Category: Sherlock Holmes

Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles


The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in  a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is  wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Briggs is great as Holmes.

Of course, what  makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Reification of Hans Gerber

The Reification of Hans Gerber is an original Sherlock Holmes audio drama written in the twenty-first century. However, if you weren’t familiar with the Doyle canon, you’d be hard pressed to know that this was written by Doyle himself.

The plot captures the feel and atmosphere of Holmes without retreading over old ground. Holmes is called in to investigate the death of a wealthy man who left behind three nephews and a niece who expect to inherit until the will disappears, then one man is set to inherit. At first, it’s the eldest cousin, but a disowned relative named Hans Gerber emerges to claim the estate. It appears he’s out for more than the old man’s money when one of the cousins is murdered. The mystery is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

Nicholas Briggs turns in his usual superb performance as Holmes, and Richard Earl plays Watson perfectly in the Edward Hardwicke tradition. One of the reasons the story feels so authentic is the amount of narration and description involved and Earl is a superb narrator. The other outstanding performance was Terry Malloy who plays Inspector Bainbridge, a police inspector who shows an amazing amount of competence.

It’s hard to overstate how much I enjoyed this. Pastiches so often fail to capture the feel of the original or are so busy inserting modern sensibilities and personalities into the story that they feel out of place. The authenticity of the story is outstanding. It’s tour de force  in writing, acting,  and production values.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem / The Empty House


The second series of Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range kicks off with the adaptation of the two Sherlock Holmes stories. “The Final Problem,” where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempts to kill Holmes off,  and “The Empty House,” where Holmes returns.

As writer/star Nicholas Briggs admits, these are not traditional adaptations.  In the previous adaptation, a bonus talking book of “The Speckled Band” was released with a word-for-word reading of that story. This is similar but this production dispenses with “He said.” Otherwise this is a  straightforward, almost word-for-word adaptation of Doyle’s stories with most of it told through Watson’s narration or Holmes narrating to Watson what has happened previously. As such, the strength of these adaptations rest on the strength of the underlying story.

However, Big Finish does add some nice touches. There’s an emotional core in these stories that Richard Earl, as Watson, does a superb job of capturing. Briggs turns in a solid performance as Holmes, playing the character perfectly as written, even when he’s being smug in “The Empty House.”  And one of the most interesting and subtle things they do in “The Final Problem”is tell the narration as Watson writing this down, and we hear the pen crossing the paper and the sound of pen will change and become more pronounced at certain emotional points. It’s a simple bit of sound design, but it’s  clever and adds something interesting to the production.

These are solid, dramatic readings with a good soundscape added in. However, given the wealth of material and the countless adaptations of these stories, the appeal of this release is limited and this would be the last time Big Finish used the format for Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.00

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Audio Drama Review: The Death and the Life


The Death and the Life is another one-man play starring Roger Llewellyn and written by David Stuart Davies adapted by Big Finish Productions. The story is a mix of fact and fiction as it centers upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to rid himself of his most famous creation once and for all with the writing of “The Final Problem” and failed.

The play imagines Holmes and his fellow characters reacting to Doyle’s actions and scheming. Doyle’s disinterest is reflected in a hilarious scene where Holmes describes a madcap adventure to a snoring Watson. The story is bolstered by the use of Doyle’s own journals and letters. Another great scene is the one which Holmes learns he’s a fictional character from his arch-rival who is not too pleased that he’s been created by Doyle as a single-use plot device.

With its light comedy and heavy symbolism, The Life and the Death  is a story about a literary creation whose popularity transcended the writer who created him. The play is helped by another strong performance from Roger Llewellyn who manages to perfectly portray all the characters and angles of this very deep and well-written play. Overall, this is another story that’s a wonderful listen for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Last Act

The Last Act brings Roger Llewellyn’s long-running, Sherlock Holmes, one-man play to audio. The story finds a somber Holmes reflecting on his life and career after Watson’s funeral. It’s an emotional and occasionally heartbreaking performance as Holmes reflects on his friend and his career. “You never appreciate the best things, the best people, until they’re gone.”

Not every moment is somber. There are humorous moments as Holmes will reflect on one of his friend’s oddities or on Lestrade’s unremarkable career that saw him never rise above Inspector.

The play covers a variety of ground. From “The Abbey Grange” to “The Speckled Band” “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House” and The Hound of the Baskervilles and many more, Holmes offers his reflections on his cases and it’s a Tour de Force performance.

I enjoyed the second half far less as it offered insights into Holmes’ dark secrets, including his little discussed childhood. On one hand, this explained Holmes being merciful in one particular case. On the other, there’s a certain modern conceit that tries to explain everything anyone does as a result of some childhood trauma to provide motivation. This can be seen in superhero fiction where so many characters’ origins are being rewritten reflect that sort of trauma. It becomes somewhat monotonous in fiction when no one ever does anything good, noble, or heroic unless a parent was killed or was abusive, or some other trauma occurred to explain it.

I also didn’t like the way Holmes’ drug use was addressed. In the books, Watson claims to have weaned him off cocaine. However, the play insists Holmes’ use continued unknown to Watson and it leads the play into a dour place. While some would argue this is more realistic than the books (which removed the cocaine habit as it became socially unacceptable) and it might be clever to undermine audience expectations by moving from downbeat to depressing, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by the turn.

Still, the play is well-written even if I have issues with the tone, Llewellyn’s performance as Holmes (and twelve other characters) is pitch perfect and thoroughly engaging. He captures Holmes as a man trying to come to terms with the greatest loss in his life as a lifetime of emotional restraint begins to ebb away. I only wish the play had a more satisfactory conclusion.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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