Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock on the iPad by Erin Wade

On the most recent episode of The Geologic Podcast host, skeptic, and musician George Hrab waxed poetic about Sherlock, a re-imagining of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle character in modern-day London. This is a BBC series being broadcast on PBS here in the states.

At first it was simply a curiosity - I'm a huge Holmes fan, but we lack any type of broadcast television service. And then I remembered that I'd just downloaded the new PBS app for iPad on Wednesday almost immediately after hearing about it on MacBreak Weekly.

Of course, there was no guarantee that this particular show would appear on the PBS app (which, until now, I had not had the opportunity to use), but there it was! I fired up the episode in the app and, after a brief delay, it began to play.

The first episode - A Study in Pink (a play on the original Doyle story A Study in Scarlet) - was quite well done. The actors were well chosen. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes, is tall and angular, with a delightful baritone delivery of wry sarcasm (dripping with impatience at how slow those around him are to catch up). He's quite a bit younger than Jeremy Brett (possibly the finest Holmes) was in his Holmes days, but the age differential is appropriate to the timeline of the series, as it portrays the first meeting of Holmes and Watson. And, appropriate to an accurate retelling of the Doyle stories, the tale is told from the perspective of Dr. Watson, played ably by Martin Freeman as an Afghan war veteran struggling with a return to the placid nature of regular life.

The show is dark, both visually and in character. Holmes is led to excess by boredom, and Watson is left to play catch-up - all as it should be. And the show has nice touches of modern life, including bits of text that show up on screen - sometimes to indicate the text messages characters are receiving on their phones (a nice touch I'm surprised no one seems to have thought of before) and at others, to give us a bit of insight into something running through Holmes' head. I don't want to gIve any detail about the story away, but let me just say it was all quite nicely done. While it never gives anything away it does a far better job of letting you see what Holmes is experiencing than any previous attempt at this that I've seen. Even Doyle's original stories often seemed to leave out information so that Holmes would seem all the more clever at the end, something this installment seemed to rectify.

In terms of the technology, let me note that the streaming of the episode on the iPad was also quite well done. There's something different about the experience of holding the program in your lap while you are watching. With the device less that three feet away from your eyes it's functionally larger than most televisions are from across the room. With the headphones in the sound was excellent as well.

It occurred to me while watching the episode that, if I'd had an iPad when I was in college I'd have felt no need for either a separate television or computer - the device easily serves both purposes for a single viewer. Makes me wonder whether we'll see those things as separate devices in another generation...

I did experience a hitch towards the end of the episode - with about 11 minutes to go I lost my connection. This has been a common problem with my cellular modem connection, which is still better than the previous satellite option, but in part because at less than half the price the frustrations are more tolerable. After I reconnected, however, the PBS app seemed to be a bit confused about how long the episode was. It re-loaded, but thought that the 1:23 episode now came in at 0:47. It took several re-loads to get things back to normal, but once we got there it finished up quite nicely.

I can't wait for the next episode to be available...