January Books 4) The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

4) The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

I have been reading this on my Palm T|X after downloading more or less at random from Project Gutenberg. The last of the four collections of Doyle's stories about the great detective, published in 1927, but mostly set in 1900-1902, "around the time of the Boer War". It's an odd selection, not the best of the Holmes stories; there are several tales turning on freaks of nature (monkey gland injections, a disease almost like leprosy and a killer jellyfish) and several where Holmes doesn't actually solve anything but is more a kind of deliverer of absolution. I was also intrigued by the presence in different stories of no less than three Latin American ladies of fiery temperament. Did Doyle have a particular experience from his own past in mind?

The other thing that struck me was the universal use of the telegram as a method of communication. We've forgotten all about this now, but it combined elements of the fax, the SMS and the email. I wonder if anyone can date precisely when the telegram went out of use?

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1 Response to January Books 4) The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

  1. wwhyte says:

    And a lot of this is due to the superb costume design of June Hudson

    Didn’t they also reuse some sets or costumes from some epic historical drama made the same year? More superbness, less spendyness.

    I was surprised to find that four out of the six episodes of The Armageddon Factor are actually rather good

    Bob Baker & Dave Martin script beats Robert Holmes script shocker!

    The Armageddon Factor is also one of the best examples of Bob & Dave’s (presumably monomyth-inspired) recurring trope, the descent through multiple layers and return. I demonstrate this with a bulleted list:

    • Claws of Axos — Axos buries itself in Earth, everyone goes down inside it, is changed, re-emerges.
    • The Mutants — Descend from station to Solos; when in Solos, go into the caves.
    • The Three Doctors — Through hole to Omega’s universe; when there, go into huge underground palace
    • The Sontaran Experiment — only two episodes, let’s get on with it.
    • The Hand Of Fear — Earth to Kastria, a big underground place, then down in a big lift, then a desperate scramble back to the surface and an epilogue back on Earth. For bonus points, villian ends up (SPOILERS) down a big (SPOILER).
    • The Invisible Enemy — Titan Base to the medical center (not a descent as such) then down into the DOCTOR’S VERY BRAIN to re-emerge as a PRAWM.
    • Underworld — Does exactly what it says on the tin. Note the zero-gravity descending to the CENTER of the WORLD. There is no more under. And note that we have to go all the way back to the P7E at the end.
    • The Armageddon Factor — Atrios -> Zeos -> The Shadow’s World. And then shrink everyone! Because we have two extra episodes and have to do something.

    (I’d also note that although I dismissed The Sontaran Experiment quickly above, it does feature a lot of falling down holes).

    What I think makes The Armageddon Factor the strongest of these stories, at least in its use of the descent theme, is several things: (a) the descent is a bit less literal than usual and much more clearly about moral corruption; (b) the physical movement is mirrored by the characters going bad one by one EVEN K-9; (c) unless I’m misremembering, it doesn’t unwind all the steps back to the beginning the way the other Baker & Martin stories do; instead the Doctor and Romana break out of the cycle at the lowest point and head off… which mirrors how the Doctor reacts to the Key to Time itself. It’s all done pretty nicely.

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