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The observation of trifles

I have just watched the latest Sherlock. The chances are good that if you live in the UK, so have you.

You know how first videos, then DVDs, then the multiplication of channels and on-demand telly internet replay thingummies killed off the simultaneous collective experience of television?

It’s back. Not, I hasten to add, that I would know anything about Twitface from personal experience, but there are plenty of people nowadays who simply must watch Sherlock or Dr Who live so that they can talk about it on the internet the minute it is over.

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35 comments to The observation of trifles

  • Paul Marks


    Just watched Sherlock with the family I am staying with in Ulster.

  • steve

    I wasn’t impressed with episode one but I thought that tonight’s was really good. It reminded me of The Avengers (The original , yes I’m that old)


  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Every blog post needs a naysayer, and this time it’s me.

    James Delingpole has made the observation that, like all BBC programmes once they reach a certain popularity, they feel obliged to insert a gay subtext no matter how tacked on. Supposedly this occurs in the latest episode with Moriarty? Further the reviews I have read seem to indicate that this programme is mostly a Sherlock Holmes themed reworking of Spooks, with Holmes battling Al Qaeda and international spy rings left right and centre.

    As a major fan of the books and the Jeremy Brett versions, I’ve been giving this one a wide berth. Hate to see people taking a dump all over classics.

  • Mr Delingpole is out of touch with the Sci-Fi/Fandom community, not that he ever need be in touch but in this case his is attributing to BBC that which is easily explained by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slash_fiction

    Sherlock is not the Conan Doyle original, it is something new, inspired-by, a “mash-up” if you will. Assertions that it does not adhere to “canon” are like complaints that “fusion cuisine” is not “traditional”.

    (edit: also, while we’re at it, Delingpole’s alluded-to kiss was part of a plot element which itself was an ironic piss-take of slash-fic, curiously resonant of a recent set of newspaper headlines: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10521131/Sherlock-Benedict-Cumberbatch-and-fanfic-dont-mess-with-these-women-and-men.html )

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Delingpole’s observation is generally correct, but a gay subtext for various pairings of Holmes, Watson and Moriarty is less “tacked on” than many. Although I do enjoy Sherlock a good deal, my post was not made in praise of it. I was just observing something about how and when people watch it, namely that we have gone back to the TV of the last few hours being one of the default subjects for discussion among classmates or colleagues.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’ve never been a fan of “re-imaginings” of original works. If you want to create something new, do something new. If you want to do Conan Doyle, do Conan Doyle.

    Screwing around with another person’s work seems disrespectful and lacking in imagination. Particularly when that screwing was of the sort the author would most definitely not approve of. For me at least trying to be trendy by inserting fanfic in-jokes just strikes me as puerile. I feel that the work of dead authors should be treated with respect, and I reserve the right to hold in disdain those who fail to do so.

    But I’m quite aware that mines is a minority view. I’m one of the few Tolkien fans who didn’t like the Peter Jackson movies for example. To me he ripped the heart out of the stories, and it was only by virtue of having good advisors that he didn’t make an even bigger hash of it. Supposedly he had to be talked out of having a newly re-animated Sauron emerge from the Black Gates to engage in mortal combat with Aragorn at the end of the 3rd film.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    PS – As to your main point, I couldn’t comment Natalie. I don’t own a TV, although I do have a reasonably fast broadband connection and a Lovefilm and Netflix subscription.

    I have resolved to not have a TV until the TV License is abolished.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    There have been a couple of allusions to potential gay subtexts that have lasted a couple of seconds within Sherlock. Generally the characters who have made them have been portrayed as making a joke and/or are not taken seriously. On the other hand, there have been allusions to potential gay subtexts in just about every film and television adaptation of Sherlock Holmes that has ever been made. Some of them have been much stronger allusions than anything in this series. Whether you think this is something good or bad, it isn’t something invented by modern BBC political correctness.

    And as for Sherlock Homes foiling terrorists and battling international spy rings, Doyle’s original Holmes did a lot of that too. In between his straightforward domestic cases, he spends quite a lot of time recovering stolen naval treaties, doing favours for the Foreign Office, and helping out various governments and monarchs of Europe. The current series mixes those two things up in much the same way the source material does.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Bah, I say, bah! There’s a world of difference between “tweaking” the material, and just making it up as you go along. Of the few “Sherlock” stories I have dipped into, they have all completely butchered the source material, usually totally changing Conan Doyles excellent ending for something completely different and much worse.

