Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek – A Beginners Guide Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek – A Beginners Guide * 17 December 2012

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So the internet has been set aflame these past few weeks with the first glimpses of Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness. But this is not the first time these two fictional worlds have crossed over with each other. Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes have made several references to the other in their time, and so here we present a guide to some of those intersections, some just passing reference, others explicit pastiche - with a minimum of 'Of Boldy Going' jokes.

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"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

"How poetic" replies Doctor Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) to Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) following his stating of one of Sherlock Holmes' most famous lines - from The Sign of the Four - on the process of deduction during the events of Star Trek (2009), the film that preceeded Star Trek Into Darkness and the appearance of BBC Sherlock's Holmes as the villain. Indeed, Benedict's role in the film could be construed as poetic itself as a result, and certainly when considering he is playing against the character of Spock, another of popular culture's great, logical geniuses. It is not however, the first time that the Vulcan has uttered those words.

Eighteen years beforehand in reality, Captain Spock, as played by Leonard Nimoy, spoke the phrase during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) while faced with a suitably Holmesian mystery, and attributed them to an ancestor. It's a subtle moment in a script littered with numerous other examples of playful references that apparently transcend their human origins - including Spock's earlier use of 'an old Vulcan proverb' "Only Nixon could go to China", and the consistent quotation of Shakespeare by Christopher Plummer's Klingon antagonist General Chang. The line is also perhaps used more aptly than in the 2009 film, where Zachery Quinto's incarnation of the younger Spock is referencing the possibility that the opponent the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 is facing has travelled from the future - a fact the audience already knows to be correct. In the case of the older film, it's uttered at the heart of a scene where the crew is attempting to solve a genuine conundrum that the audience is following along with them, with no certainty of the solution - a sudden, genuine moment of deduction.

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But more importantly of course, with Spock mentioning an ancestor as the originator of this phrase, we're faced with the suggestion that this fictional alien is related to the Great Detective in some manner - leading to a great deal of fan fiction depicting Holmes as a disguised Vulcan marooned on Earth in the nineteenth century, over a century and a half before the officially depicted First Contact between the two species in the eighth Star Trek film - Star Trek: First Contact (1996). Numerous sources however suggest that Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had imagined Spock as being a descendent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on his human mother's side. Whichever explanation you'd prefer to go with, there's a nice and far deeper behind the scenes link to the world of Sherlock Holmes that acts as a greater explanation of the use of this phrase of deductive reasoning, and begins to resonate again with a degree of that poetic symmetry we've already mentioned, as the sixth Star Trek film was co-written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, who wrote Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution as a novel and later film screenplay.

That story is acknowledged as one of the most famous pastiches of Conan Doyle's work, taking the form of a lost manuscript written by John Watson that takes the view that Professor James Moriarty was an invented figment of Sherlock Holmes' cocaine addled mind, and the events of several tales written by Watson were a cover to hide his friend from any scandal. Meyer is by his own admission a huge literature fan, and his screenplay for The Undiscovered Country, as well as the second Star Trek film The Wrath of Khan, are full of references to numerous famous works. But it is Spock's reference to Holmes that has had the greatest impact - by his own admission, he inserted it as a throwaway line that he suspected only "Holmes buffs" to recognise, but in reality he says he has never attended a screening of the film where its significance is not spotted by the audience, often in ballistic fashion. For further, final bonus points regarding this incarnation of Spock, Leonard Nimoy played Sherlock Holmes onstage in 1976, in a production of William Gillette's play Sherlock Holmes.

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The crew of the Original Series are not the only characters in Star Trek lore to skirt the edges of Holmes fiction however. Perhaps much more explicitly, Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first sequel television series, went all out on the Conan Doyle on occasion. Starting early on in the first season, Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), the android third officer of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D, began to form a fascination with Sherlock Holmes and his use of logical deduction. This memorably expanded in the second season with the episode 'Elementary Dear Data', where Data and his friend Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) assumed the identities of Holmes and Watson on the ship's Holodeck, where they solved crimes for leisure - an activity that proved to be almost the undoing of the entire ship and crew. Data had memorised every solution from Conan Doyle's work and solves every case presented to him instantly. Determined to present a mystery that Data would be incapable of solving, LaForge generates a holographic Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis) that becomes self aware and attempts to take control of the Enterprise. Though the episode ends optimistically (and curiously in the case of Moriarty, sympathetically), the narrative is revisited four years later in the sixth season, where Moriarty once again emerges and continues his attempt to gain full physical freedom from the simulation. This pair of unusual episodes are quite fully versed in the iconography of the Rathebone styled Holmes - but with an enjoyable science fiction twist - and in the case of the second episode 'Ship in a Bottle', a suitably complex mystery narrative.     

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To wrap up though, this Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes crossover does of course go both ways with the BBC incarnation of the characters. Aside from John calling Sherlock "Spock" in an exasperated aside during The Hounds of Baskerville, there is a distinct - though still unconfirmed - air of similarity during John's eulogy for his friend at the climax of The Reichenbach Fall. "You were the best man, the most human... human being that I've ever known" has a certain echo of Kirk's farewell to Spock during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - "Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most...human." In both cases, the goodbyes are for characters thought deceased, having died before both our eyes and those of the other characters. But of course, both emerge as very much alive as the next instalments of their adventures begin...

In a final sign of that poetic nature of things though, the apparent similarity in the dialogue of the final scene of The Reichenbach Fall certainly didn't escape the attention of Star Trek II's writer, Nicholas Meyer - yes, him again - who remarked to trekmovie.com - "I love new Sherlock; it's nice to know they return the favor!" With the shared sense of logic and deduction that forms the backbone of the most memorable characters in both universes, and now with the lead actor of the BBC series as the mysterious major villain in the latest adventure for the crew of the USS Enterprise, this mutual acknowledgement between Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek shows no sign of running out any time soon.

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