Return of the Greatest Sherlock Holmes #1

empty1Jeremy Brett returned in The Empty House in 1986, but a lot of things changed for the critically acclaimed Sherlock Holmes series produced by Granada.  David Burke as Watson left the series and was replaced by Edward Hardwicke, which was the most obvious change.  The suits in charge saw a success, so they tightened the screws on production and made some budget cuts.  Jeremy Brett’s health declined through the years 1986 to 1988, and the grueling schedule was no help.  He was admitted to the hospital in 1986 and several times thereafter.  

empty2Hardwicke and Brett first filmed The Abbey Grange together to familiarize themselves with each other, which was patterned after the way Burke and Brett handled the Watson/Holmes dynamic in the first season.  They filmed both The Abbey Grange and The Musgrave Ritual before they got around to The Empty House, which was the return of Sherlock Holmes.

We can see some flashbacks to The Final Problem, but the series was retitled The Return of Sherlock Holmes for the empty10next series of episodes.  Everyone knew he was to survive the drop over the falls, obviously because he was never in it.  Jeremy Brett as Holmes turns up in disguise and follows Watson to his office before revealing himself.  Because it was no secret, Jeremy Brett insisted on going over-the-top with the make-up and it doesn’t fool anyone but Watson.  I was smiling when I first saw this episode and pointing at the TV, “Hey, there he is!” I said as I spotted Jeremy Brett hunched over in disguise as a beggar.  It’s sorta amusing.

empty4The reveal of Sherlock Holmes is a good one.  It takes place in Watson’s office, which seems cramped, but Jeremy Brett moves and expresses himself with no less energy than in previous episodes.  Brett as a beggar, tries to sell Watson some books, and the camera stays on Edward Hardwicke as he examines his sparse book cabinet.  We can see Brett stand up in the reflection of the cabinet and we know he is taking off his disguise, so when the camera returns to Brett, he’s whipped off his make-up and is smiling at his friend, as if amused at the surprise.  Watson faints.

To be honest, I think Edward Hardwicke’s performance as Watson overall is better and more practiced than David Burke.  Burke may be more contemporary, but Hardwicke’s dialogue delivery in The Empty House is especially good.  Over the course of the series, Hardwicke and Brett became great friends.  I can remember Hardwicke himself hosting several looks back at Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes, after his friend passed away, which was a great remembrance.

empty3Eric Porter as Moriarty turns up in a flashback, but veteran TV actor Patrick Allen plays Colonel Moran, the villain of this episode.  His presence is a little less imposing than Moriarty but he still has a grip over everyone.  Moran’s appearance is linked back to Reichenbach thanks to the flashbacks, where he had been observing the confrontation between Moriarty and Holmes.  He takes a shot at Holmes after Moriarty is dispatched, but Holmes is able to run off.  This sets them both up as adversaries for The Empty House and gives Holmes a reason to remain undercover.

empty7Many, many authors have taken up their pen to write stories to explain what happened during the “Great Hiatus”, the period between the supposed death of Sherlock Holmes and his reappearance three years later.  Today, you can still find websites, novels, and stories trying to breathe life into this untold period.  Conan Doyle never wrote or elaborated on this period in Holmes’ life, though he gives some clue to his travels in this episode.  

We can see the effects of the budget cuts on this episode.  It is limited in scope and reused a lot of the old footage from The Final Problem for the flashbacks, only this time with a narrative by Jeremy Brett telling what really happened.  An extra scene is shown of Holmes’ escape, which was saved and used at the end of the flashback to tie up the continuity nicely.

empty9Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes appeared in a modern retelling of The Empty House early in 2014.  It also pokes fun at the original story in some ways, and Watson wrongly assumes a guy trying to sell him porno DVDs is Sherlock Holmes.  Mary Morstan is featured heavily in the modern series, where she has been cut out of Granada’s production and doesn’t appear at all.  I didn’t even miss her.  The Empty Herse is fast paced and a wild episode, as it zips through how Holmes could have survived death.  I still prefer Sherlock Holmes as a period piece and for that, The Empty House works fine.

The episode ends with Holmes and Watson staking out the empty house across from their Baker Street digs to catch Moran red-handed, trying to finish off the work he failed to complete in Switzerland.  Brett and Patrick Allen trade some dialogue at the very end of the episode, which does well to wrap it up.  Brett is given even more dialogue to explain the whole thing and trade some dialogue with Hardwicke, which takes up a whole five to ten minutes after Moran is arrested.

I’m trying to keep this to a reasonable length, but I could write even more things related to this story and Sherlock Holmes.  I didn’t even touch on Moran’s crime, which Holmes reappears to solve fairly quickly.  There are also themes of friendship, military prowess, and Holmes makes a clever reference to big game hunting, as he turns the tables on the master hunter.  I have also not touched on Jeremy Brett’s declining health, Edward Hardwicke’s bad toupee, or Vincent Price’s great introduction to Sherlock Holmes on PBS in the USA, but I guess there’s always Youtube. 


The Return of Sherlock Holmes Episodes
The Empty House
The Abbey Grange
The Musgrave Ritual
The Second Stain
The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Priory School
The Six Napoleans
The Sign of Four
The Devil’s Foot
Wisteria Lodge
The Bruce Partington Plans
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Silver Blaze