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.