[FIRST PUBLISHED IN INPRESS MAGAZINE 22.09.2011]
|Peter Cushing as Holmes. Image courtesy Madman.|
The nuisance of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures is that they are liable to leave their reader convinced they are in possession of a superpower; that they have by osmosis acquired Sherlock’s savantish powers of deduction – it’s the early hours of Sunday morning and I’m in my bathroom, convinced that my wits alone will be sufficient to explain the origin of the oozing off-white sick that I have recently discovered clinging to back of my jeans.
|Not the actual weird whitish vom I found on the back of my jeans, but something looking remarkably similar: a common garden slime mold, Fuligo septica, belonging to the phylum Myxomycota in the Kingdom Protista.|
Holmes and assistant, John H. Watson, appeared first in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, a story that lacks the refined universe of those that would come later, but which establishes the essential hook of the canon; not the clever-dicking of Victorian camp criminality and detection, but the incurable friendship between its two leading gents.
Though not a particular hit for Hammer Films, 1959’s Hound of the Baskervilles allowed the scrumptious Peter Cushing to set an enduring image of the loveable but determinedly unlikeable detective. His body is undernourished, his behavior unburdened by nicety. It was this model of Holmes which he reprised for the 1968 BBC television series, standing beside Nigel Stock’s sharp, ruddy Dr Watson. Of this series’ 16 episodes only six survive, but they are a precious half dozen. The sets are shaky, the audio jumps and hisses, the accents are preposterous, but what is preserved and made magical here is the pair’s unreserved brotherhood.
They need each other not to survive, but for their failings to make sense. They desire each other in a way which is probably misrepresented by an easy reading’s requirement that their relationship be a homosexual one. To project romance in the dense air between them is attractive; we want love to find itself, but Holmes and Watson share a force similarly powerful: trust. If we accept that Sherlock is deemed special by his genius, then John is made exceptional by virtue of being the one and only person in whom our genius places faith.
Across Doyle’s 56 Holmes short stories and novels, the depth of the pair’s affection remains almost entirely unannounced by dialogue. In the period of the Great Hiatus (the time between Holmes’ apparent death in The Final Problem and his resurrection in the Empty House), Doyle sees fit to kill off Watson’s casually written wife. The Doctor subsequently moves back in with the revived detective, explaining, “Holmes had while away learned of my own sad bereavement and his sympathy was shown through his manner rather than in his words."
BBC, Stock and Cushing’s ‘68 adaptation is a merry and insightful one, showing our duo’s version of love, their friendship, as utterly common and so enviable; two people sharing a bond without needing for it to be intellectualised or have its structure outlined.
It’s still 2am and the surprising vomit is still soaking through the right calf of my jeans. Was it a passing dog’s spew? How was it not dislodged or at least disturbed on the cab ride home? My deductive powers lie dormant, I have no answers. In life, as in the case of the Mysterious Clinging Beige Upchuck, I have only clues and questions.