Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sherlock Holmes Stories You Have to Read

I talk a fair bit about the BBC modernised series of Sherlock (which is understandable as it is brilliant) but I'm not sure I spend enough time on the original stories themselves; without which Sherlock wouldn't be here *cue dramatic look at some scenery*.
So to counteract that, I'm dedicating a blog post to the top five Sherlock Holmes stories that anyone trying to get into the Sherlock Holmes Canon should read. It was a tough choice as Arthur Conan Doyle composed many classics, which I haven't included in this list. Joys such as the ingenious mystery of The Dancing Men, the confounding tale of the Red-Headed League and Holmes' first ever published adventure A Study in Scarlet lost their places to these following greats of the detective genre. These five stories perfectly capture the great strengths of the Holmes stories which have ensured their longevity; the intelligent plots, the dastardly villains and, most importantly, the friendship of Holmes and Watson. Now, read onward. The game's afoot!

A Scandal in Bohemia

Published in: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Story: The King of Bohemia himself calls upon the Great Detective to retrieve a compromising photograph from the beautiful - but dangerous - Irene Adler. Holmes thinks the job will be easy but has he actually met his match?
Why is it good?: Largely, because it's the only story to feature Irene Adler - the one woman the usually-cold Holmes shows anything akin to emotion for and one of the few people to actually beat him. It's a fascinating read that shines a light on the man underneath the cold mask.
Quote: 'To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.'

The Speckled Band
Published in: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Story: Holmes and Watson investigate a case involving a locked-room murder,cryptic cries and exotic animals. Culminating in an encounter with a deadly snake, the duo might themselves fall to the mysterious Speckled Band...
Why is it good?: Quite probably the most well-written Holmes story. Conan Doyle throws everything into it and it works brilliantly. It's Sherlock Holmes' most rousing adventure!
Quote: "When a doctor does go wrong, he is the first of criminals. He has the nerve and he has the knowledge."

The Final Problem

Published in: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Story: Sherlock Holmes is determined to defeat 'Napoleon of Crime', Professor Moriarty, whatever the cost. The two rivals lock in a battle of wits spanning the entire continent before meeting on the cliffs of the Reichenbach Falls. They both know there is only one way it can end...
Why is it so good?: When Conan Doyle decided to kill Holmes off he obviously went all out to make the story as climactic as possible. Not only do we get Holmes and Watson adventuring further than ever before, Holmes gets a truly memorable nemesis - a character who every super villain over the next hundred years would be drawn from.
Quote: '' I shall ever regard (Holmes) as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.''

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Published as: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Story: An ancient family curse is once again plaguing the Baskervilles of Dartmoor; A black demon dog is running amok through the moors! With Holmes apparently busy in London, Dr Watson finds his world turned upside down by the supernatural...
Why is it so good?: By far the best of Conan Doyle's Holmes novels, it rightly deserves its success as the most famous Sherlock Holmes adventure. The mystery is well plotted (without the long annoying flashbacks of other novels) and comes to an exciting finale on the moors. Set before Holmes' death but published afterwards, its success led to Holmes' eventual resurrection...
Quote: 'Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!'

The Empty House

Published in: The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Story: Dr Watson is shocked to find his best friend, Sherlock Holmes, did not die at the Reichenbach Falls but instead faked his death. Soon, they are off investigating once more; this time on the trail of Colonel Moran, the late Moriarty's right-hand man...
Why is it so good?: A triumphant return for the great detective. Yes, there's a few flaws e.g. Watson's reaction to Holmes' return (Fainting?!) but the whole thing is a rollicking runaround with some great turns.
Quote: 'With my face over the brink, I saw (Moriarty) fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water.'

So, there we are. My list of the top five Sherlock Holmes stories that you should read. There are, of course, many more as I have mentioned above but I heartily suggest that you pick these up first. If these, the very best of Sherlock Holmes, strike a chord with you then you may just find that the fogbound streets of Holmes' London, filled as they are with mystery, despicable cads and intrepid detectives, will stay with you forever.

