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Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes

Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle Joins the Real Sherlock Holmes to Track a Serial Killer on MYSTERY!

In 1886, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the first of his immortal Sherlock Holmes stories, inspired by the forensic genius of his professor and mentor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, Dr. Joseph Bell.

Now, MYSTERY! presents a two-part drama based on Dr. Bell's previously unknown undercover work, recently discovered in private letters and papers and brought dramatically to life on Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes , airing on PBS Thursday, January 11, 2001 at 9pm (check local listings).

Dr. Bell is joined in his adventures by the young Doyle, tapped by the sleuthing surgeon to be a prototype Dr. Watson.

Ian Richardson (House of Cards Trilogy) stars as Dr. Bell, and Robin Laing (Cadfael) as Doyle. Charles Dance (Rebecca) plays Sir Henry Carlisle, a philanthropist devoted to the medical school who becomes embroiled in the extraordinary case, which features a cameo appearance by Jack the Ripper himself.

The mystery unfolds in 1878 as the university is in an uproar over the introduction of female students, one of whom -- Elspeth Scott (Dolly Wells; Sleepy Hollow) -- catches the eye of fellow medical student Doyle.

He is less enamored with his new professor Dr. Bell, who insists that observation and analysis are essential medical skills. Doyle regards as mere parlor tricks Bell's astonishingly detailed deductions about the background of his patients, based on the slimmest of clues.

Characteristically, Bell deals with his skeptical student by appointing him as his assistant. Doyle quickly learns that there is more to his professor than meets the eye, and that Bell is using his analytical powers to solve crimes for the Edinburgh police, who are not always appreciative of his efforts.

For example, what caused the death of a woman whose corpse shows no visible signs of injury? Heart attack, say the police. Fiendishly clever murder, insists Bell, who cracks the case with Holmesian aplomb.

And who killed Samuel the fiddler and why? The police don't even suspect murder; besides, the man was just a beggar.

Taking a cue from his mentor, Doyle believes there's something fishy about Samuel's death -- especially when similar clues show up in ghoulish pranks aimed at the women medical students and in a mysterious ailment afflicting Sir Henry Carlisle's wife, Lady Sarah (Ruth Platt), who just happens to be Elspeth's sister.

Could there be a connection?

Scriptwriter David Pirie notes that Murder Rooms is "based on a true story. It has been known for a long time that Joseph Bell, who taught Conan Doyle at Edinburgh Medical School, was a model for Sherlock Holmes. What is not so well known is that -- alongside his medical work -- Bell was carrying out secret investigations for the Crown.

"Recent research suggests that he was already engaged in this work in 1878, the very year that Conan Doyle entered his class and became his clerk. Though Conan Doyle's early life is a mystery and his personal papers were withheld from view for decades, the more we looked, the more we found."

Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes is a coproduction of the BBC and WGBH Boston. Ian Madden is producer; Paul Seed is director. The screenplay is written by David Pirie. Executive producers are David Thompson for the BBC and Rebecca Eaton for WGBH.

Murder Rooms is presented on MYSTERY! by WGBH Boston, where Rebecca Eaton is executive producer.

Funding for MYSTERY! is provided by public television viewers. MYSTERY! is close captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH Boston. Narrated descriptions of MYSTERY! programs are provided by Descriptive Video Service® (DVS®), a national service of WGBH.

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