Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

"I told you we should have bought a GPS. This clearly isn't Baker Street."

Originally written for TV Pixie

Devon’s an odd sort of place. On the surface it’s all thatched roof loveliness, cream teas, boutique shops and commuters, but scratch that and…

…actually, it’s wall to wall cream teas. If you’re lucky, you’ll have time to eat your scone before an entire villageful of artists who moved out there ‘for the light’ paint it mauve and use it in their latest installation.

An innocent place then. A nice place. The sort of place you’d take your mum. Not, to be fair, the kind of location you expect to be harbouring sinister animal testing labs. 

And minefields. Live minefields.

Let’s not forget them.

Despite that, in this remake of what is arguably Conan Doyle’s most well known story (let the debate in the comments begin), Devon has never seemed more spooky, alarming and haunted. Well, Dartmoor anyway.

The camera lingers moodily on sunsets, cairn-topped hillocks and mist-filled mossy hollows like a nature documentary. Or one of those expensive ancient history programmes about stone circles you always mean to watch but then don’t. Because… you know… Strictly’s on.

Adding to the sense of menace in last night’s Sherlock were skull and crossbone signs marking out the aforementioned minefields: not exactly ideal when you think of the sheer volume of hikers with young children who pass through Dartmoor. No wonder the government have had to make cuts: they probably spend about six billion a year compensating the bereaved relatives of pony club members and zorbing enthusiasts.

Holmes and Watson are in town – well, village – to investigate a strange young man’s claim that his father was killed by a ‘gigantic hound’ twenty years earlier. The strange young man in question, Henry, is played by Russell Tovey: most famous for his role as werewolf housemate in the BBC’s supernatural drama Being Human. Bet he did it.

As in the Conan Doyle story, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the case than meets the eye, although we’re first led up a bit of a garden path at the MOD testing facility: Baskerville. Sherlock and Watson sneak in (with the help of Mycroft’s ‘access all areas’ government pass) and discover they’re experimenting on animals.

If they can create a glow in the dark rabbit, could they have also created a monstrous hound? 
The short answer is… ‘no’. Through various bits of detective jiggery-pokery (most notably Sherlock going to his ‘mind palace’ to sort through accumulated memories) we discover that H.O.U.N.D. is actually a codename for a top secret CIA mind control experiment that aimed to disable enemy combatants by sending them bonkers with drug-induced fear and hallucinations.

It’s a clever enough idea but – although this week’s episode was as witty and fast-paced as we’ve come to expect – the whole dodgy test facility plot has been done many times before. It was all a bit ‘X-Files meets Jonathan Creek’. Not to mention the fact that there was a decidedly Scooby Doo vibe to the big reveal:

“It’s not a monstrous dog, it was that bloke from Casualty all along!”“Damn you all! I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky detectives. Detectives who, for some reason, I recognised and helped cover their tracks when they came snooping around the research base earlier. Not really sure why I did that. In related news, I don’t think I’m a very well developed character.”

Add that to the ‘gay B&B owners releasing a Rottweiler on the moors to drum up business’ subplot and the previously mentioned ‘a live minefield on Dartmoor- really?’ issue and you get an episode which teetered worryingly on the very brink of silliness. Particularly the idea that eminent scientist Dr Franklyn would have spent twenty years slowly driving Henry mad with memory-impairing aerosol sprays hidden in the soil of a remote hollow rather than, say, killing him.

The badly animated CGI hound was another bad idea, even though at the point it appeared we knew it was a hallucination and so arguably didn’t need to seem that realistic. Even so, it looked like a version of Stephen King’s Cujo animated on a ZX Spectrum.

Given that this reimagining of Sherlock rather relies on its slickness, wit and style, it was a bit of a gamble. Luckily, there was still a huge amount to like about this ‘Sherlock on holiday’ adventure. So much so that you could forgive a plot hole or seventy. The visuals (dog aside) were truly stunning and seeing a fearful, shuddering, emotional Sherlock was an interesting twist: even if it did later turn out to be drug-induced.

The only real problem was the straightforward nature of several aspects of the case. We didn’t get to see our Spock-like hero demonstrate his autistic genius-savant detective skills enough. He managed to figure out that Henry ate a breakfast sandwich on the train and that the man sitting behind them in the pub was an out of work fisherman trying to borrow money from his mum: but these seemed almost shoehorned in.

For all the monster dogs, CIA projects and other fancy trappings, Hounds was a much more straightforward episode than we’ve had in the past. But that’s not likely to be the case next week. Judging from the ‘next episode’ clip, either Moriarty is back with a vengeance or Declan Donnelly is really, really annoyed about something…

*     *      *

Sherlock – A Scandal In Belgravia

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

5 Responses to Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville

  1. No live minefields, maybe, but the Army does have a live firing range on the north of the moor, so not that fanciful. I agree the plot was a bit ‘and it was all a dream/hallucination’, though I only got there when Watson was in the lab, so not too telegraphed. I would really want to set my security lights to a longer delay than Henry did – you’d have a job getting from your car to the front door without tripping over the petunias under those.

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      Live firing ranges are ten a penny. I regularly ride the horse through one for a laugh. Because I’m a badass. And also not terribly good at heeding warning signs…

  2. The Health and Safety on that Baskerville site was a bloody disgrace. Not a clue about the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations, 2002. I knew the baddie was Dr Mike off of Casualty as soon as he walked straight out of a Biological Control Area without getting changed.

    It’s just not good enough.

    *ruffles paper, adjusts clipboard*

    Harrumph.

  3. Jenny says:

    Great review, my favourite moment was when sherlock said that watson is the only 1 for him (friend tho, but how romantic!). is there a tellysquawks reviws for ep 3?

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