Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes|
Arthur Conan Doyle Joins the Real Sherlock Holmes to Track a Serial Killer
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
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
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
Introduction | More | Episode Descriptions | Cast and Production Credits