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|Reviewed by Charles Prepolec|
|The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Reviewed|
|The BBCís complete audio canon featuring Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes and the late Michael Williams as Doctor Watson, was a landmark achievement being the only complete dramatization of all of Arthur Conan Doyle's 60 Sherlock Holmes stories. Carrying on from the success of the series, the BBC has continued the radio adventures of Holmes and Watson in a new collection of specially commissioned pastiches by writer Bert Coules. Recording of the new programs took place from the 22nd to 31st of October, 2001 with broadcast in January and February of 2002. In a moment of inspired foresight, strange for the BBC, they also released a cassette package featuring 4 of the 5 new programs at about the same time as the broadcasts. Unfortunately, due to the practical considerations of packaging, the fifth story The Peculiar Persecution of Mr John Vincent Harden is currently unavailable in cassette format, so this review will concern itself only with the other four.|
|For information on the whole BBC Radio series including The Further Adventures, visit Bert Coules' excellent website The Complete BBC Sherlock Holmes by clicking here.|
|What do you do to follow up a highly successful and critically acclaimed series of radio dramatizations of the entire Sherlock Holmes Canon? Why follow it with a series of well-written pastiches, utilizing the same cast and crew of course! Which is precisely what the recent radio series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is all about.|
|With the brave decision to move onto pastiche being made, the new series faced the difficult challenge of replacing their Watson, Michael Williams, who sadly died before the series could begin. Iím pleased to suggest that the replacement, Andrew Sachs, is an entirely satisfying choice. Sachs appeared previously in the BBC radio series as the King of Bohemia in A Scandal in Bohemia, although he is is likely best known to North American audiences for the character of inept bellhop Manuel in the John Cleese television vehicle Fawlty Towers. Sachs brings his own unique approach to the good Doctor while retaining much of the character as established by Williams, making the transition for the listener as painless as the change from David Burke to Edward Hardwicke in the Granada Holmes television series. Clive Merrison returns to the role of Holmes with the same mixture of unabashed brio and clever voice-work that made his previous outings in the role such an overwhelming success.
Each of the stories is derived from one of the Canonís many tantalizing references to unrecorded cases. While the stories are all quite compelling and beautifully performed, the new series, in general, takes Holmes down a somewhat darker and more sordid path than that established in the Canon. The listener is immediately aware that he is no longer in a world filled with the gentle criminality of Doyle, rather he has entered a more disturbing world peopled with some severely disturbed individuals. While the continuity to the original radio series is solid, there is no mistaking, however well written, that we are now firmly in the land of pastiche.
The first story in this audiocassette package is The Madness of Colonel Warburton (referenced in The Engineers Thumb). Watson returns to Baker Street to find a coked-up Holmes and a letter from Colonel Warburtonís son awaiting him. Apparently Watsonís old C.O. the senior Warburton (played by Timothy West) has been conversing with his dead wife who has convinced him to will his estate to the medium, Mrs. Besmer (played by Elenor Bron) and her husband. Is Warburton mad? Are the Besmers corrupt fakes? How did the late Mrs. Warburtonís ring appear at a sťance? These are the questions that Holmes and Watson must and do resolve. Bert Coules in placing much of the story around a mediumís table, a clever nod to ACDís own spiritualist interests, creates some highly effective audio scenes. Audio atmospherics abound, but the story is somewhat let down by a predictable (when you have eliminated the impossible it was fairly predictable Iím afraid) and overly melodramatic ending that establishes the thread of psychologically Ďdamagedí people that runs throughtout most of these programs. Happily, this story showcases Andrew Sachs as Watson, and he makes the most of the opportunity. His opening conversation with Holmes about his cocaine habit and his responses in the sťance sequences are a particularly good.
The second story, The Star of the Adelphi (tied to a comment in The Second Stain) is the most straightforward investigation in the series. Based on the real-life murder of actor William Terriss, the story takes Holmes into the sordid and deceptive world of theatrical society. Here again we are treated to some partiularly deranged individuals in the forms of Jessie Millward and Mr. Prince. Watson is very much Holmesí partner in this investigation and makes a few good observations in his own right. There is an amusing reference to actor William Gillette that brought an outright guffaw from this listener.
The third story, The Saviour of Cripplegate Square (derived from an oft-quoted line in The Sign of the Four) has by far and away the strongest impact of any in this series. This is in no small way due to the casting of Tom Baker (Dr. Who) as the youthful Holmesí mentor Collington Smith as well as the darkest subject matter of all four stories. Baker, with his deep vibrant voice, is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Collington Smith is the perfect Joe Bell figure to the somewhat inexperienced and naÔve Holmes, urging the young man to apply his knowledge in a practical manner. His warm presence is also a soothing counterbalance in what otherwise could have been an intolerably grim piece involving infant deaths at an orphanage. The staging of this piece is somewhat confusing at times. As the bulk of this episode is a flashback, this listener occasionally found himslef wondering as to which character Holmes was addressing, Watson or Collington Smith. A minor quibble with an otherwise superb episode.
The final story, The Singular Inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson, is far lighter than the other stories and closest in tone and structure to a Canonical tale. No psychologically scarred people in this one, just a lighthearted romp that presents a pleasing explanation to the strange disappearance of Mr. James Philimore (a remarkably restrained turn by Roy Hudd) as mentioned in Thor Bridge. Athelney Jones (broadly played by Sion Probert) brings Holmes a case involving the apparent return of the elusive thief known only as The Ghost. Just how is The Ghost tied to a sideshow magician and what was the inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson? Athelney Jones certainly doesnít have a clue, but Holmes and Watson quickly discover the heart of the mystery.
These four stories make for compelling radio drama and are well worth adding to any Holmes collection. Even the most cynical and jaded member of the anti-pastiche lobby will, I think, enjoy these well crafted radio plays!