Sherlock Holmes in the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle and his modern adaption in the BBC TV-series “Sherlock“

Pre-University Paper, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: 1,9


Table of Contents


2. Summary of the stories by Doyle

3. The BBC-series

4. Comparison of the book and the TV-series

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography


Plaid hat, pipe in the mouth and a magnifying glass in hand- this is today’s image of the master-detective Sherlock Holmes. To be honest, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes has never disappeared from our lives. And then there is the TV-channel BBC, which brought the hero into the televisions of twenty-first-century. Is this possible? Is the probably most famous crime character from the Victorian age survivable in London now? Work the legendary stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle today, too? Has Sherlock the instinct for the current high-tech-criminology? I like to answer these questions in the following elaboration.

First there will be a summary of Doyle’s books and then a presentation of some TV-episodes will be given. At the end a comparison will bring the juxtaposition. Enjoy the track down for a historical hero in the modern civilisation!

2. Summary of the stories by Doyle

The figure of Sherlock Holmes was invented in 1887 by the doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock is the protagonist of all together 56 short-stories and four novels, written by Doyle. The first publication of all stories together was on 14th October 1892 in the book called “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. The individual stories had been serialised in “The Strand Magazine” between June 1891 and July 1892. They are not in a chronological order.[1]

The template for the detective Sherlock Holmes was the coroner and teacher of Doyle named Joseph Bell. The working-strategy of Holmes, the science of deduction, shows the euphoria for science in the 19th century.[2] This science includes the noticing of things that others simply do not observe. Holmes draws accurate conclusions about what he sees.[3] In Doyle’s first Holmes story, “A study in Scarlet”, the detective describes himself as someone who gets in the dumps as times an “[does not] open [his] mouth for days on end”.[4]

Sherlock Holmes works as a consulting detective, who helps the as very incompetent represented Scotland Yard. Holmes seems like a superman: he is fixed at reasons and shows nearly no interest in women. He is a big, gaunt guy wearing a Deerstalker hat and an inverness-coat. At home, in the 221B Baker-Street, he often wears his bathrobe.

Sherlock’s staffer is Doctor Watson. They live together in the 221B Baker-Street, which in those days was fictional, until Watson marries and moves out. Doctor Watson is a former military doctor, who has served in Afghanistan. This soldier career forms a parallel to Doyle: He fought in the Second Anglo Boer War from 1896 to 1900.[5] Watson is important to the stories because he mainly compensates the brilliant and sometimes eccentric personality of Holmes. Most important is Watsons function as the narrator. He provides detailed written accounts of Sherlock’s adventures for the readers to enjoy. Watson plays in the book the role of the reader through his many questions, he brings Holmes to explain his thoughts. This is a very smart technique of Doyle: Sherlock must always explain his discoveries to Watson, in turn, actually explaining them to the reader.[6]

3. The BBC-series

Different episodes with their connection to the literal original

A study in pink

The episode is about a murderous cab driver called Jeff in the TV-series and Jefferson Hope in the book. The parallel short-story is titled “A Study in Scarlet” and it was the first Sherlock-Holmes-story ever. The two plots are nearly the same. The cab driver murders several people. At first view these were looking like suicides, but when the third case happened in both versions the detective and the police are sure that the cases are linked. All people are killed by the cab driver by administering a lethal pill. In the end comes out that the victims always had a choice: The cab driver offers two pills, one poisoned one not. The selected passenger of Jeff, the prospective fatality, has to choose one of the pills and swallow her. For Jeff this method was always a possible suicide because he consumes the other pill. His felonies were caused by his sickness: he has an aneurysm, which can kill him every second. In the end he catches Sherlock. In his presence he dies, he was shot by Dr. Watson. The disease is the same in the book and in the series but in the book Dr. Watson find it out (“‘Why’, I cried, ‘you have an aortic aneurism”[7] ) and in the TV-version the cab driver explains his sickness (“Sherlock: ‘You don’t have long. Am I right?’ Taxi Driver: ‘Aneurism – right in here. Any breathe could be my last.’ “[8] )

The battle wounds of Doctor Watson also appear in both stories. But Doyle often slipped up when he wrote his stories. On closer inspection several contradictions stand out. In this first episode the wounds of Watson show this. In “A study in Scarlet”, it is in his shoulder, in “A Sign of Four” it is in his leg an in “The Noble Bachelor” Watson limps. Steven Moffat’s solution to this is the woundedness in both locations but the limp turns out to be psychosomatic.

