The Empty Hearse & The Adventure of the Empty House (BBC 1 / BBC Radio 4 Extra)

Mere moments after I finished watching the return of Sherlock on the Sky+ I was into the world of the Return of Sherlock Holmes on the iPlayer.  Catching up on all my media I then went for the full set and downloaded to my Kindle the original Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle short story of The Adventure of the Empty House.  So, after a hat-trick of surviving Sherlocks, are there any curious incidents that need resolving?

Let’s start with the zeitgeist.  Sherlock is back and it’s more maddening than ever.  There is so much to hate about the programme and yet it is all so well done that for the most part the ride is so enjoyable that it is forgiveable.  There are signs though that this may not be forever.

We’re now nowhere near the original stories.  The title was The Empty Hearse but this was so much nearer the steampunk Sherlock of Robert Downey Jr’s cinema version but with added jokes, in-jokes, sly pop-culture references and archness.  There are no reveals, just a dizzying journey to a conclusion.  And the ‘rats’ idea just didn’t work even with neat direction and good acting.  I have no idea whether Twitter loved it but the now-constant meta jokes about fandom and obsession are getting dull.

But, like I say, it was, overall, the right side of fun and  I will be back.

Meanwhile, broadcast again on Radio 4 Extra and available on the iPlayer was the radio version of the original story.  This is part of Clive Merrison and Michael Williams’ run of the complete works and one of the many to come from the pen of Bert Coules.  It obviously has all of the details of the story and would seem to be a bit vanilla for some but where the radio version really works is in the intensity of the connection between Holmes and Watson – drawn out in ways that simply don’t exist in the stories.  Coules is also a master of making even the duller or less likely Holmes’ stories sing, and here it is well done by adding more about the death of Watson’s wife and involving the doctor far more in the case than happens in the short story.

And then, finally, the short story.  The one that Conan-Doyle wrote ten years after sending his detective to his death in Switzerland.  It is full of all that is good about them: nutty theories posing as rational explanation, good guys and bad guys, adventures with guns and casual asides that you simply don’t get today now that the liberal mafia is something something something.  In this one it’s that before Sebastian Moran turned into a bad guy he was a good guy and the best big game shot in the British Army.  He killed tigers for fun when good; robs rich people of money at cards when bad.  Such is the world Holmes strides within.

So, three ways of bringing Sherlock back and all fun in their own way.  No doubt in a few years time someone will do it all again.  Holmes never dies, and he always comes back.

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