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The Hound of the Baskervilles

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The Hound of the Baskervilles
updated 03.11.2003

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The recent interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic The Hound of the Baskervilles, shown on Masterpiece Theatre, is an 'interesting' depiction of Holmes and Dr. Watson. Having read all of the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novelettes, including the very detailed The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, I find it difficult to believe that Doyle meant Sherlock Holmes to have such a weak character, conversely allowing Dr. Watson the freedom to berate him frequently and without hesitation. This interpretation really takes away from the strength of Doyle's main character, Holmes. According to Doyle, Watson was a friend and companion of Holmes, holding him in the highest respect and trust, always slow to disparage, being of reserved mind and action. Dr. Watson was a military man with a terrific discipline of emotion. Also, the physical attributes of both Watson and Holmes strayed from historical data -- Holmes being a tall, wiry yet very strong individual and Watson, a bit older with a paunch around the mid-section. If the film director meant to stray from tradition, congratulations! Would Shakespeare enthusiasts applaud an amicable Henry VIII?

Dave Degenhart

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
This was the poorest version of this classic tale that I have ever watched. It made Holmes out to be a buffoon and a bungler. The interaction between Holmes and Watson was irritating. Holmes comes across as a shallow smart aleck who has no care or consideration for the other characters. Watson does not look or act like a doctor, and is so irascible that he is heartily disliked. My husband and I were truly disappointed with the whole production. Even the hound looked silly.

Norma Harriman
Port Arthur, TX

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I felt this was a faithful adaptation in many respects. However, I must take issue with the scenes in which Holmes takes injections, presumably of his "seven percent solution of cocaine." Generally, Holmes only resorted to taking those sorts of drugs when he was not working on a case, and he would lie about in his rooms at Baker Street for days on end with nothing to occupy his analytical mind. Holmes generally did not indulge in this habit when working on a case, as he was feeling a different sort of high: the thrill of the hunt. Also, Dr. Watson objected to his use of these drugs, which is a detail that I don't feel was evident in this adaptation.

I must take exception to the assertion that this version was more faithful to the original novel than were previous attempts. I believe that I read one promotional piece that said, "Holmes trades his deerstalker cap for a top hat." The Granada television series was very faithful to the original work, and I saw Jeremy Brett wearing a top hat more often than the deerstalker cap, which he only wore occasionally in scenes set in the countryside.

I also saw, in the "Behind the Scenes" of the movie and on your Web site, that Holmes was more of a cigarette smoker, indicating that Holmes's pipe smoking was an invention of stage and film. Indeed, the trademark calabash pipe was actually thought up by actor William Gillette in his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The actor found that he could clench the stem with his teeth and still speak his lines. However, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did have Holmes smoking pipes in the original canon. In The Red-Headed League, Holmes remarks to Watson about the case that, "It is quite a three pipe problem," and proceeds to curl up in his chair, smoking a black clay pipe for the rest of the afternoon while lost in thought.

Still, it is quite a thrilling version that has been brought to the screen. Richard Roxburgh and Ian Hart were quite good as Holmes and Watson. Roxburgh was quite adept at being aloof while also compelling. Still, while Roxburgh comes closer than most, Jeremy Brett's portrayal is still, as many critics noted, "the definitive Sherlock Holmes."

While I have enjoyed other portrayals by David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Alan Cox, Roger Morlidge, Kenneth Welsh, and, yes, even Nigel Bruce, I found Ian Hart's portrayal of Dr. Watson to be a refreshing change of pace. He seemed far more at odds with Holmes than did previous incarnations, and I also liked how Watson comes to the rescue at the end.

Richard E. Grant was quite chilling as the villain Stapleton. Ironically, Grant bears more of a resemblance to the Sidney Paget illustrations of Holmes. And, it was only last year that Grant played Sherlock's older brother Mycroft in the US television movie A Case of Evil. It makes me wonder what kind of Sherlock Holmes he would make. The one thing that still bugs me is, why isn't Mystery! showing this handsome adaptation?

Mark Limvere-Robinson
Takoma Park, MD

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
This presentation was poorly done. It was just not up to your usual high standards. In the attempt to differentiate this version of The Hound of the Baskervilles from the many that have preceded it, those who adapted it just mucked it up.

Ted Reiner
Sarasota, FL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I tuned into the Monday night airing of the latest Sherlock Holmes mystery. I had to check to make sure I hadn't tuned into the USA Network! Who wrote the script for this production? Had they ever so much as read the original work? The way the dialogue was pasted and cut drove me nuts!