A last similarity between the story in the book and in the series is the word “RACHE”, which a victim wrote shortly before she dies. In the original novel, Doyle has Lestrade, the policemen, jump to the obvious conclusion that the victim was trying to write ‘Rachel’ but was unable to finish. Sherlock is of the opinion that the word is completed:” Rache is the german word for revenge”.[9] In the episode this is reversed with the German-literate Anderson suggesting ‘Rache’ while Sherlock beliefs in ‘Rachel’.[10]

The Blind Banker

The second case of Sherlock is about a mysterious code. In a great bank was a weird burglary. Nothing has been stolen but a painting has been destroyed through a mysterious sign. This sign is part of a code. It was addressed to the Hong-Kong-expert of the bank. This guy and a journalist are found death shortly afterwards. They both were killed under enigmatic circumstances and were members of the drug-smuggling Chinese organization Black Lotus. Holmes and Watson find this out with the help of the Chinese museum-employee. One of the two victims has stolen a part of the prey. The detective is firmly convinced that code is a book code. So he needs all the books from the flats of the victims for reading the code too. He cannot find the solution but he suspects the gang in the “Yellow Dragon Circus”. Sherlock, Doctor Watson and his date Sarah Sawyer visit the circus. During the performance, Sherlock creeps behind the scenes to search for clues. There he gets attacked by some gang members, but with the help of Watson and Sarah he escapes. While Sherlock does further researches, John and Sarah are getting kidnapped. Randomly Sherlock finds the matching book and can now decipher the code. He combines that the abductees have to stay in an old underground shaft. There the leader of the gang, General Shan, tries to extort Doctor Watson the location of the jade-needle because she mistook him with Sherlock. The detective can deliver them just in time but Shan escapes. The episode ends when Sherlock identifies the treasure as a thousand year old hairpin of a Chinese empress. The escaped Shan apologizes by a video message to a person called M. Shan then gets killed by a shot through a sniper. [11]

The parallel stories by Arthur Conan Doyle are “The Adventures of the Dancing Men” and “The Valley of Fear”. In “The Adventures of the Dancing Men” the topic of the code appears. Thematised is the Sherlock’s inability to decipher the code. He cannot do anything.[12] In the series he says that he “can’t unravel it”[13]

The Great Game

With “The Great Game” Sherlock’s private life becomes mixed up with his job. At first he lives in absolutely boredom. To be employed he shoots at a smiley face on the wall in his living-room. This scene forms a parallel to the literal original “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”. There Sherlock shoots at the phrase “V.R.” which means Victoria reigns.[14] A second parallel is the blog of John Watson, in which the Doctor describes the life of the detective and also his bad site. Later he says that he would be lost without his blogger.[15] In Doyle’s short-story “A Scandal in Bohemia” Sherlock says that he would be lost without his Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson.[16] In the series then a mysterious riddle wakes him up: He is called to Scotland Yard where a mobile-phone looking very similar to one of “A Study in Scarlet”, was delivered for him. With the phone he finds out that his task now is to solve five different crimes for saving five hostages. There Mark Gatiss, director of the TV-series used the motive of five pips like Coyle did it in “The Five Orange Pips”[17]. The signal of five pips is a warning one. It makes clear that something will happen again. The task was provided by Moriarty. After solving the last crime, Sherlock arranges a meeting in an indoor swimming-pool with him. Arrived at the pool, he meets unexpectedly on John. He wears also, like the other five victims, a bomb vest and repeats the words given to him. The both men are threatened by snipers. Then Moriarty appears. He explains that his purpose on the “game” was to show his power. He declares that another interference brings the deaths of not only Sherlock with it. Moriarty and the snipers first leave but then they come back. He announces that he would not let the two go yet. Sherlock responses with aiming at the bomb vest, from which he freed John shortly before. With this cliff-hanger the episode ends.[18]

A Scandal in Belgravia

In this sequence a woman comes in Sherlock’s life the first time. The literal template is called “A Scandal in Bohemia”. The TV-series begins with the resolution of the cliff-hanger of the last episode. Moriarty gets a call in which he receives a better offer and so he gives Sherlock and Doctor Watson their life and liberty. The next case of the detective-duet leads them to the high rows of Great Britain: They need to find the dominatrix Irene Adler, also known as “the woman” because she has some photos which show a member of the royal-house in action with Adler. The task now is to find these photos. In a first try Sherlock purloins the camera-phone, which is for Adler a medium of blackmail and also for her own security. They altogether overwhelm some CIA-agents and in a moment of inattention Adler injects Holmes a sedative and steals her phone back again. View months later Adler seemingly is killed. But this was only a trick for shaking off some enemies. Again CIA-agents threaten Sherlock and his personal sphere for receiving the camera-phone but Sherlock is able to overpower them again.

