The new Sherlock is set in the modern day supposedly to avoid the pitfall of getting lost in the trappings of the period setting and the Victoriana. Unfortunately by this second episode it appears to have got lost in the trappings of a 1970s TV show. All of the hallmarks are there: the concern with infiltration by a fiendish oriental criminal underworld, the heroin (and the sidekick here) getting kidnapped, the gruesome machinery (a predictable and tedious device) built for suspense. It was an entertaining enough 90 minutes, but once again it suffers by comparison with the work it is selectively based on and it lacks the lively and witty dialogue of last week’s instalment.
The adaptation is again weakened by the lack of a client, because Holmes is now a consulting detective, and this robs the story of its emotional core. The Dancing Men is not about cracking a cypher, but about the mysterious Elsie Patrick (the original Soo Lin Yao character), and why is she is so afraid of some scribbled graffiti. It’s about a wealthy man (who I’d expected to be the titular banker) who married a woman who would tell him nothing about her past, who married her regardless. It’s about his helplessness in the face of her terror, his ignorance, a promise to respect her secret, and Sherlock Holmes’ delight in being drawn into the puzzle as the deceitful resolution to this otherwise inescapable dilemma. It’s also notable that (unlike the kind of deductions Sherlock makes in this adaptation) in the short story Holmes is concerned with psychology and more than observing and forming conclusions based forensic details he knows human nature and he knows people and the way they think.
In the short story Conan Doyle is concerned with making Holmes appear as brilliant as possible. In this episode, he is used the punchline to one or two jokes about his deductive powers, and he misses the pattern in the Chinese numbers that Watson’s lovely lady Doctor-friend spots straight away.
Finally, at the conclusion another reference to the “Napoleon of Crime” that is crowbarred into the story in a way that reminds me of the early Bond movies. From Russia With Love is my favourite of those films, and a very faithful adaptation, but the few changes that are made are to insert the risible SPECTRE into the plot and are invariable changes for the worse. Moriarty is becoming the SPECTRE of Sherlock. Let’s hope there’s more to next week’s instalment than the machinations of Sir James.