Top critical review
After reading the glowing reviews I had hoped for more...
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 3, 2011
These pieces are very well produced and the acting good, but a great production of Sherlock Holmes requires a great representation of Sherlock Holmes. Contrary to other reviewers, Clive Merrison does not, IMHO, give a brilliant representation of SH. Mr. Merrison has a maniacal laugh that I found off-putting from the first disk. I was interested to hear on the "Silver Blaze" episode (Part 5, disk 1) that after his laugh (track 3, 2min 19 sec) Watson (Michael Williams) comments "Before we start in on my shortcomings let me say that nothing I've ever done could possibly irritate you half as much as that laugh irritates me." I quite agree and even more so since this line is NOT in Conan Doyle's text. Perhaps Bert Coules (the man who wrote the dramatization of Silver Blaze for the BBC) also was annoyed with the laugh and stuck this into the text to express his views.
Coules believes "Holmes is a very repressed, withdrawn, dysfunctional man, who has deliberately removed himself from the mainstream of his society." [This quote is from a BBC website, the address was taken out by Amazon] Undoubtedly this is true but the new BBC production plays up the morose attitude and drug addiction *too* much. For example in "The Reigate Squires" (Part 6, disk 2) we have the following exchange (track 2, 3min 28 sec): SH: "Do you have one particular habit in mind?" JW: "Oh, you know I do. Cocaine! In your present weakened condition indulging in that pathological and morbid game could at last rob you of the great power with which you've been endowed." Again, this is NOT in Conan Doyle's text and the BBC exaggerates Holmes' addiction. In many of these episodes we are reminded of SH's drug use, but this is not how it was originally portrayed. I believe that cocaine is referenced in the original text in only 5 stories, mostly in "The Sign of the Four".
Personally, I found the darker, exaggerated Holmes less appealing. I prefer Sir John Gielgud's portrayal from the mid 1950's. Sir Ralph Richardson also played a good Dr. Watson as a foil to Gielgud. (Michael Williams' recent portrayal of Watson is commendable too but quite different from Richardson's.) You can find these old BBC episodes for free on you tube and elsewhere or for sale on Amazon (there are 16 of them). In many ways these old BBC episodes stayed closer to the original text. Holmes cognoscenti may be displeased by some choices that the dramatists made in this newer BBC production. For example, in "The Second Stain," this new BBC production has Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope discarding the key to the despatch-box so that Holmes must pick the lock before her husband appears. This change seems designed merely to fill up "air time" and is displeasing to readers who know the work. Similarly the new BBC production creates more antagonism between Lestrade & Holmes than seems indicated in the text. I invite you to listen to the old 1954 BBC version of "The Norwood Builder" (if you look for '125+ episodes, properly titled and tagged' you will find it) to see how Lestrade & Holmes can be both cordial and competitive, but do not have the impatient aggressiveness exhibited by Lestrade on track 7,1:44. Another example of a strange change in the text was the omission of Holmes "accidentally" upsetting the cigarette-box in "The Golden Pince-Nez" case. This was a ploy to allow Holmes to examine whether the ash had been disturbed and was a crucial point. I don't understand why they chose to omit it.
The packaging of the set is lush --too lush for me. Each story is placed on a separate disk approximately 45 minutes in length. Thus, they could not fit 2 complete episodes on one disk. I would have preferred them to split episodes across the cd's. That way we would only have about 10 disks instead of 16 cd's which would require less shelf space and less waste.
In all, I'm not fully satisfied with this purchase, but not fully dissatisfied either. If you're on the fence you might prefer to dig up the old BBC versions (you'll love Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty in the Final problem).