Title: Investigating Sherlock: An Unofficial Guide
Author: Nikki Stafford
Genre: Arts & Photography, Sherlock
An “intelligent and lively” companion to the hit BBC show starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Publishers Weekly).
He’s been depicted as a serious thinker, a master of deduction, a hopeless addict, a bare-knuckle fighter. His companion is a bumbler, a sympathetic equal, someone helpless in the face of his friend’s social inadequacies. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson remain the most-adapted fictional characters of all time. In 2010, when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stepped into the roles, they managed to meld many previous incarnations into two glorious performances.
Over Sherlock’s first three seasons, the Emmy-winning series has brought new life to stories over a century old and, with its Holmes and Watson for the twenty-first century, created a worldwide phenomenon.
Investigating Sherlock examines each episode through in-depth and fun analysis, exploring the character development and cataloguing every subtle reference to the original stories. With biographies of Cumberbatch and Freeman, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle, Investigating Sherlock is great fun, and the ultimate guide to the great detective.
“One of the best-researched books out there on the BBC Show, with great interviews of the show’s creators and primary actors.” —GeekDad
"EVERYTHING HAD CHANGED IN 90 MINUTES"
The Genesis of Sherlock
According to Arthur Conan Doyle biographer Russell Miller, only Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus rival Sherlock Holmes for worldwide instant recognition. The great detective holds the world record for most movie adaptations of a single fictional character. Almost 130 years after he was first invented, he remains the most popular fictional detective of all time. He is instantly recognizable when seen in silhouette form. And yet, since William Gillette first walked onto a London stage in 1899 as Sherlock Holmes, everyone who has ever stepped into Holmes's shoes has brought something new to the character. Basil Rathbone emphasized the character's quiet dignity, Jeremy Brett his cunning intensity and humor. Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes is a bare-knuckle boxer and man of action (which, as might come as a surprise to some, is actually one aspect of the Holmes character in the books). There have been parodies and pastiches, fan fiction and fan speculation. Was there really room for yet another version of the great detective?
What a ridiculous question.
Two of the greatest moments of inspiration in British pop culture have happened on trains: on a long trip from Manchester to London, J.K. Rowling scribbled on a napkin the beginnings of the idea for a series of books about a boy wizard. And throughout several shorter trips from Cardiff to London, Doctor Whowriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss talked about their love of the Sherlock Holmes stories and wondered why no one had developed a modern-day version for television.
In both cases, the rest is history.
Steven Moffat (born November 18, 1961) is the son of schoolteachers, and he followed them into the same profession while writing on the side. Moffat's father, Bill, pitched a series to a BBC executive about a school newspaper, and they loved it. Bill said they could have it — on the grounds that they take a look at his schoolteacher son's pilot script. They loved it, and the sitcom Press Gang (1989–1993) was born. Moffat wrote all 43 episodes of the show, which took a toll on both him and his marriage. Two more sitcoms followed — Joking Apart and Chalk — followed by his breakout hit, Coupling, where he again wrote every episode. Where Press Gang and Joking Apart featured scenes from his own dissolving marriage, Coupling(2000–2004) took conversations and situations directly from his burgeoning relationship with Sue Vertue, a producer at the BBC. The two eventually married and have two sons.
In 1999, Moffat wrote The Curse of Fatal Death, a parody of his favorite show, Doctor Who. The fake episode, done for Comic Relief, starred Rowan Atkinson (among others) as the Doctor. When the series was rebooted by the BBC in 2005, with Russell T Davies at the helm as the showrunner, Steven Moffat quickly became a beloved writer among fans. Penning such episodes as "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink," and "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead," he became known as the darker writer, creating the terrifying Weeping Angels and making the phrase "Are you my mummy?" send chills down the spines of every Whovian. He is credited with bringing some of the spookier aspects of Doctor Who back to the fore, which, he says, were his favorite bits when he was a child watching it from behind his sofa. "Doctor Who," he says, "is how we warn our children that there are people in the world who want to eat them."
Because of the show filming in both Cardiff and London, Moffat had to constantly travel between the two places, and often did so with his fellow writer and friend Mark Gatiss.
Gatiss (born October 17, 1966) had a unique upbringing. When the Durham mines closed, his miner father went to work with Gatiss's mother at a psychiatric hospital, the Aycliffe Colony for the Mentally Defective. Gatiss spent a lot of his free time at the hospital, using the facilities and even watching films at the hospital's cinema. He recalls that sitting amongst people whose illnesses "left deep marks on their faces" was so frightening, he could barely focus on the movies. He attributes his later interest in monsters and demons to these early experiences.
Gatiss went off to drama college and met Reece Shearsmith, Jeremy Dyson, and Steve Pemberton, with whom he formed the League of Gentlemen dark comedy troupe, which inspired a wacky BBC2 television series in the late 1990s about a group of strange people who live in the Yorkshire Moors. To supplement his income, he wrote Doctor Who novels (having been a fan of the show since he was a boy), and he came on board the TV series in 2005, penning such episodes as "The Unquiet Dead," "The Idiot's Lantern," "Night Terrors," and "The Crimson Horror." In 2008, he married his longtime partner, Ian Hallard.