    Also, I for one will never understand why, when given the opportunity to portray London and England during its golden age of prosperity and liberty, you’d chose to relocate it to the oh so dreary now.

    But, I’m a purist.

  • Sam Duncan

    Going back to the original point, I think it’s more that communications technology now allows people who want that kind of thing to have it, while those of us who couldn’t give a flying crap (e.g., me) are no longer subjected to it whether we like it or not. I’ll wait for the reruns on that new Drama channel. Or not, as the case may be. (Probably the latter, by the sound of the thing.)

  • “If you want to create something new, do something new” – just thinking how many movies of the past 20 years have essentially been remakes of Shakespeare, Austen…

    “Apocalypse Now” was in no way as good as Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”?

    And “The Magnificent Seven” was disrespectful of Kurosawa?


  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Errrrmmmm…. you may have a point there Alec.

    But I still say there is a difference between creating something new with an original work as a source text (e.g. Apocalypse Now)and creating a rather shameful pastiche and trying to pass it off as the former.

    Of course, which is which is entirely a matter of opinion. But as a touchstone, I’d be inclined to say that Conrad would have rather liked Apocalypse Now. That’s the difference in my view.

    It also didn’t pretend to be “Heart of Darkness”, it was essentially a completely new story. The “horror” which lay in the dark heart of Africa was replaced with a horror that lay in the dark heart of man. They were really very different stories.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Jaded Voluntaryist and Alec Muffett, you both might be interested in this post from last month about fanfic. The comments include some discussion of fan fiction that the original author would have hated not just on grounds of loss of earnings or loss of creative control, but on grounds of the fanfic’s values contradicting the values of the original.

    Getting back to Sherlock, the fact that it frequently not merely changes but reverses elements of the original stories somehow makes the change better in my eyes; Moffatt, Gatiss et al are obviously exchanging a wink with fans of the original books (and letting them know that they cannot rely on foreknowledge of the plot, massively increasing tension, the bastards).

    It bugs me a lot more when TV or film adaptations of Agatha Christie novels mess around with her plots because some assistant bag carrier thought that the second murder would do better just before a commercial break or something like that. That’s like taking a key component from one part of some intricate machine and shoving it in backwards somewhere else and then expecting the machine to work as smoothly as before.

  • Mr Ed

    The most irritating thing that I recall about my Sky TV subscription was the synchronised advert breaks,, which meant that it was useless to flick beween channels in a bid to escape (barring a State broadcaster). I could not understand why they did not offer a menu with a smaller range of channels and no adverts, making up the revenue from the subscription alone.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Indeed Mr. Ed, I also have that experience in hotels. There’s never anything good on and I’m reminded why not having a tv was a good call.

    Natalie, call personal taste If you will, but I have your Agatha Christie experience wherever I see deviations from the original authors work.

    Great stories are perfect the way they are, even if they are flawed. That is, they are perfectly themselves. Any substantive change necessarily moves them away from perfection in my view.

    And frankly I’m a little tired of modern remakes of classics why try to insert a sort of knowing post modernism into their production. It’s been done so many times and it just serves to ensure that it will date very poorly.

    It’s part of the same thing as the modern obsession with applying our values to times gone by. It’s very narcissistic. Holmes needs to have the values of an 1890s man, it’s a huge part of who he is.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    PS – I seem to have been replying to Mr. Ed’s post in “The Globalisation of Trifles” thread, apologies for any confusion.

  • I’m a great and devout fan of the original SH canon, and never warmed up to any of its screen adaptations, other than this one – precisely because it is anything but an adaptation. JV, have you even tried to watch the thing? Because there’s absolutely nothing in it of the things you mention.

  • Kevin B

    It’s important to remember that films or tv programs are very different things from the books on which they are based. I learnt this lesson many years ago with my favourite book at the time, Catch-22.

    I had probably read the novel four or five times when the movie came out and I couldn’t wait to get down to the local theatre and watch it. I even persuaded a bunch of mates from my squadron to join me and they were somewhat bemused afterwards when I called the film that they had enjoyed a piece of crap.

    For a start, the casting was all wrong. It was bad enough they cast a pop singer* as a major character but Alan Arkin as Yossarian was useless. Then the plot was completely hacked about and major events from the novel were badly misinterpreted or completely ditched altogether. I didn’t know what it was but it wasn’t Heller’s Catch-22.