Yeah, put that in your favourite clay pipe and smoke it.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Countdown to Doctor Who At 50: The Sixth Doctor

Kicking off our new format for counting down, one Doctor one month at a time, to Doctor Who's fiftieth birthday is the unpredictable, unforgettable and unquiet Sixth Doctor! Just don't mention carrot juice...

Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon.
                                                                          The Doctor (Colin Baker)

The Doctor changes. We all know that yet when it happens, we can't help but compare the New Man (or Woman, if that oft-discussed idea ever actually happens) with their predecessor, to see how different they are. Viewers have been doing it since Hartnell became Troughton to when Tennant turned into Smith and will be doing so far into the future. However, viewers will surely never witness a greater change between Doctors than when the pleasant, considerate Fifth Doctor morphed into Colin Baker's Sixth; a loud, abrasive, serf-absorbed hero. It was unexplored territory for the character of the Doctor. Gone was the loveable eccentricity and warmth of previous Doctors, the show's hero was now dangerous. Companions and viewers alike no longer knew if they could trust the Doctor. And this is why the Sixth Doctor is so important to the mythos, the development of the central character and, yes, the longevity of the show. Put simply, he put the Who back into Doctor Who.

You just have to take one look at this incarnation to know his defining characteristics. The garish coat, bright yellow trousers and, er, cat badge immediately sum him up. The Sixth Doctor was not big on subtlety.
He thought of himself as the greatest of his own regenerations - apparently his predecessor's charm didn't suit him much - and never doubted his abilities. Also, perhaps unique amongst other Doctors, he was more forgiving of violence. Infamously, in the throws of his regeneration he attempted to strangle his companion, Peri, and in the next adventure, he assaulted a policeman and followed the ordeal by comically sporting the officer's hat.
On the other hand, what is often forgotten about is that this Doctor also possessed great compassion, which sometimes shone underneath his brash exterior, and, of course, an eternal drive to fight wrongdoings across the universe. He was also a vegetarian, a trait later Doctors have lapsed in. As that proves, no other Doctors have his resolve. He would certainly agree on that point.

Although not the most social of Doctors, Old Sixie (as Colin Baker affectionately calls him) did have two travelling companions. However, his time with either wasn't plain sailing. First joining the Doctor in his fifth body, American botany student Perpigiullium 'Peri' Brown had perhaps the most strained relations of any companion with our hero. The two were often seen arguing in the TARDIS in between adventures and it could be said that the Doctor did seem to put up with her companionship rather than actually enjoy it. Their adventures were cut short when the Doctor was abducted by the Time Lords, leaving Peri to face the slug-like Mentors. Thankfully, she escaped and married an alien king. Aww. The Doctor's other companion, computer programmer (hey, it was a new job in the 80s) Melanie Bush underwent a softer relationship, although they initially met in the wrong order ( a pre-cursor for the Doctor and River's relationship). The Doctor mellowed wiith Mel, even letting her talk him into healthy eating. His diet plan was curtailed, however, by evil Time Lady the Rani hijacking the TARDIS, causing the Doctor to take a nasty fall...

Ones to Watch:

The Two Doctors

 The Sixth Doctor teams up with the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and companion, Jamie McCrimmon, in this fun romp set in Spain with Sontarans! It's not perfect but both Doctors get a meaty role and the scenes between them are the best.                    

Revelation of the Daleks       

Davros is once again plotting to make his Daleks stronger than ever - and for some reason it involves him posing as the boss of a posh cryogenic freezing place! It lays the brickwork for the big Dalek Civil War in the Seventh Doctor's time and it's all played as a black comedy. Great stuff.

The Trial of a Time Lord

For the Sixth Doctor's last season, all 14 episodes were combined to form one story, the longest ever in Doctor Who. The Doctor is kidnapped and put on trial by the Time Lords, to face punishment for his 'crimes'. Its pacing is all over the place and the quality varies but it has its high points, mainly the vindictive prosecutor, the Valeyard. A man who has a dark secret about the Doctor...

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