Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor

Doctor Who. If you get around in the pop-culture part of the Internet at all, you're bound to cross paths with the Doctor sooner or later. I knew a fair bit about Doctor Who before I actually started watching it this summer - and I only started watching it because of insistent family members.

I'm glad they insisted.

So I've been watching the "revival" series, the seasons from 2005 through to the present, and I'm currently getting close to the end of David Tennant's last season. I've been loving it - therefore, I've been throwing myself into it (yes, unfortunately, Doctor Who probably is tied in with the lack of a Mortality chapter for a full month). In fact, when we got to the last episode for the Ninth Doctor, I wrote first a fanfic (also on Whofic now) then a deviantART journal entry to try to cope with my overwhelming sense of loss.

Much as I adore David Tennant's Doctor, Christopher Eccleston's resonated with me in a powerful way. Yes, the Ninth Doctor is indeed my Doctor. I felt for him in a way that I previously only felt for Sherlock Holmes - yes, that's how big it is. And being the hopeless Sherlockian that I am, my mind caught similarities between the two. Not Holmes in general, but Holmes in a specific period of his life - Holmes during the Great Hiatus. If you get strictly canonical with the Great Detective on his Great Hiatus, you get a Holmes who bears an uncanny resemblance to Nine. There are still differences, of course, but the resemblance is there. In fact, watch any of Nine's interactions with the Daleks (especially the Emperor), and then go watch Holmes's interaction with Colonel Moran in Granada's EMPT (Jeremy Brett's performance of an outright angry Holmes is brilliant, but is seldom mentioned, let alone praised). Or recall the scenes in your mind.

...are you a bit chilled yet?

But the similarities between Holmes and the Doctor don't end when Christopher Eccleston regenerates into David Tennant. Whenever you see David Tennant's Doctor being thrilled about a monster, or saying brilliant things that nobody else understands... That's Holmes, right there. It gets particularly blatant in the Mark Gatiss-written episode "The Idiot's Lantern". You have a Detective Inspector (whose name the Doctor got from his shirt collar) from Scotland Yard, for starters. A DI who says he's been on the force for... oh, twenty years and he's never seen anything like this before?

Yes, Mr. Gatiss, I see what you did there.

For the benefit of anyone who's not up on their A Study in Scarlet, Inspector Lestrade greets Holmes and Watson at Lauriston Gardens with: "This case will make a stir, sir. It beats anything I have seen, and I am no chicken." A few chapters later, he also says, "[W]hen I saw something that made me feel sickish, in spite of my twenty years' experience."

Oh yes, the DI's line is very much for the benefit of Gatiss's fellow Sherlockians.

The DI goes on to accept the help of a civilian in this baffling case. Sound familiar? It gets worse. When one of the victims is brought into the DI's office, he tells the Doctor to "deduce" what he can from the victim.

That's where the Sherlock Holmes references finally stop. The boy helping the Doctor might be inspired by the Baker Street Irregulars, but that's a bit of a stretch and purely conjectural.

But there's more that's similar between Doctor Who and an insanely popular adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. David Tennant can rattle off a string of deductions or technobabble for at least half a minute without having to stop for breath. can Benedict Cumberbatch.

The June 10, 2012 edition of the South Bend Tribune had an article entitled "Elementary Acting," and it was about a production of William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes. The actor reading Holmes's lines for that production, Matthew Bell, contrasted Gillette's portrayal of the character with the BBC's modern reboot:
"I think it's always interesting that [Sherlock is] written by people who worked on Doctor Who and they've taken Holmes in the direction of a non-human being to a Time Lord. They have emphasized his sociopathic tendencies, whereas Gillette emphasizes his human tendencies."

Truth be told, that sociopathic emphasis is one of the elements of Sherlock that's always bothered me. Mr. Bell was also right when he said, a bit earlier in that article, that "the fascination in the stories is when a warm, sympathetic human bursts out." The Doctor himself can be more human, sometimes, than the Sherlock Holmes of 21st century London. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a magnificent Sherlock Holmes - he also plays quite a cold one. I was relieved to find Sherlock thawing bit by bit throughout Season 2, particularly The Reichenbach Fall... in that episode, he finally felt to me like the canonical and truly emotive Sherlock Holmes.

And then, of course, there's the Master. The Master who was actually called the "Professor Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes" in one edition of the Doctor Who Magazine. The Master who, in his initial appearance in the '70s, was quite the gentleman villain and treated the Doctor as his (almost) intellectual equal... yes, that does sound familiar. Of course, it gets worse. It gets worse, not because of John Simm's Master, but because of Andrew Scott's Moriarty. The Moriarty of Sherlock is practically Simm's Master in human form, with the name and the occupation thrown in. I can't tell you how disturbed I was to realize that as I watched "The Sound of the Drums" for the first time.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are good writers, don't get me wrong. I'm not disputing that. I'm not disputing the excellence of Sherlock, because I still love it and I always will. I just wish that they'd been a little less Whovian in their approach to a 21st century reboot.

So, all this rambling, and I haven't even talked about Wholock yet. Well, what is there to say, except that it's an incredibly rampant crossover fandom. Lots of Ten and Eleven meeting either canonical!Sherlock Holmes or Cumberbatch!Sherlock. I'll be really happy when I can finally find a good Nine-meets-either-version (preferably the former, though). Until then, I'll have to satisfy myself with my own fledgling crossovers that still need a lot of thought and plotting applied to them.

There is, however, this gem of a Thirteenth Doctor fic... which actually has Martin Freeman's John Watson as the protagonist. I even made a TV Trope article for the story - that's how excellent it is! Be warned: it does heavily involve the Weeping Angels. You might not want to read it late at night...

Now you must excuse me while I return to my poor, neglected Mortality. (Yes, I'm very much aware of how amusing that sentence sounds.) I promise to be back here next Wednesday, with a belated review of a fantastic Sherlock Holmes play! Stay tuned!

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