Around the same time, during one of those train rides to Cardiff, the topic moved from Time Lords to Great Detectives. "We'd been friends for years anyway," says Moffat, "but we'd often been getting the train together ... and the main thing we kept saying, was that someone should do what they did with Rathbone again. Someone should do it modern day — do the stories, not the trappings. And I said that to Sue [Vertue, producer], I said, 'Someone should do that, and it's really annoying because it should be us,' and she said, 'Why don't you?'" Gatiss and Moffat began discussing the idea more seriously, and soon realized that a modernized version could actually work, simply because of the similarities between the present day and the Victorian era.
"One of the wonderful, easy ways into this as an idea, and to explain to other people, is that in the very first, original story, Dr. Watson is invalided home from Afghanistan," says Gatiss. "And it's the same unwinnable war, virtually. Once you start thinking like that, the whole show makes total sense." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories in an era that was exploding with innovation and a culture that was undergoing drastic changes. Science was causing people to question their religious beliefs, technology was starting to change the way everyday tasks were done, and the economy was on an upswing as England found balance decades after the Industrial Revolution. Fast-forward to the 2000s, where the century was jumpstarted by the confusing and world-altering events of September 11th, where scientific achievements continue to move at the speed of light, and where technology is exploding at such a rate that one can date what year a television episode or movie is set purely based on the characters' cellphones.
Gatiss and Moffat were not the only ones who could see the connection between Victorian Holmes and the modern day. From 2004 to 2012, House, M.D. was one of the top-rated shows on television, featuring a doctor with a drug problem solving rare medical cases while maintaining a cold exterior — in other words, Holmes in a hospital. In 2009, Guy Ritchie released his first of two gritty, bombastic, action-packed versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the detective and Jude Law as the doctor. It was set in the Victorian era, but had a distinctly 21st-century vibe. Soon after Sherlock began, CBS greenlit another modern-day Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, with British actor Jonny Lee Miller in the role of the great detective, transposed to New York City as a recovering addict living with his "sober companion," Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu).
Where the other modernized versions of Sherlock Holmes used the idea of the character but not the actual stories, Gatiss and Moffatt were suggesting something new: a show that would take the traditional Sherlock Holmes stories and translate them to a 21st-century sensibility, which, given the similarities between the two eras, wouldn't be a stretch at all. "I would say to anyone who is worried that it has to be about hansom cabs and fogs," says Gatiss, "it so doesn't. It's about the relationship between these two unlikely friends, and the adventures they have. And it works."
The contracts were put together and the BBC greenlit the first season as three 90-minute episodes (as opposed to six 60-minute episodes, as Moffat and Gatiss had proposed). The showrunners wanted their Holmes to be different from those of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett; for inspiration, they both turned to their preferred Sherlock Holmes adaptation: the 1970 Billy Wilder film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. They took two key things from that film, the first being its humor. "Very often Sherlock Holmes is not funny," says Moffat. "The books are funny! The interaction between the two characters is always funny. It's a weird genius and an ordinary not-genius." In one Doyle story, for example, Watson begins with a threat to one particular reader who he believes has been attempting to break into their home to destroy files: "The source of these outrages is known," he writes angrily, "and if they are repeated I have Mr. Holmes's authority for saying that the whole story concerning the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant will be given to the public. There is at least one reader who will understand."
The second aspect of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that the co-creators wanted to incorporate into their show was the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Where other adaptations often presented Holmes as the genius and Watson as the silly bumbler, Wilder showed them in a friendship of equals, which was what Gatiss and Moffat believed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had intended when he wrote the stories. "When Steven Moffat and I came up with the idea of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes," says Gatiss, "it was crucial to us that the series be regarded as a co-lead. It's called Sherlock, but the great detective's enduring friendship with his Boswell is the beating heart that has kept the stories so popular for more than 120 years." They also wanted there to be a deeper level of intimacy between the two men, something they thought was Doyle's intention, even if his language had to remain coy because of the era in which he wrote. Gatiss likes to reference a moment in Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes story "The Yellow Face" as being a key influence in the way they write the two friends: "Nothing's happening in the case, and Holmes is moping. Watson eventually persuades him to come out of the house for a walk. And he writes, 'We rambled about together, in silence for the most part, as befits two men who know each other intimately.' I've never forgotten that."
Only one person was auditioned for the part of Sherlock, and that was Benedict Cumberbatch. Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue invited Cumberbatch to the apartment of Sue's mother, Beryl Vertue, a legendary television producer and agent. As he was beginning his audition, Beryl came in bearing a tray with tea and biscuits. Cumberbatch pointed to her and said, "Is she playing Mrs. Hudson?" "No," replied Sue. "That's my mother." He got the part anyway.
