Category: Golden Age Article

Telefilm Review: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

***Spoilers Ahead***

Sometimes, the simplest story is the best story. This is something that Stephen Moffat will never quite get. He’s a clever writer and loves clever twists and tricking the audience. Sometimes, the tricks are genuinely clever and delight the viewer, and sometimes they undermine everything viewers have been through and make them feel cheated.. This was true in Doctor Who Series 6, and it’s certainly true of The Abominable Bride. 

The premise of the Abominable Bride as advertised is that it’s Sherlock Holmes done properly. Sherlock set in the Victorian era. And for the first hour, that’s what we got as Sherlock Holmes investigated the case of a woman dressed as a bride who shoots herself in the head is taken to the morgue. Then she shoots her husband and goes on a killing spree across London.

It’s a bizarre story but certainly intriguing fodder for Sherlock Holmes and it goes along along nicely for an hour. We have some good moments, some great humor, and an intriguing mystery. You had all the cast dressed in fine Victorian fashion and Mark Gatiss (playing Mycroft) dressed in a fat suit to match the enormous character described in the book.

However, I saw a problem.  There were so many moments that didn’t ring true to the Victorian era. Why bother doing this story if it wasn’t go to be of the era? But there was an explanation.

***Spoilers Ahead***

And that explanation was?

***Last warning before Spoilers***

It was all a dream. A narcotics-induced dream by the modern Sherlock. We learn that an hour in. We’re told he was extremely hooked on multiple drugs at the end of, “His Last Vow,” in Series 3 however he showed no signs of being high because he’s Sherlock and he’s an addict and you can never tell when a drug addict is so high that they’re going to induce a Victorian dream world. Or the writers just needed him to be high in order to make their vision of the story work.

But it’s not just a dream world, it’s dream worlds within dream worlds.In the first dream world, Sherlock tells us that the crime he’s solving is real and he’s hoping by solving it with an imaginary 19th century investigation to get clues into how Moriarity came back even though he had no way of knowing when he got on the plane that Moriarty was back. However, by the end we’re not even sure of that. Though, we do get back to the investigation eventually and we learn who was behind it.

Militant suffragettes. We’re treated to a speech in which Sherlock explains how a group of militant suffragettes committed the murders and were justified in doing so because men were awful and in the end (for what it’s worth as we don’t know if what’s going on is real), Sherlock lets them go and agrees to have them marked as a failure.

It’s ironic the great big speech about how men are evil oppressors keeping women down was delivered by a man in a room full of silent women serving as a backdrop. While militant suffragettes were a thing in Great Britain, they didn’t really go in for mass murder, more for arson and bombings, though this was mostly during the First World War. Given the state of the world, it’s incredibly socially irresponsible about having Sherlock (and Doctor Watson) giving a tacit wink and a nod to terrorism as a legitimate way of achieving social change.

Certainly, the status of women and their plight in Victorian times could serve a legitimate purpose or point in a Sherlock Holmes story if handled right, but here it’s overbearing and stifles the rest of the Victorian plot.

Of course, the biggest problem is that nothing we see is even real within the context of the story. I guess that makes it a triumph of post-modern storytelling where nothing really has to make sense or have any cohesion as long as you’re deconstructing stuff. The only thing we’re sure is  real is the final scene where modern Sherlock lands, gets off the plane, and has a conversation with his brother. The rest of it is dreams within dreams for a contrived character journey ending with a psychological meeting with Moriarty (Andrew Scott) who was killed off in Series 2. The only good news is that people can skip this episode and miss nothing in terms of future series.

What’s disappointing about this is, unlike most other television series, is this is Sherlock and this is the first episode in nearly two years and it will be more than a year until the next series of episodes.

The main actors are still good, or at least as good as their material will allow them to be, but the material was pretty awful.

At the end of the day, Stephen Moffat should have hired George Mann or Jonathan Barnes (who have both shown they can write proper Sherlock Holmes for Big Finish), or someone of their talent to write a straightforward Sherlock Holmes story set in the Victorian era and had the cast do it in that style. Instead, we get a confused story that borrows from the plot of Moffat’s 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special “Last Christmas” to produce something far less compelling.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Father Dowling Mysteries, Season 2


This 3-DVD series collects the second short season of the Father Dowling Mysteries, originally broadcast in 1990 when the series moved to ABC after NBC produced its first season. The main cast of Tom Bosley (Father Frank Dowling), Tracy Nelson (Sister Steve), James Stephens (Father Prestwick), and Marie (Mary Wickles).

