It’s difficult to remember my first introduction to the character of Sherlock Holmes. I recall Daffy Duck sporting a deerstalker hat, solving a mystery with Porky Pig as “Watkins.” Cartoon characters in various shows would, when confronted by a mystery, occasionally blow bubbles from a pipe and remark that their deductions were “elementary.”
In 1988 Data played the role of Holmes for some holodeck high jinks in Star Trek: TNG‘s “Elementary, Dear Data.” Wishbone solved the mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles in “The Slobbery Hound” in 1995. I had a sense of who the great detective was before ever reading the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In recent years there have been hugely popular adaptions of the character played by Robert Downey jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I find that I must enjoy them as totally separate characters from the original Holmes. While the detectives in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and the BBC’s series Sherlock are interesting and compelling, they both have a failing that the canon Holmes didn’t. They can’t seem to interact normally with people. Yes, Holmes is eccentric and can sometimes offend people with Spock-like dismissal of emotions as hindrances, but he’s also very clever and observant. He’s a master of disguise who can anticipate the reactions of others. He has no trouble with acting politely and properly in public. Whether or not he has any respect for someone, he could surely make them think so.
When I see the more recent versions of the character, I’m missing the dignified air I pick up from canon Holmes. I miss the awareness he should have of the social setting around him. I miss the version of Holmes that can be smug and superior but also charming at the same time.
This is why I am thrilled when I discover new Sherlock Holmes adaptions that deliver the same feel as an authentic Doyle mystery.
Mr. Holmes, starring Sir Ian McKellen as an aged version of the detective, is a fascinating take on the character. It’s based on A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin and follows Holmes struggling against a failing memory whilst trying to recall his very last case. The pivotal case itself, though short and simple, could have been one among Doyle’s own short stories, and the character felt like the real deal. I especially appreciated the very believable growth of the character along with its conclusion.
In Sherlock Holmes video games, of which there are many, there is one I’ve found that not only feels authentic but is also an excellent game overall: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments by the developer Frogwares. The player assumes the role of Holmes and is tasked with solving six cases by piecing together the evidence using the player’s own logic. With multiple possible conclusions in each case, and the complete trust of Scotland Yard, it’s possible for the player to pin the crime on either the true criminal or an innocent person. The player can also choose to condemn or absolve the culprits, moral choices that affect the rest of the game. This encourages the player to carefully examine every detail before him/her, much as the real Holmes would. Frogwares has put out several similar Sherlock Holmes games, but none that capture the essence of Doyle’s work quite as well.
Whether or not you enjoy the edgier more bumbling Sherlocks of recent series, if you crave a more classic take, I highly recommend both Mr. Holmes and Crimes & Punishments.