The part of John Watson, on the other hand, was more difficult to cast. Martin Freeman has explained in many an interview that he was having a particularly bad morning the day of his audition, and when he showed up to read for the part, Moffat assumed he wasn't actually interested in it. When that was conveyed to Freeman's agent, Freeman asked for another chance and came in to read opposite Cumberbatch.
"I had a superb audition with Martin," says Benedict, "and I immediately knew that he was my primary choice. He was definitely the person that I immediately sparked off and raised my game for. He's an adorable man and blissfully, ridiculously funny and entertaining. He's a great support and companion in real life as well. We have tremendous fun doing the show."
They knew then that they'd found their Watson. Interestingly, a young man named Matt Smith also came in to read for the part of the doctor, but was turned down as not being quite right for it. A week later he auditioned for the part of a Time Lord, and became a Doctor after all.
Because so much of Doctor Who is filmed in Cardiff, it made sense to do Sherlock there as well. While the exterior doorway and street of 221B Baker Street is actually in London (incidentally, on North Gower Street, not on Baker), the interior stairwell and set of the flat itself is in Cardiff. Next time you're watching an episode, pay attention to the way the shot transitions from the stairwell to the street outside: the two spots are 150 miles apart, despite appearing to be adjoined.
Everyone had fun filming the first series; at the time, Benedict Cumberbatch had done some major roles in the theater and had starred in Hawking, but was otherwise relatively unknown, playing character roles in various film and television series. Martin Freeman, on the other hand, was recognizable for his internationally acclaimed role as Tim Canterbury on The Office. Both men first settled in to read the books to fully become these two iconic characters of English literature. For Cumberbatch, turning to the source material was essential. Like Gatiss and Moffat, Cumberbatch had been reading the Sherlock Holmes stories since he was a boy. "I would have been about 12 years old when I first read it, and I was hungry for more," he remembers. "It's just very addictive reading, and it's an utterly absorbing world. It's thrilling, as a child, to read those books. You get drawn into a London which suddenly becomes alive like a pop-up book, but brilliant in this other era. It's just a really rich tapestry of characters and extraordinary adventures."
The onscreen chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman was perfection. Freeman in particular appreciated how Gatiss and Moffat had interpreted his character from the books. "What I love about our John Watson is that even though there is humor in him, it's a straight part, and it's a straight program. No one is a buffoon in it, and what I really like about it is that it's writing for grown-ups, where you're not having to cheat the audience. I'm purely trying to play this part the way I approach everything, which is to be truthful. I was trying to make Watson a feasible soldier, a feasible doctor. I wanted to give him a strength and a vulnerability."
Cumberbatch liked the challenge of playing a character that was a hero, yet so unlikable. He doesn't kid himself that Sherlock has a dark side. "I always make it clear that people who become obsessed with him or the idea of him — he'd destroy you ... He is an absolute bastard." Watson, on the other hand, balances the relationship through his dependability. "I think the defining thing about Dr. Watson in all his incarnations is that he's the first man a genius would trust," Moffat says. "Sherlock sees a reliability and a complete trustworthiness in this honest, good man."
The rest of the cast is equally stunning: Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson is wonderful, a landlady and housekeeper who insists she is not a housekeeper, who mothers the boys in such a way that they come to love her and be annoyed by her in equal parts, as one often does with one's mother. In the books Inspector Lestrade is usually referred to as being a slimy, small, weasel-like creature who uses Holmes and then takes credit for the cases, but on the show Rupert Graves plays Lestrade as a gruff man who calls in Sherlock on the difficult cases because he respects him, even if begrudgingly. Molly Hooper is a complete fabrication with no equivalent in the books, which was something Gatiss and Moffat had sworn they wouldn't do: there would be no recurring characters who weren't already part of the Doyle canon. The problem was, actress Louise Brealey had done such a spectacular job as the morgue registrar who has an unrequited crush on the great detective that the creators couldn't help themselves; they had to bring her back again and again. Aside from Mrs. Hudson, we don't see Holmes having much to do with women outside of the cases, and introducing Molly allows us to see his half-assed attempts to actually deal with a woman.
But despite all of the parts coming together so beautifully, no one could have predicted just how massive the show was going to be upon its premiere.
Excerpted from Investigating Sherlock by Nikki Stafford. Copyright © 2015 by Nikki Stafford. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
My Mini Review:
Have you been Sherlocked?
If you love the series, Sherlock, you need to own this book. Filled with interesting facts, episode guides and Nikki Stafford's whimsical writing, it's a must-read.
I love Nikki Stafford and own her Buffy the Vampire Slayer guides (Bite Me!).
If you know someone who is a fan, please do them a favor and buy this book for them! They'll love you for it!
Note: There are spoilers in this book so if you haven't seen a particular episode, please skip over it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy from ECW Press via Netgalley in the hopes I’d review it.
My Rating: 5+ stars
Buy it now:
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Nikki Stafford is the author of the acclaimed Finding Lost series, as well as companion guides to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Angel, and Xena: Warrior Princess. Nikki blogs regularly on her site, Nik at Nite (www.nikkistafford.blogspot.com ). She lives in London, Ontario.
Reviewed by: Mrs. N