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The Problem of Sherlock
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lil_shepherd
I have, on the whole, kept out of the whole 'Sherlock' thing, and, in particular, criticism of Moffat and Gattis for their handling of women, both in 'Who' and 'Sherlock'. I also haven't been reading either of them on the subject of their adaptation of Holmes because I am really not interested.

However, today, over on Tumblr, I came across a rant and further comments based on interviews with Moffat and Gattis about their take on Doyle's 'The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton' and it did make me damn angry, and pretty much convinced me that the feminist critique of 'Sherlock' is pretty much right.

(You can read the whole thing here http://scrollgirl.tumblr.com/post/73679065866/moffat-also-if-you-read-the-adventure-of)

However, setting that aside, what I want to comment on is their blatant misreading of Doyle. These are the (extracted) paragraphs in question.

Moffat: Also, if you read [The Adventure Of] Charles Augustus Milverton, Dr. Watson in the opening paragraph tells you that he’s about to tell you a porkie. He says, ‘I even now must be very reticent.’ I think what Doyle is hinting at is that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sat in Baker Street and said, ‘Right, we’re going to have to go and kill him, aren’t we? That’s the only way we can do this.’ So they break in, kill him, and then Dr. Watson writes up a version of the story that puts the murder [on someone else].

Gatiss: They’re hiding in their burglar masks behind the curtain, and this random woman comes and shoots Milverton in the face and then grinds her heel into his face. It’s odd, isn’t it? So I mean really, it’s just an extrapolation of saying, ‘Well, he probably did it, I think.’

This is plain ridiculous. What Watson actually says is: "For a long time, even with the utmost discretion and reticence, it would have been impossible to make the facts public; but now the principle person concerned is beyond the reach of human law and, with due suppression, the story may now be told in such a fashion as to injure no one. [] The reader will excuse me if I conceal the date or any other fact by which he might trace the actual occurrence."

In other words, "As the person who killed Milverton (not Milverton himself, who has been dead for some years) is now dead I can tell this story with some names and details - such as the date - changed to protect the reputation of everyone involved."

Watson is not telling 'porkies' - he is telling a 'true' story but obscuring the identities of the 'real life' people involved.

In Doyle's version, this is not a mystery for Holmes to solve, but a story about morality which throws light on the moral behaviour of Holmes and Watson. They even spend quite some time discussing said morality - Watson is not happy at Holmes' deception of the housemaid - and only agrees to the burglary because "it is morally justifiable as long as our object is to take no articles save those which are used for an illegal purpose."

As for Holmes: "Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?" Some people may find this surprising - and Moffat and Gattis do not appear to have taken note of it at all, but it is the heart of the motivation for both men. Throughout the whole ADC canon, Holmes and Watson are Victorian gentlemen to the core, and no woman comes to either for help without some being given. Furthermore, such is their reputation that no woman seems to have any fear of entering their lodgings unescorted -- and many of the women they meet are courageous (a quality Watson, in particular, admires.)

Yes, this is a slight Holmes story. Yes, it is an opportune coincidence that Milverton is murdered with Holmes and Watson present. Yes, you could make the intervention of the Milverton's killer less abrupt if you were adapting it for the screen or stage, but none of this is anything to do with the story as it exists. On reading, it is simply highly dramatic, indeed, melodramatic, which is a fairly obvious characteristic of the Holmes canon.

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I can't comment on the episode in question because I didn't see it (and Ina went to sleep, apparently) but I do know my Holmes and I find the Holmes of 'Sherlock' both stupid -- I should not be cleverer than Holmes! -- and nasty.

I do think that, on occasion, Moffat has written some great stuff, and Gattis is okay when he isn't trying to be original, but these quotes prove that, as critics, they are, well, crap.

Edited at 2014-01-18 07:59 pm (UTC)

Apparently he gets a free pass because he's such a great writer.

This is nothing we haven't seen before, over and over again. I give you two words: Roman Polanski.

I can still admire the art and dislike the artist's views. To be fair to Moffat, he has not committed statutory rape...

Personally I have no problem with Sherlock, the show is hugely entertaining. But that is one hell of a misinterpretation of Doyle they've made there. Neither of them can have read that story very attentively if they decided Holmes and Watson committed murder, even though Milverton was a vile human being.

Holmes has let criminals go free before, and two of them at least had killed, but he'd never commit murder, and Watson was even less likely to do that. M and G are free to interpret it like that if they want, but they're clearly mistaken in doing so. And really, they don't need to do so in order to justify what happened in Sherlock 3.03 since they're not following the canon absolutely at any point and Sherlock and John don't inhabit the same world as ACD's Holmes and Watson.

My main problem with 'Sherlock' is that Holmes and Watson in that series bear no relationship at all to ADC's Holmes and Watson (hardly surprising if that is the creators' view of canon), save in the most superficial way. On the other hand, most of the first 'Sherlock Holmes' film with RDJ and Jude Law has basis in canon (and Law is the best Watson I've seen) though 'Game of Shadows' is totally OTT and much less enjoyable.

Also 'Sherlock' is often completely illogical and the continuity mistakes annoy me. So I stopped watching.

I just wish the Moffat haters would show the same good sense.

Yes, but they do have the right to express their opinions, just as Moffat and Gattis do.

I must admit that one of the reasons I stopped watching was the treatment of Irene Adler as a character.