    Over the next few days I came to realise that no, it wasn’t Heller’s Catch-22 it was Nichols’ and the version I was comparing it to was the one I had created in my head from Heller’s novel. Years later I saw it again on TV and it was a decent movie in its own right. Not great but quite watchable. Arkin was still pretty poor, not because he couldn’t match the Yossarian in my head, but because acted the role so badly.

    So I can watch ITV’s version of Holmes or Poirot or Marple as adaptations of Doyle’s and Christie’s work and enjoy them, or not, in their own right.

    As for Sherlock; I find it annoying, not because it takes liberties with Doyle’s plots or characters, but because it’s so ‘up itself’ in that irritating BBC way.

    *Poor Garfunkel was still recovering from the stigma of having taken the great folk singer Paul Simon and turned him into a pop act. (About the time that Dylan went electric)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I was going to Alisa, but then I heard what they did with Irene Adler and I was put right off – especially the bit about Holmes racing in at the last second to save her from terrorists.

    It struck me as just so damn disrespectful of the source material. I know many don’t feel this way.

    You may criticize me for being down on something I haven’t watched, and perhaps there is some fairness in that. But on principle I don’t watch unfaithful adaptions of books I love, and when I found out that Sherlock fell into that category, I avoided it.

    For me at least, the Jeremy Brett episodes where they stick close to canon are the best adaptions. The role of Holmes ate Brett alive and hastened his death. I seriously doubt Cumberbatch is going to show that kind of commitment. It’s probably unfair to expect him to, but still….

  • I don’t think Sherlock *on the whole* is disrespectful of the source material, but I am with you in not particularly liking the Irene Adler episode. On the whole, though, I find Sherlock to be pretty respectful of the source material. It was certainly created and written by people who love the source material, and that shows. (I think “The Source Material” is something broader than just Conan Doyle writings, though. Sherlock is sort of a pastiche of the original writing and every other interpretation of Sherlock Holmes that has ever existed).

    Personally, I love the modern London setting. In the original stories, London was the third character after Holmes and Watson. Victorian London was a magnificent setting, but I disagree completely that modern London is a lesser setting. Modern London is vibrant, weird, wonderful, and wicked. I think taking 19th century London out and putting early 20th century London in instead works wonderfully. That’s because I love modern London, though.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    especially the bit about Holmes racing in at the last second to save her from terrorists.

    Michael and Jaded, my theory is that Irene Adler’s rescue never happened. That scene was Holmes’ guilt-ridden fantasy of what should have been if only he had been there to save her. Remember that many events in the series have been portrayed in a non-realistic manner (e.g. Holmes interacting with multiple women via chatrooms in the most recent episode was shown as them all there with him.)

    Something similar was my explanation of the scene at the end of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Total Recall” when the sky of Mars turns from red to breathable blue just in time to save the stricken colonists… too happy and timely an ending to be other than the last scene of a fantasy.

  • John K

    I have not seen episode 2 yet, but I did see the first, and was not much impressed. The main plotline seemed to be a rip-off of “V for Vendetta”, and the resolution of how Sherlock escaped death from the hospital roof did not make much sense. The reason Sherlock had to sacrifice himself was to save his friends. Watson was being covered by a sniper, but Sherlock mentioned in passing that Mycroft’s men had neutralised him. This seemed rather to make all the business with the bouncy mattress rather pointless, and Moriarty’s decision to kill himself in advance made no sense at all. I think that, like the new “Dr Who”, “Sherlock” is just a bit too pleased with itself, written by people who perhaps are not quite as good as they think they are.

  • Runcie Balspune

    So what’s the difference between watching a pre-recorded programme live and watching it the moment it becomes available as “on demand”? Apart from being able to pause when you want I mean, those dedicated “live-ers” must have good bladder control and no screaming kids. I’d suggest what is keeping the “collective experience” of pre-recorded shows alive is the producer releasing it by broadcast before “on demand”, somewhat fuelled by the broadcaster/producer requirement to keep itself necessary and continue to milk the taxpayer teat for as long as possible.

  • bloke in spain

    “Sherlock Holmes themed reworking of Spooks” “not the Conan Doyle original” ” inspired-by” ” “re-imaginings” …
    So when it comes down to it, the only resemblance to Conan Doyle’s novels is the label. Hasn’t counterfeiting goods been quite hotly pursued in your courts of late? It’s BBC so you do pay for it. Are you considering visiting your local nick & making a statement?

