Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

The Moffat/Gatiss Sherlock takes on Conan Doyle's most famous tale

 

3 and a half stars

 

 

Air date: UK: 8 Jan, 2012, BBC One, 8.30 pm

 

Sherlock and Watson discuss maps on Dartmoor

Though it may have been the job he put his hand up for, it's hard to envy Mark Gatiss's brief to take on The Hound of the Baskervilles for the new 21st century Sherlock.

 

This series has plundered from Conan Doyle's prose before, but The Hound of the Baskervilles is iconic in a way A Study In Scarlet or A Scandal In Bohemia aren't. It's the Sherlock Holmes story every Joe knows, a novel with around 150 adaptations to its name and a truckload of parodies.

 

So, it's not exactly a harder job Gatiss has compared to Moffat on episode one and Steve Thompson has on three, but the eyes are on him more. It almost seems impudent to tell a new The Hound of the Baskervilles when the original lies in state as a watertight, pop-lit classic.

 

Conan Doyle's novel always felt a little out of place in the Holmes canon, and this one definitely feels like Sherlock in a different gear after Irene Adler's flirtatious antics last week.

 

Gatiss's fictional worlds are often more sexless than Moffat's and layered in pastiche, and there's more than a whiff of The League of Gentlemen and Crooked House in this one, as well as bit of misty Hammer Gothic.

 

Russell Tovey in Sherlock

But sometimes Gatiss seems stronger on place and atmosphere than on plot, and while allowing Sherlock its share of melodramatic indulgence, The Hounds of Baskerville takes a few too many liberties with contrivance and coincidence.

 

This episode might have worked better had it not tried to weave in so many aspects of the original. Despite the new decorations, Gatiss' story drives down awkward roads to include references to its literary source.

 

To justify the name of the story, we have H.O.U.N.D as an acronym (though good on Gatiss for acknowledging than no-one uses the word hound anymore), and not only that, the killer wears that word on a t-shirt. (Did the scientists involved in the Agent Orange tests go around in lab coats emblazoned with the letters AO and a picture of a giant Valencia?)

 

And it was a hell of a lot of trouble for one man to go to shut up someone whose claims - if he'd ever got that far - would hardly have been taken seriously. In fact, Henry Knight and his father's connection to Baskerville was too undercooked to make Dr Frankland's handsomely mounted plan seem worth bothering with. "If it hadn't been for you pesky Baker Street detectives..." etc.

 

Trouble is, you can buy all this in Scooby-Doo, but Gatiss' thinking is that we'll swallow more from this Sherlock than we're really prepared to. How Sherlock works it out finally wasn't through sexy deduction, it was remembering in the last 15 minutes that he'd read an article about H.O.U.N.D once. And wasn't it meant to be top secret anyway?

 

Sherlock talks to the suspicious scientist in The Hounds of Baskerville

The Hound may be a cut above the literary Sherlocks but The Hounds is cut below the television one.

 

Next week's The Reichenbach Fall is on par with - and possibly even better than - Moffat's sublime first episode this season.

 

And like last year, two out of three ain't bad.

 

Callum Smith

 

Click here for some Hammer Hound of The Baskervilles action:

 

 

 

Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville - Reviewed
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