I Have Seen the Future…And Sherlock Holmes Wears a Spacesuit
CHRIS CHAN reviews Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century
Before the BBC recently did a brilliant job of updating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries to the twenty-first century, DiC and Scottish Television produced the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century from 1999 to 2001. In this show, the great detective, whose body has been carefully preserved in honey, is revived through advanced regenerative technology in order to investigate a string of mysterious crimes, the likes of which have not been seen since the crimes of Professor Moriarty, which took place during Holmes’s first lifetime. Acting under the supervision of Inspector Beth Lestrade, descended from Holmes’ Scotland Yard friend, and with the welcome assistance of an android that has been programmed with the memories and personality of Doctor Watson, as well as a new trio of brave and clever Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes starts solving the most bizarre crimes to hit London in two hundred years.
All of the episodes are based upon Conan Doyle’s original works, although sometimes the connection is extremely slight. Notably, there are no murders, except possibly in the “Gloria Scott” case where a spaceship filled with prison guards may have been left with no survivors, although this point seems ambiguous. Most of the stories’ MacGuffins have been updated to utilize 22nd-century technology. Silver Blaze is no longer a horse, but a high-speed rocket. The Mazarin Stone goes from being a diamond to a microchip that projects holograms. The Beryl Coronet, once a bejeweled crown, turns into a computer motherboard. The Blue Carbuncle becomes a robotic children’s toy instead of a gem. The Six Napoleons are designer flying cars instead of plaster busts. These are not the only changes.
In many instances, the identity of the culprit has been changed, or the personality of the perpetrator has been completely altered so as to be unrecognizable, save for the name. The stories usually involve an additional sci-fi twist, such as cloning, advanced computer technology, genetic manipulation, or cyborgs. The streets of London are still foggy, but instead of horse-drawn hansom cabs, levitating cabs fly through the skies, and the skyscrapers are covered with holographic billboards. The series does a genuinely artistic job blending traditional two-dimensional animation with three-dimensional computer graphics, creating a surreal but rather cool cityscape.
As for the characters, no one on the production team seems to be aware that the famous deerstalker hat and Inverness cape are only supposed to be worn in the country. Holmes, voiced by Jason Gray-Stanford (best known as Lt. Randall Disher on Monk), lacks most of the darker or more abrasive characteristics that lead many commentators to diagnose him with bipolar disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, or sociopathy. The android version of Watson has no trace of buffoonery or incompetence, and possibly the emotional high point of the series comes early on when Holmes worries that the robot version of his best friend has been destroyed in the polluted Thames. Somewhat problematic is the American-accented Beth Lestrade, who fulfills the archetypical “strong female character” requirements by being great at athletics and martial arts, but who rarely makes an accurate deduction on her own, or even a shrewd investigative decision. Half of Lestrade’s lines are delivered with clenched teeth, and an early line where she smugly informs Holmes that he is her subordinate at Scotland Yard, and that it is now “a better world for women” is undercut by the fact that there are hardly any other female characters in the series who display courage, intelligence, or who are in positions of power. Almost all of the prominent scientists in the series are males, with the females serving as lab assistants, and on the rare occasion when a female is the culprit, she turns out to be acting under the influence of a male criminal with whom she is besotted. Aside from the plucky Baker Street Irregular Deidre, hardly any of the other women in the series have characterizations of any depth.
There are a few issues with the DVDs themselves and the packaging. The DVDs are not placed into plastic snaps, but are instead kept inside individual envelopes, which are hard to remove the discs from without smudging one side with fingerprints, and the envelopes can fall out of the case easily unless one is careful. Also, if you neglect to select an episode from the menu soon enough, it will start playing on its own. When you do play an episode, all of the remaining episodes on the disc will play after your selection ends, instead of returning to the menu screen like most DVDs.
Younger children, the target audience for this show, will probably enjoy this series, particularly the action and adventure aspects. Those who are familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon, and who are purists, will probably be rather discomforted—I know I was. My unabashed enthusiasm for Sherlock proves that updating can really work, but all the androids, lasers, and other gimmicks tend to distract from the fact that the show tends to be more about the action and explosions than about the process of investigation and deduction.
Updates of Sherlock Holmes can certainly work—the Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch series are certainly proof of that. But Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century reminds me of the android version of Dr. Watson—it has the memories of the classic cases, but does it have a heart and a soul? I’m not so sure it does. I was frequently entertained by this series, but I never became enthralled with it as I do with the greatest Sherlock Holmes adaptations. The complete 26-episode set is extremely cheap and definitely worth a look—but purists really need to be forewarned.
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