year before we can see more.

    Just found your blog and I really like it! I’ll sub when I’m next on computer because my iPad never let’s me!

    Check out my review of Sherlock Series 2 on my blog.

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