  • I didn’t see the programme, but it did read The Hound of the Baskervilles, and a more gay subtext I cannot imagine. I was genuinely surprised to finish the book to find Watson hadn’t dragged Holmes into a cave on the moor and fellated him on the spot, as that appeared to be where the book was heading base on Watson’s remarks.

  • You have to be kidding me. Your lives are so lacking in any meaning that you discuss TV. Wow.

    I don’t know anyone who does this. I would be laughed at if I started a TV conversation but no one I know watches much TV anyway, and I just boost two shows. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

    I had at one time over 700 channels of Dish Satellite TV, a technical exercise you understand. There was nothing worth watching so I just left it on Fox News who can be relied on to say really stupid things on a regular basis.

  • James Waterton

    It’s been a while since we’ve hosted a left wing troll. Careful not to wear out your welcome, though, PenGun.

  • Vaike

    Conan Doyle himself cared not a fig what others did with his work. There’s an argument that once a work of fiction enters the public domain, it no longer belongs to the author. I suspect Doyle would prefer the modern Sherlock, as he would be more intrigued by a new interpretation than seeing stuff he had already written. The Basil Rathbone movies, in which Watson was depicted as a bumbling idiot, were far more disrespectful than any recent adaptation.
    Sherlock’s sociopathic, autistic nature is much more easily concealed in the Victorian millieu, whereas in a modern setting his lack of social skills, coldness, and asexuality, make him an outsider. Arguably, Doyle did a spot of “rebooting” himself; killing off Holmes then bringing him back to life with what TV Tropes calls an “ass-pull”.

    George RR Martin has been directly involved with Game of Thrones and has little problem with the changes, likewise Hajime Isayama seems pleased with Wit Studio/Production I.G’s adaptation of Attack on Titan, while Masamune Shirow has been involved in all the numerous versions of Ghost in the Shell.

    The Iron Man movies are enjoyable but pretty much airbrushed Stark’s alcoholism, the Bayotic Transformers movies took bits of lore from the Marvel and Dreamwave comics and completely bastardized it, destroying its original context utterly, while the prospect of a remake seems strangely appealing in the case of the Star Wars prequels. In the coming decades we will likely see re-workings of Harry Potter.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Sherlock’s sociopathic, autistic nature is much more easily concealed in the Victorian millieu, whereas in a modern setting his lack of social skills, coldness, and asexuality, make him an outsider.

    Honestly, I think he was a very strange character in any period, and this was likely as apparent to Doyle’s Victorian readers as to us. We have medicalised the vocabulary that we might use to describe him, but I think most things would still be understood.

    At this point, Sherlock Holmes has been played by so many actors, that the character is a pastiche of all the previous versions – literary, film, and television. The literary version was something of a pastiche and parody of itself at time. Doyle himself made it rather tongue in cheek at times, wrote one or two outright parodies featuring Holmes that are not generally considered part of the canon, and (particularly in the later stories) was prone to playing with and/or outright changing the narrative structure. Because Doyle was throwing off Sherlock Holmes stories to his fans while he devoted more time to what he saw as his more serious and important work, there are all kinds of inconsistencies between the stories. (They are generally internally well plotted). Secondary characters tend to have inconsistencies between appearances. Some famous characters appear fleetingly only once, if that. (Moriarty only appears in one story, and he never meets Watson and is therefore entirely off stage. His background is filled in somewhat in another story, but not entirely consistently to what is told in the first story). This gives people adapting the stories quite a lot to work with in terms of drawing details out while still basing them on something in the original stories.

    Just don’t make Watson a buffoon. As long as you don’t do that, I can forgive and enjoy a lot.

  • Georgd

    Deeply dissapointed that Samizdataists willingly subject themselves to BBC brainwashing.

    Where is your self respect?

  • John K

    Michael Jennings:

    You are right, Conan Doyle himself seemed to forget if Watson had been wounded in the arm or the leg in Afghanistan. Maybe if he had known we would still be talking about Holmes in 2014 he would have taken more care.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Georgd: I also usually drive on the left, even though I am compelled to do so by rules forcibly imposed by a fascistic state.

  • Georgd

    no one compels you to watch the BBC Michael, only to pay for it

  • Well, they try. Which causes occasional amusement.

  • George

    nice Michael