Sunday, November 13, 2011

TV Review: Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes (2000 - 2001)

Ian Richardson as Dr Joseph Bell in Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes (2000 - 2001)
Ian Richardson and Charles Edwards as Dr Bell and Arthur Conan Doyle

This TV series features Ian Richardson as Joseph Bell, the man credited by Arthur Conan Doyle as the inspiration to create his most famous fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle is played by Robin Laing in the first episode and by Charles Edwards in the rest of the series.

While it is debatable, how much of the series is based on actual facts, the series definitely is quite entertaining thanks to Richardson’s masterly portrayal of Bell. Ian Richardson was a Shakespearean stage actor and was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1989 for his services to drama.

His interpretation of Bell is (most probably, a deliberate decision on the part of the makers) heavily based on the character of Holmes. Obviously, it would be tough to sell the character of Bell as the inspiration behind Holmes, if Bell is portrayed any other way.

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It is interesting to note that Richardson also portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the TV movies, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983) and The Sign of Four (1985) and provided the voice for Conan Doyle in the TV series The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century (1996). I do not know if any other actor in human history has had the privilege of portraying Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Joseph Bell. A rare honor indeed!

Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes in 'The Sign of Four' (1985)
Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes in 'The Sign of Four' (1985)

The first episode, titled “The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes”, introduces Conan Doyle to Bell. Several of the exchanges between Bell and Doyle in this episode, are almost reproduced verbatim from A Study in Scarlet. In this episode, as in the rest of the series, Bell is positioned as the real life Holmes and Doyle as his real life Watson. In the pilot episode, Bell and Doyle investigate a series of grisly murders committed by a serial killer, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream.

In the next episode, “The Patient's Eyes”, the duo investigate the case of a woman who believes she is being followed by a ghost while bicycling along a lonely road. This is one of best mysteries in this series. It is interesting to note that the plot starts off in a very similar way to The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist. There are some twists down the road that makes this story different.

Perhaps, the writers wrote this episode to suggest that Doyle might have found the inspiration for some of his Holmes mysteries from his own real life experiences with Bell. In addition to his work with Bell, I believe Conan Doyle also personally investigated couple of closed murder cases, leading to two convicted men being exonerated.

Ian Richardson as Dr Joseph Bell in Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes (2000 - 2001)
Ian Richardson is an excellent Dr Bell

The next two episodes, “The Photographer's Chair” and “The Kingdom of Bones” deal with spiritualism and terrorist threat respectively.

The final episode, “The White Knight Stratagem”, is in my humble opinion, the best in the series. It features Bell and Doyle investigating a murder, with the police official in charge of the official investigation having a past history with Bell. This episode sees Sir Doyle coming into his own element as a detective and is a good farewell for the series.

While the series is quite brief (only 5 episodes) and some of the mysteries cannot hold a candle to the actual Holmes mysteries, I would commend this series to anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes. The sole reason is Ian Richardson. He is a master at the top of his game here and single-handedly elevates the series to a whole new level.

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Image Sources: Mpi Home Video, Amazon

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  1. I LOVE this series. It is so unfortunate that there were not more episodes before Richardson's death. It takes such a unique approach to many of Doyle's stories, and of course has a terrific cast. It helps that I've always liked Richardson. It's a great way to spend a weekend.

    1. Richardson is superb in this series. I too wish there has been more episodes with him as Dr Bell.