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Would Victorian "Sherlock" have been as popular?

Now here’s a question. Would Sherlock have been as popular as it has been if it had been set in the Victorian era? In other words, to what extent is its popularity driven by the fact that it is contemporary?

Now it is clear that the show’s popularity has a good deal to do with its cast but would it have been at the same level if it had been Victorian-set? I'm not sure. It would have been popular for sure but as popular….?


Now, if I can go by my Twitter account, a sizeable number of the under 30s who *really* love Sherlock also love Downton Abbey so you would be forgiven for thinking that a period setting is clearly not a problem and that they’d love a Victorian Holmes. However, the reality appears to be that the adoration for Downton, while significant, is as nothing when compared to Sherlock which suggests that there are fewer period loving fans of Sherlock than we might like to suppose. A good number of these same people have (re)discovered the Brett Granada Holmes off the back of Sherlock and clearly enjoy it but did they start (re)watching the Brett series because they really liked it or because they were simply desperate to fill the void between series of Sherlock? I think it’s a fair bet that it will be a combination of the two and some who watched it for the latter reason will certainly become members of the Granada loving population in due time.

Rathbone Victorian

Rathbone Contemporary

Going contemporary (for any show based in an earlier age) has its advantages. Beyond the cost aspect that comes from not having to recreate a period environment, I think people are a lot more tolerant of deviations from the original plots when the chronological setting has been changed. The Rathbone films went (almost) completely away from the books once Universal took over the franchise and their links back to the source became increasingly tenuous. Yet whenever the Victorian-set Granada series went wide of the mark it got caned for its trouble (examples being The Eligible Bachelor and The Last Vampyre – based, respectively, on The Noble Bachelor and The Sussex Vampire). Despite this, they were quickly forgiven on each occasion largely because of the public’s reverence for Brett who had become the Holmes of a generation.


Written by Alistair Duncan
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18 comments:

  1. I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn't have loved it as much if it had been a period series - even if all the same actors had been cast.

    Mofftiss acknowledged quite rightly that a great deal of the appeal of the original stories came from their immediacy and their accessibility. Readers must have felt as if they could just go to Baker Street and lay their problems down before the duo or perhaps they would meet them one day in a dark back alley sleuthing away. Why else would people actually write to that famous address?

    And I think the transformation to our age has done the same for the new series. Incorporating social media was a stroke of genius - although I'm always bummed when I can't actually comment on Dr. Watson's blog. ;-)

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  2. Maybe just because we have already seen the Victorian Sherlock so many times? Us old, old people at least.

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  3. Although I always hate to agree with Silke, I don't think it would be as popular set in Victorian times.
    I think BC would make a great period Holmes, but it would not have the fan base it has now, in my opinion.
    The shame of it is, we won't, probably, ever get to see him as a period Holmes.
    To give him all the credit he deserves, I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off as he has done.I still believe, when Sherlock is over a really big chunk of the fan bases will leave the world of Holmes.

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    1. You're so charming!

      I hope for a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor goes back in time to meet SH and all the roles will be played by the actual Sherlock cast. Or has SH been done on Who? (not a fan, therefore no idea)

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    2. That would be series death for Sherlock. In Ghostbusters terms - don't cross the streams!

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    3. You think? Why? :-(

      It could end with the Doctor doing something timey-wimey to enable their rebirth in our time or some such stuff...?

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    4. No really it's a bad idea. The fan made Wholock video doing the rounds proves it very well I'm afraid. Just ..... no.

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    5. What do you mean? I do see no such prove and like the video. It's very well made, I think. Also I don't want SH to become the Doctor's companion, I just want the Doctor to turn up and help him solve a problem. I t could be a Christmas episode. Yes. I like my idea, even if it will never happen. :-(

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    6. The skill behind the video is not in question. The idea of putting the two together is. Just because the same people are behind both shows does not make it a good idea. Sherlock's genius has to stand alone otherwise he loses the thing that really marks him out - the fact that he's the only genius in the room. Such a crossover would damage both shows. You disagree - fair enough. Fortunately the experiment will not be attempted.

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    7. It's not so much that I disagree, it's that I don't really understand why you'd think so. I wouldn't want BC and MF to be John and Sherlock, I'd want them to be Holmes and Watson and SH could still be the most brilliant human in the show. But we can agree at least that it's not likely to happen.

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  4. I love the victorian Sherlock Holmes - movies and series, BUT "Sherlock" had to be exactly like it is. The smartphones, the notebooks, the cars, the modern life.... We all loved him before, but now he is in our time period. We like that!

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  5. I too have to agree with Ms. Ketelsen. Part of the popularity of "Sherlock" is the reinvention of the characters for the modern age. I agree with John Foster that Cumberbatch and Freeman would make a great period Holmes and Watson, but the relationship they have on "Sherlock" is very 21st century and one that the fans have taken to heart and expanded on in their fandom. A Victorian BBC "Sherlock" would probably be too much like the Downey film franchise--anachronistic, steampunk and wink-wink closeted. That a Victorian "Sherlock" would be successful goes without saying, but it don't think it would hit the heights of popularity that the modern-day "Sherlock" has.

    As for "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who", Alistair, you're absolutely right--don't cross the streams! I believe Steven Moffat has already stated that he would never do that. However, there is a very clever fan video of "Wholock" that you can see at the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere website.

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    1. "I too have to agree with Ms. Ketelsen."

      ??? Dearest Mr O'Leary, you have me worried. Are you feeling well? Not coming down with the flu, I hope, right now at Christmas?

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    2. Yes, there is a large divide on our opinions in the Sherlockian world but when we agree, I'm happy to admit it. I am feeling well. As Holmes says, "Besides, it is the season of forgiveness." Not exactly an apt quote as there is nothing to forgive; perhaps "good feelings" would be more appropriate. "Frohe Weihnachten", I hope is the correct phrase.

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    3. Thank you. I wish you a merry Christmas, too!

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  6. We have already had Victorian Sherlock, the ITV version with Jeremy Brett

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    1. Doesn't mean we cannot have another. We've had contemporary Sherlock before as well. Plus we currently have two modern Sherlocks don't we?

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    2. In a contemporary setting there is plenty of room to re-imagine Holmes (see also Monk, House, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Psych, etc). in a Victorian setting, the choices are pretty much faithful or camp. The Granada series set a high bar. Without perfect casting and and a large budget, a producer is left with camp, I'm afraid. Look at Russian TV; it took a generation (25 years or more) to make another Victorian Holmes series. Perhaps we're getting to the point of some producer brave and talented enough to take on what Granada wrought, but personally I don't see it happening on television any time soon.

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