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The Hounds of Baskerville   * S2E2

 
Directed By
 
Running Time
90 minutes
 
 
Written By
 
First UK Broadcast
08 January 2012
(8.2 million viewers)
 
 
Produced By
 
 
 
 

Sherlock and John find themselves in the wilds of Dartmoor when a traumatised young man named Henry Knight presents them with an irresistibly baffling case - his buried memories reveal the violent death of his father at the jaws of a terrifying and gigantic Hound, and having returned to the site of the killing, he has found fresh footprints.

Sherlock and John must navigate the depths of the mysterious Baskerville Research Facility, locals with secrets to hide, and even test their own friendship to discover if there truly is a monster lurking in the shadows of Dewer's Hollow...

 

 

The most famous Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most difficult to adapt to the modern era of Sherlock on closer inspection. The spectral creature, so readily believed by the tenants of Baskerville Hall in the original story, simply wouldn’t work here. So instead, Mark Gatiss moves the narrative away from its gothic hall roots and instead weaves us a tale of shadowy military conspiracy, Baskerville cunningly becoming a top secret testing facility along the lines of the real world Porton Down.

That’s not to say he loses his favoured horror roots – “Did you see the devil that night?” is a chilling moment, along with the evocative scene where John is stalked in the lab – but by taking in that the notion of the creature is absurd, and then twisting in the weapons testing plotline, it legitimises the Hound far more than even the original story, and thus lulls us into a false sense of security – the safety of our modern knowledge of science. And thus, just when we accept Holmes’ theory, and indeed doubt whether we will actually see it, the monster emerges from the fog of Dewer’s Hollow.

Despite not being as narratively complex as Steven Moffat’s opening episode, The Hounds of Baskerville has other concerns, chiefly the true deepening of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. They say you can never know a friendship until you fall out, and here the sight of the pair becoming briefly fractured draws some genuine concern. More than before, we see the evolution of Sherlock Holmes’ character, his admission of friendship to John something unimaginable back at the start of A Study in Pink. Briefly yet understandably sidelined in A Scandal in Belgravia, here John gets chances to shine more than in any other episode, Sherlock’s methods now clearly rubbing off on him. And most interestingly, although played for laughs, on repeat viewing Sherlock’s tricking of John throughout the episode could be taken as a light hearted foreshadowing of what is to come at the close of The Reichenbach Fall.

The first episode of the second series to be filmed, The Hounds of Baskerville retains director Paul McGuigan’s trademark skill. Very different from A Scandal in Belgravia, he gets to flex his muscles against a series of standout horror sequences, the teasing of the Hound yielding some genuine jump out of the seat moments. While the episode is not quite as visually spectacular as the first, the astonishing Minority Report inspired Mind Palace sequence created an instant trend on Twitter during the first broadcast in the UK. Also of note is the pulsating score by David Arnold and Michael Price, the lush strings of the previous episode jettisoned in favour of menacing dissonance and predatory electronics.

The Hounds of Baskerville may be a straightforward episode, but it is also a perfect updating to our modern sensibility, the past belief in the paranormal now given over to mistrust in other, more bureaucratic higher powers. It’s the episode where Sherlock has to confront fear, but as the sting at the close of it reveals, there’s something worse to be scared of than a monstrous Hound – The Fall is coming...