If I had to describe the difference between this season and Season One, I’d have to use the word “authenticity.” In Season One, our heroes were people who solved mysteries who just happened to be a priest and a nun. In Season two, they were a priest and a nun who came across mysteries in the course of their lives and duties.

They said prayers, performed ceremonies and dealt with church hierarchy and bureaucracy. It plays into the plots. In the “Solid Gold Headache Mystery” Sister Steve is named custodian of the estate of a wealthy man who she was visiting. In “The Blind Man’s Bluff Mystery,” she shows kindness to a blind conman and is taken in by him. A similar event happens to Father Prestwick in “The Confidence Mystery.” Father Dowling knows who an art thief is but is far more concerned about his life and his soul than bringing him to justice in “The Legacy Mystery.”  And Father Dowling’s pastoral relationship is key to his involvement in “The Falling Angel Mystery,” and “The Perfect Couple Mystery.”

The show isn’t preachy but it makes the characters more believable. Characterization was also better for Sister Steve. She’s still resourceful and frequently ditched her habit to go undercover. However, this didn’t happen every episode. Unlike in Season One, where she seemed to be super-competent at everything, she failed at a couple of her tasks. Sister Steve doesn’t make a good skatetress and doesn’t win at every video game. Thus she’s much more of a real person. This is also helped as we learn she has a hoodlum brother in, “The Sanctuary Mystery,” and that her father was an alcoholic in, “The Passionate Painter Mystery.”

The supporting acting shifted as subplots became more about Father Prestwick (who works for the Bishop) than their cook Marie. I didn’t like this as much as I prefer Marie as a character. Still, the officious and demanding Father Prestwick is more effective as a comic foil for Father Dowling.

The guest cast is mostly solid, although  a couple of scenes in “The Perfect Couple Mystery”  were  painful to watch.

In terms of the plots, they’re mostly okay. Many of the episodes felt more like adventures rather than typical mysteries and some were not all that clever such as, “The Ghost of a Chance Mystery.” Some of the better ones were, “The Visiting Priest Mystery” where a mob hitman tries to go undercover as a visiting priest at Saint Michael’s. “The Exotic Dance Mystery” which ends up with Steve going undercover as a card shark. “The Confidence Mystery” and “Blind Man’s Bluff Mystery” both have some clever twists though the similarity in plot made airing them both in the same season a dubious decision.

This season also featured “The Falling Angel Mystery.” Where a scruffy angel named Michael (not the archangel) shows up with a warning for Father Dowling. I was dubious at the plot as it could have been cheesy and there were some problems with the story. However, James McGeachin does a good job in the role and the twist is one I didn’t see coming. Of course, Father Dowling’s criminal twin brother Blaine has a return appearance much to Father Dowling’s chagrin.

Ultimately, the plots were not all fantastic. What holds it together is the characters are incredibly likable and a joy to watch.

 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Wisdom of Father Brown, Volume 1

Colonial Radio Theatre has begun release of its second series of G.K. Chesterton’s legendary crime-solving priest, Father Brown. This latest series of sets will focus on the second book, The Wisdom of Father Brown.

First up is “The Perishing of the Pendragons,” a story featuring Father Brown, Flamebeau, and a friend encountering one of the last surviving members of a supposedly cursed sea-fearing family living on a remote island. There’s a lot of backstory until the mystery gets going but its to Father Brown’s credit that he sees the plot at all.

“The Head of Caesar”-Father Brown stumbles on a proper young lady in a quite improper place fleeing from a blackmailer who has threatened to expose her theft from the family coin collection. It’s an interesting tale with a good solution that includes a thoughtful exploration of the difference between collectors and misers or the lack thereof.

“The Absence of Mister Glass”-Father Brown goes to a super sleuth for help in investigating a young woman’s boyfriend. They find the boyfriend tied up and our super detective has to figure out what happened. He has a brilliant solution—but is it the right one? This is one of the funniest Father Brown stories and Colonial does a superb job performing it.

“Paradise of Thieves” finds Father Brown in Italy in a swirl of intrigue.over tourists and the re-emergence of a romantic bandit. In my opinion, this is one of Chesterton’s weakest stories because he gets so carried away making his points that he gives us a confusing plot where the actions of the villain are puzzling to say the least. Still, Colonial does the best they can with it and manages to capture the best the story had to offer in its atmosphere and a little bit of humor.

Overall thoughts: While all the Father Brown books have their charms, I have to admit The Wisdom of Father Brown is the book I enjoyed least. There were so many stories where mysteries were buried or hard to follow in that particular collection.

