Review: Killing Sherlock

Lucy Worsley's Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle documentary has shown all three parts here in the UK. It is fair to say there was a certain amount of trepidation about it.

This concern stemmed from the fact the documentary was suggesting it was a secret or revelation that Conan Doyle's relationship with his famous creation was one that waxed and waned. The Sherlockian community essentially shouted "it's in every biography you pick up." 

As one of his many biographers I was worried. I have now seen it all and here are my thoughts.

Let's get it out of the way at the top. If you know anything about Arthur Conan Doyle, you're not going to find much in this series that you know nothing about. It is very entry-level stuff that will appeal to those who only know of Doyle as Holmes's creator. There are precisely zero revelations.

The first episode very much deals with Doyle's early writing career and the take-off of Sherlock Holmes. This one contains the majority of the information with which we are most familiar.

The second focuses on life post The Final Problem and Doyle's involvement in the Boer War. It also covers the George Edalji case and Conan Doyle's involvement in the early days of bodybuilding. Again, nothing especially surprising but some of the interpretations of Doyle's actions are interesting.

The third moves onto Doyle's campaign for spiritualism, his involvement in the First World War and his embrace of new technology. This episode is the one that I feel attacks Doyle the most - taking pops at his embrace of spiritualism, and his willingness to use his characters to champion his cause (aka Challenger in The Land of Mist). 

What I found surprising is what was omitted. Early articles about the series strongly indicated that it would cover the Cottingley fairies - yet it does not (unless I fell asleep). It also omits Doyle's work in relation to Oscar Slater. The rivalry between Doyle and Houdini is briefly touched on but not delved into. This programme swims along the surface of events and rarely dives more than a few feet. 

Lucy Worsley's observations about Doyle's motivations vary from the reasonable to the tenuous. However, I concede that is a matter of opinion and others might find value in her perspective.

If you wish to pass three hours watching this you will not be wasting your time but, unless you are a newbie to the life of Conan Doyle, you're not going to learn much from it. You will be entertained rather than educated. 

Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here


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