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BBC’s Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock: Holmes and Watson in the ‘10s

BBC’s Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock: Holmes and Watson in the ‘10s published on No Comments on BBC’s Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock: Holmes and Watson in the ‘10s

Watched the first two eps of the BBC’s Sherlock the other night, starring Benedict Cumberbatch’s lips and cheekbones as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson. The three-ep first season transplants the crime-solving duo from Victorian/Edwardian London to present-day London, where the two act as “consulting detectives” to Detective Inspector Lestrade and the rest of the new Scotland Yard.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes really reminds me of David Tennant and Matt Smith as the Doctor. With a spectacular intellect that moves much faster than the brains of mere mortals, Cumberbatch’s Holmes astounds people with his rapid-fire deductions in the same way that Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors shock people with their free-associating intelligence. Additionally, both this Holmes and those Doctors take a self-conscious, performative glee in their superiority, enjoying the way that they befuddle people. Just as Smith’s Doctor is an adventure junkie, gleefully shouting “Geronimo!” as the TARDIS speeds toward a crash, so Cumberbatch’s Holmes enjoys living on the edge, dancing near suicide in the first ep just so he can get the buzz of adrenaline. I attribute some of this similarity to the fact that Sherlock was co-written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both writers of eps for the New Who. Also interesting to note is that Cumberbatch has something of the Doctor – or at least the Doctor’s potential in him – as evidenced by the fact that he discussed taking over for Tennant, but never did. 

Needless to say, I love Sherlock for its strong characters, its Doctor-like Holmes and its stellar lead actors. I dislike it for its pointless exoticization of Chinese people as demonstrated in the ep The Blind Baker. From the minute the eerie stereotypical bamboo flutes start playing in the first scene as a clay tea set is ceremonially laid out, we know we’re in for Chinese stereotypes. The stereotypes continue throughout the ep, including a scene in which the Chinese tea set-laying-out character speaks to her brother in unsubtitled Chinese, reinforcing the idea of foreign characters as strange and incomprehensible.  This ep’s main villain, General Shan, leader of a gang called the Black Lotus, even delivers, as her first line, a supposed Chinese proverb in halting English [something about a book being a magic world in your pocket]! [I also noticed that General Shan’s English started out broken in her first scene and markedly improved throughout the rest of her scenes, making me think that she was directed to speak in stereotypical stilted English.] I condemn such lazy, thoughtless characterization as racist.

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