Sunday 12 January 2014

Sherlock: His Last Vow - BBC TV review

Sherlock's third series has just come to an end with His Last Vow, but those (like me) who fear withdrawal symptoms will be cheered by news that series four and five are already on the drawing board. This particular episode, despite the title, which alludes to "His Last Bow", was mainly based on "Charles Augustus Milverton". If my hazy memory is correct, the Milverton story was the first of the Douglas Wilmer versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories that I saw on TV as a small boy back in the Sixties.

Milverton was the king of blackmailers,and his modern equivalent is newspaper magnate Charles Augustus Magnussen, played by Lars Mikkelsen - a nice touch, this, combining Nordic noir with Baker Street. Lindsay Duncan, an actor who alwasy seems slightly mysterious (in a good way, I hasten to add), was his glamorous victim, Lady Smallwood. Steven Moffat's script began brilliantly, and I loved Mycroft's complaint that Sherlock's latest escapade with cocaine wasn't the first time that his substance abuse had wreaked havoc with his parents' line-dancing.

I did, though, feel that the story faltered after Sherlock was shot. Whilst I've really enjoyed this series, evidently some have been disappointed, and for me, the stories slip when the writer(s) go overboard on the sentimentality. We had some of that in this episode, and it is reminscent of the weaker parts of Doctor Who. Perhaps if the episodes were shorter, this kind of padding could be done away with in both these great shows.

All the same, I do love the clever and witty touches that abound in Sherlock. So I was intrigued to read today that a legal challenge has reportedly been launched by Conan Doyle's heir against the use of the Sherlock Holmes character in this way. Almost all of the original stories are now out of copyright, although the position has, I gather, been complicated by trade marks that have been registered.

There's a very interesting - and I think socially important - debate to be had as to who can and should be able to use fictional characters long after the death of the original creator. One argument is that the creations are property passed down to heirs, who are entitled to the benefit of them. Some say that, just as it's reasonable to remain entitled to,say, a house inherited from one's great-grandfather, so it is only fair to be allowed to inherit and profit from the intellectual property created by one's ancestors. As a creator myself, I don't dismiss these arguments out of hand by any means, and I'm certainly not in favour of deliberately nicking the intellectual property of the living. But there is also a very powerful argument that copyright lasts long enough, and that attempts to expand upon the substantial protection it already gives when the copyright period has elapsed are not in the wider public interest, and should be discouraged. Any views, on either side of the debate, would be of interest to me. So - what do you think?


Puzzle Doctor said...

One of the concerns that I had with the episode is that it makes Sherlock simply react to things, rather than outsmarting Milver... er Magnusson, which admittedly is loyal to the source material. Not much deduction in this one, apart from working out how to survive a bullet wound.

Marina Sofia said...

Ha, funny that you too made the Doctor Who comparison, because I had just been saying to myself: 'Hope the series is not going down the way of trivialisation like Dr. Who'. I've been a bit disappointed with this third series. However, interesting debate about the copyright...

Unknown said...

Some readers and viewers can't bear what they see as "rip offs." I don't share that view, but the thought of breaking copyright is a real concern. Even if I'm only snaffling a quote, I do the morbid check: did the author die over 70 years ago? The idea of trade marks seems to me to take us into Monsanto territory.

Christine said...

I agree, Martin, that 70 years is long enough and I am happy to see Sherlock Holmes reinvented as long as it is done well. Yes, the show did falter a bit in the second half, but having Mary Watson as an assassin was a brilliant touch and I enjoyed the witticims too.

Lee Carson said...

The third series has been good & when watched a second time I am sure I will pick up things I've missed

Some of the hints & clues from earlier episodes were brilliant not that I saw them!

Roll on Series 4 and don't #missme

Unknown said...

Last night, in the American southeast, I watched a PBS program in which the Holmes series was discussed. At first, when I had seen a couple of the new Holmes episodes, I had misgivings about the contemporary setting. However, I have been won over. Moreover, my viewing last night has whetted my appetite for rereading the Holmes stories and novels. Now, here is the inevitable question I ask of anyone who enjoys Holmes: Which is your favorite story or novel?

Anonymous said...

The thing that, to me, has been so good about Series Three is the fact that the writers have allowed the characters to develop. It would have been so much easier to have set them in aspic.

But Watson marries his Mary - and what an astonishing character she has turned out to be! I loved the bit where they embraced after so much stress and Watson whispered into her ear that he was still pissed off with her, and that irritation might reappear from time to time. Brilliant touch!

At times the writers have tipped over into too much sense of their own audacity; in the wedding episode I was at the point of annoyance when they pulled the script back just in time, and made the whole episode into a study of a 'high functioning sociopath'completely out of water and his natural environment and how he reacts under stress.

After a long career as a drama critic, this remains the only show that has me on the edge of my seat, revelling in the cleverness of the script, the fact that the audience is treated as intelligent, with acting, editing and direction of the highest order.

Sherlock is a joy at all levels, and people whingeing about what is allegedly wrong with Series Three have lagged behind. My advice is to watch each episode two or three more times to get it.

I generally dislike the current trend for updating beloved characters - too easy. Whether it be Darcy and Elizabeth (hey hum) Holmes himself marrying and solving crimes (ouch) or the travesty that is the Josephine Tey series, I don't like them.They are easy targets, whatever their merits or not. Sherlock works because of the deep love the writers have for the character and how they are working so hard, diligently and honestly to make the character breathe for new audiences in the C21st century.

Copyright is another matter, which can often get lost in legality to the benefit of no-one. Peter O'Donnell was desperate to get the rights back for Modesty Blaise right up until his death, but a backstory film foiled his attempts once more...when Peter knew what he wanted to do with his characters and the proper film about them he wanted to make. Copyright law did not serve the characters there. Liz Gilbey

seana graham said...

I do think Sherlock Holmes and Watson are somewhat different than some cases, as the characters have passed into the realm of archetype.

I seem to be alone in not really liking the development with Mary Watson, though of course for the actress it's terrific. This wasn't actually my favorite episode in general of the last season, though perhaps contradictorily, the ending pleased me quite a lot.

Papanate said...

You (Seana) are not alone in Mary 'radical' departure from her scribed character.

I also dislike that Sherlock crossed the line and reduced himself to a weak display of blunt force instead of superior deduction. That was too big of a leap - as the real Sherlock would have figured out how.

And the silliness that Charles Augustus Magnussen could keep thousands of files in his head - and that simply posting an article in his papers sans pictures, original letters this day would be enough to harm anyone. If he tagged anyone of true power he would have been killed in the blink of an eye...and his vaults destroyed.