Greatest Sherlock Holmes: Lady Carfax
I think this is the first really terrible episode done in the Brett series, which is partly the fault of the production and Conan Doyle himself. As a story, The Disappearance of Lady Carfax is dreary and boring. Conan Doyle gives us a story about the new age woman in England, puts her in danger, and delivers Holmes and Watson to help her out. That’s pretty much what this story is about. It’s distinctly sexist, the pace is bad, and Holmes doesn’t get any significant action until halfway through. Much like in Hound, he sends off Watson to work on the case, so he’s hardly in it. I guess Granada had their work cut out for them on this one.
This episode doesn’t begin like the actual story, but Granada set it up in such a way as to make Watson the narrator of his own adventures, as Holmes “thinks” about them. This is dumb. It doesn’t make Holmes an active participant, for one, and that isn’t what you want in your Holmes series. But anyway, there are about a dozen shots of Holmes playing with chess pieces and other stupid mood shots of Holmes lounging around as the narration continues. This contrasts the original story, which begins as most do, with Holmes and Watson talking about the case at Baker Street, then Watson taking up the investigation, while Holmes stays behind to finish some work he’s already on. It’s really only about a page and a half, instead of 10 minutes, so this episode is off to a bad start with such a slow pace.
The original story was published in 1911, when Conan Doyle was wrapping up his work on Sherlock Holmes. This story was part of a collection called His Last Bow, the last Holmes stories written. I’m not sure why the production skipped over many of the stories from Casebook, because there a few of those I enjoy (over this one), but for the most part, they can’t live up to the earliest tales.
Lady Carfax is played by Cheryl Campbell, a TV veteran and classical actress. She does a fine job, I guess. At the beginning, she has a scene with Watson as they walk along the river, and it’s more exposition. The dialogue is alright, but it gets a bit overdramatic and she runs off when she sees a man on a horse. A scene later where she argues with her brother is much better. She paces around though and oversells it. Maybe I was in a bad mood at this point, but 15 minutes in and nothing’s happened. Midway though, she disappears and Watson summons Holmes, and the pace finally picks up.
This episode is directed by John Madden, the same guy who directed the amazing Priory School episode previously. He does an alright job, but his habits are really annoying. He likes to place things in the foreground and have the camera pan by them, which he does ad nauseam in many scenes. I mean, it’d be alright if it was in one scene or at the beginning or something, but he does it ALL the TIME. It’s distracting. Point is, this episode is so boring and paced so badly, it makes the director seem like a hack, which he obviously isn’t.
The ending contains most of the elements from the original story, just told a little different. Holmes and Watson race to save Lady Carfax, who is made into a damsel in distress, despite being portrayed as a new age woman at the beginning of the story, so that’s sorta disappointing, but at least the ending contains some great tension and drama. So they save here, but the episode stresses the failure of Sherlock Holmes in the end, because of Lady Carfax’s resulting condition from being stuffed in a coffin with a dead body full of chloroform. The episode ends with a sad picture of Lady Carfax unable to speak and respond to anyone, stuck in a pitable, vegetative state. That’s a downer and not how the original story ends, which is more positive and optimistic. I can see how it could be interpreted that way though.
Overall, this episode is just a sad mess. It’s bad enough that the story is boring, but the TV episode makes things worse by changing things and doing them badly. Also, the interpretation of the ending is just bad and rounds out a poorly paced episode with more bad news, as Holmes doubts the Lady Carfax will ever recover. Too bad. I’m not sure why they recruited Cheryl Campbell to begin with, because she hardly has any contribution to the middle and the end of the episode. She’s mostly a damsel in distress, and she has no lines after disappearing. Pretty dumb. Still, Watson is given a lot to do, which is more than most episodes, and the story doesn’t shove all the dialogue on Holmes, like a human exposition dump seen in most episodes. I think the flaws really hamper this episode and even Conan Doyle himself would probably admit that this is a poor attempt at a Holmes adventure.