Oh dear they really do miss the point. Hugely

This seems to be true of quite a bit of 'Sherlock'.

Furthermore, 'Charles Augustus Milverton' (I bet his schoolchums called him 'CAM') is not the only story with one of Watson's 'I am concealing the identities' introductions.

A very quick flip through the Short Stories turned up three.

I only refer to the matter (of Holmes' offered knighthood) in passing, for in my position of partner and confidant I am obliged to be particularly careful to avoid any indiscretion. - (The Three Garridebs)

Apart from these unfathomed cases, there are some which involve the secrets of private families to an extent which would mean consternation in many exalted quarters if it were thought possible that they might find their way into print. I need not say that such a breach of confidence is unthinkable... - (Thor Bridge)

Even now a certain reticence and discretion have to be observed before laying the matter before the public. - (The Creeping Man)

In none of these stories do Holmes and Watson set out to commit murder.

Edited at 2014-01-19 05:56 am (UTC)

Watson is forever doing this in canon, in fact. How can they have missed that? Particularly Gatiss.

I don't think this proves anything about them being terrible evil misogynists, mind you. It seems obvious to me that they are fixed on the idea that the hero must always be the centre of the action/story, plus they clearly don't understand what kind of men Holmes and Watson are in their own time and setting.

I've no particular objection to what they're doing with the modern version, it's their creation and it has a life of its own, but they're not making themselves look smart by misreading the original story so badly.

I happened to see the first episode of Sherlock because I was with friends after Christmas, but I'm saving the rest of the series until I can rent it on DVD. Still, I thought it was very enjoyable.

While I can understand people complaining their hearts out about Moffat's writing in Doctor Who where there are a whole bunch of writers and the show has a long history, I am more confused about the level of ranting going on in regards to Sherlock, a show where Gatis and Moffat are the only writers, where each series is very short and where we are now up to the third series and you'd have thought people who couldn't stand Moffat would have given up by now.

I don't know, perhaps these people watch ALL tv programmes and throw similar levels of bile at various other shows that they find horrendous. I don't know. But it does seem strange how Moffat seems to push people's buttons to this extent.

I don't think "Sherlock" is trying to stay true to the original stories. It wouldn't be as interesting if it did. I suspect Moffat knows that he isn't giving a traditional or even likely interpretation of the text, but rather a novel and quirky alternate reading of it. He also seems to love winding up the fans, which doesn't seem to have undermined his popularity one bit since even his detractors seem to watch avidly and with baited breath.

I stopped watching with any attention at the end of first season, mainly because I found it easy to be far cleverer than Holmes, because I didn't find either of the main actors in the least attractive or interesting, and because some of it was so ridiculous.

Actually, Moffat and Gattis are not the only writers. Stephen Thompson wrote The Blind Banker' (Series 1),'The Reichenbach Fall (Series 2) and had a hand in 'The Sign of Three'. (He was originally scheduled to write all that episode, but I guess the other two either didn't like his script or wanted their fingers in the pie.

In fact, I love a lot of Moffat's Who both in the days he was undermining RTD and since he took the reins. Furthermore, though some of those female characters are vaguely problematic, Moffat's treatment of Irene Adler 'A Scandal in Belgravia' left a bad taste in my mouth, and this is not the first comment I have read from Moffat and Gattis to make me doubt their claim to be Conan Doyle fans, because they don't seem to have either read the text or understood it.

I have no problem with Moffat not adhering strictly to the Sherlock Holmes canon. However, I find myself disappointed with his treatment of women in Sherlock because, ironically, the women in Conan Doyle's Victorian original stories are more spirited, courageous and more active than in the modern update. And there are more of them. It is so disheartening. I thought things were supposed to have improved, but it seems not. :(

I have no problem with Moffat and Gattis not adhering to the Holmes canon, but I do object to their misrepresentation of it in support of their own ridiculous plots.

The women in ADC are great - for the Victorian period absolutely wonderful - the women in 'Sherlock' not so much.

It struck me, on reading the ACD canon, how often Holmes and Watson are essentially bystanders. There may be some deduction involved in finding their way to the person at the heart of the apparent mystery, but at that point they tend to take a back seat while a separate melodrama is related or unfolds (and, of course, in a couple of the novellas we get an entirely separate strand of story related by the author at which they are not even present). It struck me, at the time, that it would be difficult to dramatise many of them in a way that put Sherlock front and centre as protagonist.

Moffat's "misogyny" is an interesting topic. I think there are some consistent problems with the way he portrays women in his shows but they reveal themselves more at a higher level as a pattern across the whole, rather than at the individual story level where they are generally valid dramatic choices and indeed there is much to like about his female characters. His "misogyny" is also sometimes, I think, more a tendency to want to foreground his protagonist characters (The Doctor and/or Holmes) at the expense of others and a certain giggle/snort attitude to sex and sexuality which can result in his female characters too often finding themselves the butt of a schoolboy joke.

I agree with almost all you say, but I thought the treatment of Irene Adler to be unjustified, and it was one of the things that put me off the series entirely.

She very much suffered from his tendency to think anything to do with sex is smuttily humorous which is why, I think, a lot of her presentation feels so off - I think we're supposed to be giggling at the nudity, the dominance and the lesbianism which is just…

However, I believe Moffat is also on record as saying he finds Adler weak in ACD canon which is another strange, and rather misogynistic, interpretation of what Conan-Doyle wrote.

Just another example of him not having understood the text.

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