And why change the ending? What was wrong with the original? Will someone please explain to me the writer's fascination with Holmes's cocaine use? Did we need to watch him main line the drug? Pure garbage! I was incensed that PBS would pay good money for this lousy adaptation. Next time, preview before release, please!

Tracy Holmes
Universal City, TX

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was amazed and horrified that a Masterpiece Theatre presentation could ever show so little regard for the work on which it was supposedly based. A séance? A Christmas party? Holmes shooting up drugs while working on a case? Stapleton's wife dead? Holmes sinking in the mire? Stapleton shot? What an insult to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and what a tremendous disappointment for Holmes fans who tuned in to see a well-loved story!

Nancy Burns
Hamilton, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
My wife and I absolutely loved your presentation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. We own every book, audiotape, and videotape that we can get our hands on, and we enjoy comparing the differences between productions. We would like to tell you that we were glued to the edges of our seats as we watched this broadcast. Although, we were heartbroken when Jeremy Brett passed away, we have found new hope in both Richard Roxburgh and Ian Hart. We hope that there are many more of these shows to come.

Edward Swantek
Lakewood, NJ

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I liked this version of Doyle's classic, gothic Holmes story, but it fell short on two counts. Much of it is superb, including the atmosphere of the chilling but oddly beautiful moor and the dark brooding Baskerville Hall and Merripit House, as well as Baker Street. The casting is good, though I can't help but wonder how Mr. Grant, who is outstanding as Stapleton, would have fared in the title role. His aquiline features and physical build lend themselves more easily to the role of Holmes than does Mr. Roxburgh's face and form.

Another more important element interfered with my enjoyment of the episode. There is not one, but two scenes showing, in naked detail, Holmes injecting cocaine into his veins. Although Holmes was a cocaine user, there was no need to include his habit in the story. I really do not think it wise to portray in visual detail a character such as Holmes, who is so heroic, so wise and such a force for good, as a drug user; it sets too poor an example for young people. The story is changed from the original narrative in other ways, such as in the manner of Stapleton's death and the fate of his wife. The episode would not have been diminished by an omission of Holmes's drug habit.

Finally, I think that anyone who produces a version of The Hound of the Baskervilles must present a credible version of the hound itself. The animal is a focal point of the story, though its appearance is brief. It must appear as a creature of almost supernatural great power, and at the end, a real though quite large and dangerous dog. In this version of the classic story, the hound looks like the blend of a giant hyena, a robot, and a reject from the Jurassic Park movies! I could hardly believe that the creature, whose head looked like it was cobbled together out of papier-mâché, is supposed to be a giant dog. It does not look like a dog (I have personally seen over 155 breeds of dogs) or a wolf, or any canine that I have seen in person or on paper. The creature would have made me laugh were it not for the acting skills of the cast.

The production is otherwise filmed with such attention to detail and realism that the state of the hound stood out like a sore thumb. There are enough breeds of menacing size and appearance, so why could they not have used a real dog and perhaps altered its appearance with non-toxic paint and creative photography to make it appear larger? (Though a big Great Dane or Tosa Inu could look pretty scary charging down the fog-covered moor.) In the original Hound of the Baskervilles story, Stapleton uses phosphorus to make the dog appear like it is outlined in fire, an effect, which is neither used nor referred to in this version.

I would certainly enjoy more adventures of Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Theatre. I would also like to see Richard Grant play the title role...

Patricia Floss
Brookline, MA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Bravo! What a great re-telling of the story! I really like Richard Roxburgh's portrayal of Holmes. I don't know if it's because he's Australian that he avoids the clichés of previous characterizations, but it is very refreshing. Also Ian Hart is a wonderfully conflicted Watson. I hope this is the first in a series of Holmes stories with Roxburgh and Hart.

Denise Perry
Urbana, IL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was reluctant to watch The Hound of the Baskervilles since I've always been loyal to Basil Rathbone as "the" Sherlock Holmes! However, after the first five minutes of the program I was enthralled. It was an excellent adaptation, and it was nice to have a new take on Watson's character as well. As always, I should have known better then to expect to be disappointed by a Masterpiece Theatre production!

Allison Rittenhouse
Madison, VA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
For me, Jeremy Brett was Sherlock Holmes. But I was willing to give the new production with new actors a try.

My big objection to this production was not the acting, which was superb, but with the liberties taken with the story. Sherlock Holmes at a séance? I don't think so. No matter what Conan Doyle's personal views were about spiritualism, it is inconsistent for Holmes as a character to have participated in such an event.

This production was more of a horror story than a Sherlock Holmes story. The graphic violence at the end of story with the hound mauling and the hanging of Beryl is completely unfaithful to the text. There is no reason to have such a gory conclusion. The story Doyle wrote is strong enough to stand on its own.