Later Adler needs Sherlock’s help with a code. He deciphers it and helps in this way Adler’s contact Moriarty: terrorists should be misled by control an airplane, which they wanted to blow up, remotely and only corpses as passengers. Mycroft, brother of Sherlock, client and owner of a high position in the British Government, confirms this. But by helping Moriarty indirectly, Sherlock has thwarted the deception. Adler exploits this situation and promotes her protection in exchange for some information from her phone. Furthermore she scoffs about Sherlock and negates any feelings for him. Sherlock proves the contrary by unlocking her code[19]: “I am SHER-locked”[20] View months later Mycroft informs Watson about Adler’s death in Pakistan through terrorists but in reality Sherlock saves her.[21]

“A Scandal in Bohemia” was published in 1895, the best year of Sherlock filled with his best cases. Vincent Starret, journalist, writes a poem about Sherlock and John: “though the world may explode, these two survive and it is always eighteen ninety-five”[22] In the TV-episode this number appears in the broken blog-counter of Watson’s blog.[23]

The second parallel is the Deerstalker hat of Sherlock (see M1 in the appendix).

The most important parallel is Irene Adler. The dominatrix is made of the adventuress in the book. Sherlock cannot deduce anything from her appearance. She is an inscrutable and equal antagonist. She likes power-games, uses for blackmailing the collected information and she manipulates the detective. In the TV-episode she is defeated by Sherlock when he deciphers her mobile-phone-code. In Doyle’s version they do not cultivate feelings of tender nature.[24] Moreover Sherlock has from the beginning respect for Adler. He recommends in both versions paying her. Also the victim of the woman is the same: A member of the royal house. In “A Scandal in Bohemia” it is her majesty herself[25] and in “A Scandal in Belgravia” it is a person of high significance.[26]

The Hounds of Baskerville

This time Henry Knight needs the help of Sherlock. The guy losts his father when he was a little boy. The father dies in the Dartmoor and was killed by a gigantic hound. Sherlock, who is interested by Henry's use of "hound" instead of "dog", and John accept the case. Henry tells John and Sherlock about the words "Liberty" and "In" in his dreams. For soling this case Sherlock and John go to Dartmoor, which is located near Baskerville, a Ministry of Defence research base. At the end Sherlock deduces a chemical weapon designed to trigger violent hallucinations was responsible for the gigantic dog. Retreating into his "mind palace", a memory technique, Sherlock realises "Liberty" and "In" stands for Liberty, Indiana. After viewing confidential files, he sees "Hound" was a secret CIA-project aimed at creating a hallucinatory anti-personnel weapon, but the project was abandoned several years before. Sherlock realises Frankland, an old friend of Henry’s father who works at Baskerville and participated in the project, has continued it in secret. Frankland killed the father because he found him testing the drug. He wears a gas mask and a sweater with " Hound Liberty, In" during this act. A child is not able cope with this, so his mind tricked him. Every time Henry came back, Frankland gassed him with the hallucinogen. Frankland flees into a minefield and gets blown up. In the closing scene, Mycroft oversees the release of Jim Moriarty from a holding cell in which he has written Sherlock's name all over the walls.[27]


[1] Cf. Deinert: The adventures.

[2] Cf. Bui: Sherlock vs. Holmes.

[3] Cf. Notari: summary & explanation.

[4] Doyle: Scarlet, page 11.

[5] Cf. Bui: Sherlock vs. Holmes.

[6] Cf. Notari: summary & explanation.

[7] Doyle: Scarlet, page 148.

[8] A study in Pink.

[9] Doyle: Scarlet, page 145.

[10] A study in Pink.

[11] Cf. Erste: Banker.

[12] Cf. Doyle: Dancing men, page 21.

[13] The Blind Banker.

[14] Cf. Doyle: Dancing men, page 1.

[15] Cf. The Great Game.

[16] Cf. Doyle: Bohemia, page 10.

[17] Cf. Doyle: Orange Pips, page 97.

[18] Cf. Nasrallah: Game.

[19] Cf. Téwon: Belgravia.

[20] A Scandal in Belgravia.

[21] Cf. Téwon: Belgravia.

[22] Allpoetry: 221b.

[23] Cf. A Scandal in Belgravia.

[24] Cf. Bui: Sherlock vs. Holmes.

[25] Cf. Doyle: Bohemia, page 15.

[26] Cf. A scandal in Belgravia.

[27] Cf. Mevan: Baskerville.

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Sherlock Holmes in the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle and his modern adaption in the BBC TV-series “Sherlock“
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Pia Klaus (Author), 2016, Sherlock Holmes in the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle and his modern adaption in the BBC TV-series “Sherlock“, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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