Colonial deserves credit for a collection that makes these stories accessible. G.K. Chesterton had a fantastic way with words. One of the best things about the way writer MJ Elliott does in adapting these stories.is to take Chesterton’s beautiful descriptions and commentaries and turn them into dialogue which allows the listener to enjoy the richness of it.

The direction and music are all at Colonial’s usual strong standards, and the acting is mostly very good, although there were a couple of accents that could have been done a bit better.

Still, this is a worthy and welcomed production for fans of Father Brown and the works of G.K. Chesterton.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Disclosure; I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Audio Drama Review: All Consuming Fire


Despite both series being produced by Stephen Moffat, BBC’s hit shows Sherlock and Doctor Who are unlikely to crossover despite the desire of many fans to see such an event. However, with its adaptation of Andy Lane’s novel All Consuming Fire, Big Finish gives listeners a chance to hear a meeting of the two great heroes with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor and Nicholas Briggs taking on the role of Holmes (one he has played quite well in Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range.)Books stolen from a church library set Sherlock Holmes on a collision course with the Doctor. We’re given a very intriguing concept involving spooky ancient spirits, and a planned human invasion of alien worlds from Victorian England.

The plot is fun, if a bit dense, which often happens when novel plots are heavily condensed. The key to enjoying this is to properly set expectations. This is definitely a Doctor Who story guest-starring Sherlock Holmes as opposed to a story where the two are equals. Things really go beyond Holmes’ experience in the last two parts, although he does a relatively good job of rolling with the punches.

While the actors are the same as for Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the characterization is different both because the novel was written independent of other Holmes pastiches and the story was set prior to the seminal events of the the last two Sherlock Holmes box sets and therefore the characters are younger.

Still, this story is quite enjoyable. There’s a great mix of suspense, mystery, and atmospheric moments, as well as some comedic ones such as Holmes’ response to the Doctor’s compliment at the end of the story. And there are enjoyable interactions between the Seventh Doctor’s companion Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) and Dr. Watson (Richard Earl).

One complaint is the role of the Doctor’s other companion Ace (Sophia Allred). She only plays a part in Episode 4 in helping the Doctor and a friend stay alive on an alien planet but makes cameos in the prior episodes to remind us that she is eventually in this story. It’s an odd use of a popular companion and the cut scenes throughout the other episodes are a bit jarring.

Still, despite some minor production errors, this was a satisfying and entertaining audio drama that delivers a fun story worthy of these iconic characters.

Rating: 4.0 stars out of 5.0

 

 

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Audio Drama Review: The Judgment of Sherlock Holmes


The box set begins with Holmes visiting Watson in the early 1920s on urgent business that involves setting down a key adventure that occurred after the events of the Final Problem when Dr. Watson believed his old friend was dead. However, the Society believes Holmes is alive and wants to find him. To do it, they’ll threaten everything Watson holds dear. Watson faces this threat in London while, unbeknownst to him, Holmes is on their trail in Tibet.

This is a rich story spread out over more than four hours. The music and sound design by Jamie Robertson is some of the finest work Big Finish has done, and it makes the story come to life.

The script is meaty. The production successfully mixes mystery, political intrigue, and great character moments in a constantly entertaining story. Watson is pressed to his limit, into taking actions he would not normally countenance. Holmes ends up facing choices that haunt him (and perhaps the world) decades later. We’re also given insight into Holmes’ family and background.

I appreciated the way the villains were drawn. We’re inundated with fictional villainous organizations bent on world conquest that introducing such a group is not in itself remarkable. Barnes does a great job of casting the Society as a fanatical, apocalyptic cult without going over the top. There’s a certain realism to them that makes their fanaticism frightening.

Nicholas Briggs makes a superb Holmes, and nicely manages to distinguish his Holmes from 1892 from that thirty years later. Richard Earl gives one of the best interpretations of Watson I’ve heard and really does well in a story that requires him to carry far more action than is typical for Watson. They’re supported by an absolutely superb supporting cast who don’t miss a beat.

My only criticism is, after the Society’s Plan is dealt with, we’re treated to more than twenty minutes of decompression and clean up and much of that is still in the 1890s. In addition, the fate of Mary Watson was so central to this story but is dealt with in a bit of an anti-climatic way.

Despite these minor issues, the Judgement of Sherlock Holmes is a thoroughly entertaining and well-produced audio drama that shines some light on Holmes’ lost years with a cracking adventure as well as, perhaps, setting the stage for adventures to come.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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