Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 2. The Hounds of Baskerville (2012)
Well, I know what I think of this episode which as the title suggests, Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville (2012), is an adaptation/modernisation of the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, but I’ll delay announcing the conclusion a little. This time around, we’ve lost the spooky old manorial hall, home of the Baskerville family, and we’ve substituted a “secret” military base where potentially dangerous research is being undertaken (in secret). You know it’s a secret base that no-one should ever go near because a part of the off-road approach is protected by a mine field. Yes, that’s right! It’s so damn secret that anyone trying to sneak up on it from the rear (or side, for that matter), should be blown to bits in one of those explosions so beloved of the SFX people who work for the BBC. So goodbye Great Grimpen Mire which can suck a body down into oblivion, and welcome to a fantasy version of England in which we have live mines plus an entire area kitted out with pressure switches that will release all kinds of interesting stuff in aerosol form. It was never like this when I went walking across Dartmoor as a young’un.
So where are we with this story? Well, it all starts when Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets this email from a young lady who reports that her bunny glowed green in the dark and then disappeared. This curious message is closely followed by the arrival of Henry Knight (Russell Tovey) who looks the same colour throughout. He’s recently featured in a television documentary which retells his horrific experience as a small boy when his father disappeared. Now he’s affected by dreams and a therapist is trying to help him remember what actually happened. Naturally, he remembers a “hound” killed his father. And, of course, before you can say anything to stop them, Sherlock and John Watson (Martin Freeman) have jumped into a train taking them into the deep south-west. Our heroes book into a pub run by a gay couple and, of course, are themselves assumed to be gay. Neither seem particularly put out by having to share a room so it’s official. It then turns out that Sherlock has borrowed the go-anywhere swipe card belonging to Mycroft (Mark Gatiss). Using this, the couple drive into the secret research base and bluff their way into a quick guided tour where they meet Dr Stapleton (Amelia Bullmore) and Dr Frankland (Clive Mantle).
It’s at this point the story stepped off the path followed in all the previous updatings of past works by Arthur Conan Doyle. The consistent virtue of the original stories and, to some extent, these modern recreations, is that they are rooted in their own times. There’s a reasonable level of credibility from the context in which the action is to take place. Yes, we’re dealing with a human mind that works in a unique way, but there’s a rational explanation for almost everything that happens. So the guards at the gates of this secret installation should be able to see that the photograph on the swipe card looks nothing like Sherlock. The fact someone is carrying a token that permits entry does not prove the carrier to be entitled to enter. If our nation’s security depended solely on people carrying the right card, our nation would have no secrets left. Second, even if the guards decide to let in the one carrying the card on an unannounced inspection, there’s no reason to admit the sidekick who has no card authorising entry. Imagine that these are two foreign agents. They have kidnapped or killed the real cardholder and now seek entry. Are there any guards who will just let them walk in? It’s completely nuts! Even Sherlock is counting down the minutes before someone makes the key telephone call to establish the real Mycroft is sitting in his club and not making a snap inspection. Worse, when they leave, we’re not shown Sherlock and Mycroft discussing this abuse of his card.
For once, I’m not going to engage in a detailed spoiler review to demonstrate just why the episode sinks without trace in the Great Scriptwriter’s Mire. Let’s just say that what happens shows Sherlock in a bad light, performing an experiment on John Watson with the approval of the officer in charge of the base. In fact, there’s not enough time for the experiment to be set up in real time, e.g. removing the animals and bending the bars of the cage. Worse, it’s outrageous the plot failed to react to events in any way. If I was that officer and saw the outcome of the experiment, I would be shutting everything down until the matter was resolved. Formal reports would be made. Investigators would be crawling over everything. But what we actually see is the base commander disappears, leaving Sherlock to guess his password so he can access a Top Secret database on research projects. Ludicrous! I could go on but you will understand that this episode is insultingly bad with even Sherlock’s manic analyses coming across as annoying. Fortunately Martin Freeman keeps his dignity and Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is slightly more than a token presence, coming out of it looking modestly competent.
Perhaps I feel so aggrieved because the first episode in this new season was outstanding. If this had been the pilot episode I might not have felt so frustrated. But, as it is, Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville goes way beyond silly and into territory usually reserved for canned American shows (sorry to admit my prejudice but there are so many really bad shows from US networks, they have become my yardstick of plot idiocy).
For reviews of the earlier episodes, see:
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 1. A Study in Pink (2010)
Sherlock. Season 1, Episode 2. The Blind Banker (2010)
Sherlock: Season 1, Episode 3. The Great Game (2010)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 1. A Scandal in Belgravia (2012)
Sherlock: Season 2, Episode 3. The Reichenbach Fall (2012)