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Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes

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1984-04-21 Philadelphia Inquirer.jpg


This 1981 BBC drama would have been a natural for PBS's "Mystery!" series. Like "Mystery!," it has animated opening credits, and it would have benefited from a droll, informed introduction by "Mystery!" host Vincent Price.

Instead, this reverent version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous mystery novel is making its United States premiere on cable television. The Arts & Entertainment Network is presenting "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in two installments as part of its "Victorian Days" anthology. Part 1 will be shown Wednesday at 8 p.m., and the drama will conclude the following Wednesday at the same time.

By sheer coincidence, the original, 1939 film version of Hound of the Baskervilles, starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as the ever present Dr. Watson, has been presented this month by the premium cable-TV network Showtime, allowing a fresh basis for comparison.

Of the two, the 1981 adaptation is more faithful to Conan Doyle's original prose. Alexander Baron, who wrote the teleplay, telescoped the dialogue and action carefully and artfully. Sentences may be shortened, the occasional "by Jove" deleted, but the speech in this televised "Hound of the Baskervilles" is vintage, nearly verbatim Conan Doyle.

In the opening scene, for example, Holmes examines the carelessly (but conveniently) forgotten walking stick of an otherwise mysterious visitor to 221-B Baker Street. In dialogue taken directly from the novel, Holmes identifies the occupation, age and demeanor of the owner of the walking stick merely by studying it, then turns his attention to the canine teeth marks at the center of the stick.

The dog, Holmes tells the incredulous Watson, is the owner's pet, a faithful animal "in the habit of carrying this stick behind his master." Holmes puts down the stick, looks out the window and announces with understated finality:

"The dog's jaw, as shown in the space between these marks, is too broad, in my opinion, for a terrier, and not broad enough for a mastiff. It may have been - yes, it is - a curly-haired spaniel."

This is too much, even for the adoring Dr. Watson. "My dear fellow," he demands of Holmes, "how can you possibly be so sure of that?"

"For the very simple reason," replies Holmes, still gazing out the window, "that I see the dog himself on our very doorstep... ."

Such exchanges are delightful, and Baron captures the parrying, playful flavor of all of them. He also, mercifully, distills the essence of Watson's long letters to Holmes without grinding the story to a halt.

Notably, Baron's two major revisions come at the program's beginning (where he adds a prologue showing the victim's death) and at its climax, when the villain's fate is witnessed rather than surmised. The changes work well and seem entirely appropriate.

Baker, though, takes a little getting used to. His vibrant "Doctor Who" persona is directly at odds with his older, stiffer Holmes characterization, and he's not entirely convincing. Terence Rigby, as Watson, is much better. He brings to his role a sense of pride and dignity, whereas most actors portray Watson as a detective version of Ed McMahon: jolly, harmless and ineffectual.

Carl Davis, who composed the jaunty music for the PBS mini-series "Flickers," adds a similarly effective soundtrack for this production, and director Peter Duguid doesn't rush the pace. Two widespread cults - fans of "Doctor Who" and of Dr. Watson - should come away equally pleased

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  • APA 6th ed.: Bianculli, David (1984-04-21). Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes. The Philadelphia Inquirer p. 6-C.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Bianculli, David. "Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes." The Philadelphia Inquirer [add city] 1984-04-21, 6-C. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Bianculli, David. "Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes." The Philadelphia Inquirer, edition, sec., 1984-04-21
  • Turabian: Bianculli, David. "Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes." The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1984-04-21, section, 6-C edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes | url= | work=The Philadelphia Inquirer | pages=6-C | date=1984-04-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=8 December 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr. Who In New Role As Sherlock Holmes | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=8 December 2023}}</ref>