Sarah Dexter
Tulsa, OK

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
While Masterpiece Theatre's The Hound of the Baskervilles did a very good job with creating atmosphere, (in fact the best to date), it could have done a better job with Holmes. Contrary to the post program show, Holmes was a pipe smoker (in the books/stories), as well as a cigarette and cigar smoker. Though Holmes did wear a cloth cap or 'deerstalker' when in the country, I felt that his drug problem was over-played. While the street in London looked good, more time should have been spent on the interiors of the rooms at Baker Street. Both Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget describe these interiors in rich detail. Baskerville Hall, though not bad, could have done with a few carved stairway posts in the form of lions or hounds. My point is, on the whole it was a very good effort, but before another Holmes production is made, let's remember the basics and make Holmes a richer character.

B. Johnson
Winston-Salem, NC

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Although the photography is gorgeous and the production values are first-rate, it is very flawed. As a long time Holmes fan, I note several serious problems:

1) Holmes is shown taking cocaine after he meets with Dr. Mortimer. Not only did this not happen in the book, but also Holmes only took cocaine when he was bored -- NEVER when engaged in an investigation (or about to start one)! This is completely inappropriate and was apparently done to sensationalize things. Perhaps the writer felt that today's viewers couldn't remain interested without a bit of salacious drug use...?

2) At another point, Holmes says, "Don't be an idiot, Watson..." He NEVER called Watson an idiot in the book, and it's totally inappropriate to their relationship. Watson was his confidant and friend, and even though Holmes could be difficult at times, he never insulted Watson thus.

3) The casting of Watson is so wrong as to be distracting -- he is too young, and (I'm sorry to be superficial, but television is a visual medium), he has rodent-like features. He looks, to put it unkindly, like a weasel. This actor is very good at his craft, but physically all wrong for this part. (For an excellent Watson, see Robert Duvall in the film Murder By Decree.) Holmes is also too young -- at the time of the novel, they would have been in their very late thirties or early forties. (The most authentic Holmes is probably Jeremy Brett in the PBS series.)

I'm sorry to be so critical, but when dealing with such a familiar and beloved canon of fiction, the devil is in the details!

Harrison Bolter
San Diego, CA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I just watched The Hound of the Baskervilles and enjoyed it very much. I thought the liberties they took with the original story were acceptable and I had a great time viewing it. Thank you for this excellent show.

Thomas Mill
Clinton Township, MI

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was deeply disappointed in this adaptation's divergence from the original story line. I would hasten to add that none of the changes were an improvement but only a contrived (per)version of the original text. Though I found the overall cinematic appearance to be up to your lofty standards, the basic screenwriting was not.

Robert Burchfield
Chattanooga, TN

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
The screenwriter not only left out major plot points (and yes, I do realize that some editing is unavoidable given the time available) but he also invented an entire sub-plot including a 'lover' for the butler; a dinner party and a séance that did not take place; a major time-change (from autumn to Christmas, including a Christmas Party that also does not appear in the book); a completely different ending in which Beryl Stapleton dies (in the book she survives), and Sherlock Holmes in danger of being lost in the mire. He also irreparably damages the relationship between Holmes and Watson with their dialogue on the train, ("No, I don't trust you ...").

Ann Franchi
Lakeland, FL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
Holmes and Watson are the right age in Masterpiece Theatre's production, which is good, and Watson is a stronger figure than in previous movie or television versions. However, as The Hound of the Baskervilles is such a well-woven tale, it was really frustrating to see that instead of being carried by the smooth cunning and clever acting of Holmes, the production was altered to add violence. Holmes was an actor as well as a detective, but this production substituted violence for cleverness, which is much less interesting to me. For example, Holmes beats up a cab driver; and the police (instead of a pony) sink in the mire. Is Conan Doyle's story so very hard to put on film? Or is this what it takes to hold a modern audience?

Sarah LaBelle
Oak Park, IL

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
This production is not nearly as convincing and entertaining as the BBC production staring the incomparable Jeremy Brett. There was no chemistry between Holmes and Watson, and the individual playing Watson was insipid and far too volatile. The production last year of Murder Rooms was far and away much better, and I hope to see more of that series in the future.

Michael Doucette
Saint John, NB

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
OK, it was a compelling production in it's own right. But, it was NOT Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story. Why didn't they give it a different title, since it was a different story, albeit based on Doyle's classic? As for a film version of the real Hound of the Baskervilles, I'll take the one starring the late Jeremy Brett over this one any day!

Diane Keane
Verona, PA

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
This is an excellent Holmes story and was well done. Congratulations to all involved!

Gail Kubik
Old Bridge, NJ

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