Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Enduring Story

I like to joke that I loved Dr. Who before he was cool. Before Daleks could fly. Before leather jackets. Before Rose. Growing up on a farm 20 miles from a small town doesn’t really make for easy access to television, especially in the early 1980s. *grins* When other kids were talking about Family Ties, Who’s the Boss, and Knight Rider – I was always out of the loop.

We didn’t have cable. We had rabbit ears. We watched public television when we watched TV (which was rare). Excitement in our house was The Muppet Show, and Dr. Who. The “old” series. Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee … then especially Tom Baker and his infamous scarf. (I knitted one once, and then gave it to a friend who has gotten more use out of it than I ever would.) Davidson, Baker (Colin this time), McCoy, McGann.

The crazy, mysterious doctor and his T.A.R.D.I.S.

I remember companions – Liz, Jo, Harry, Leela, Adric *sniffles*, Nyssa, Tegan, both Romanas, Peri, Ace, and of course Sarah Jane Smith.

I remember villains and characters – the Daleks, Davros, Cybermen, and those red pickle guys whose name I cannot remember right now. (a cookie to the person who does!) Sontarans, the Master, those guys with the beads on their heads. *laughs* I’m wandering deep into geek territory now but I know there are people who are going “Oh yeah, those guys!” right now.

The original series petered out in the early/mid-1990s and my attention wandered to other things. I forgot about the Doctor, except in some little corner of my mind. Then seven blessed years ago I heard rumblings on the Internet. People talking about a doctor, about the BBC, about a science fiction show that was gathering momentum – this time not only in the UK but across the pond as well.

There’s a joke out there that a great many people watched the first episode and went “What the hell?” but then watched the second and suddenly couldn’t stop. *grins* Not me. I watched the first episode bursting with glee, filled with so much joy that I nearly cried when Christopher Eccleston grabs Rose’s (played by Bille Piper) hand and says “Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it, the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go…”

Okay, I’m not fooling anyone. I DID cry.

I loved Eccelston. I adored David Tennant (once I got over the Barty Crouch Jr. association *laughs*) and Matt Smith has grown on me. Those are just the actors though, it’s the character of Dr. Who which endures throughout the years. This zany, quirky, brilliant, not-quite-there, obsessive, occasionally cold Time Lord who’s managed to capture a whole new generation of hearts in just a few perfectly delivered lines.

Stories that endure through the ages are few and far between, or rather I should say that stories which really fire up our imaginations and transcend the sometimes insurmountable obstacles of progress and technology are rare. Because there are stories which endure, but only as classics. Truly rare are the ones who can make the leap into the 21st century and stick there.

Sherlock Holmes is one of those stories. The detective from 221B Baker Street created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the main character in four novels and 56 short stories. However, in the 125 years since Holmes sprang into being there have been countless adaptations, homages, and several complete recreations.

Two of my most recent favorites are the screen version (as played by Robert Downey Jr.) and the new BBC version (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch). These two version stunningly illustrate the diversity of Holmes – the films stick with the Victorian setting of the originals but bring it to life in such magnificent detail, while at the same time RDJ’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a borderline autistic, obsessive-compulsive genius is sheer brilliance.
Cumberbatch (and the writers from Dr. Who) on the other hand, yank Sherlock into the 21st century with little to no difficulty. The consummate detective is as at home on the bright streets of London with a cell phone (okay, Watson’s cell phone) in his hand and a nicotine patch on his arm as RDJ’s character is with a walking stick and a pipe.

The BBC’s Sherlock is a little darker, a maniac, genius, self-described sociopath who is incapable of ignoring even the smallest detail. I’ve only seen one episode but I admit I’m already hooked.

What is it about stories like this that stand up against the punishing flow of time? Why do some of them stick with our consciousness even when they’re not right in front of us, just waiting to reemerge when the timing is right? Can you think of any other stories that have reinvented themselves to capture attention in the 21st century?

K.B. Wagers


17 responses to “Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Enduring Story

  1. I adore David Tennant. I think he’ll always be “my doctor.”

    I hate to be….stereotypically me..but the only things that come to mind(that you haven’t mentioned) are the myriad of Jane Austen adaptations.. OH and Robin Hood. The BBC had a great version of that for a while. Richard Armitage as the Sheriff of Nottingham was particularly awesome.

  2. Yes. This. !!!! I am such a die hard Doctor Who fan, and like you, from way back. I still *have* my Tom Baker scarf AND a color changing pin from the Doctor Who Fan Club of America circa 1970-something.

    I wanted to grow up to be just like Sarah Jane Smith. My first ‘fan fiction’ was, you guessed it, Doctor Who stories.

    • I miss my scarf sometimes but I hardly ever wore it. (I’m only 5’6″ on a good day *winks*) It went to a really good home.

      Heh, my first fanfic was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

  3. Your Dr. Who experience reminds me of my first encounter with Jackie Chan. At a time in the early 90s when no one outside the martial arts community had ever heard his name, I and my T’ai Chi class viewed Drunken Master parts 1 and 2 at a small local movie theater. Blown away by Jackie’s nearly impossible physicality, I went to a nearby video store and asked the young man at the counter if they carried any of his other movies. He grimaced and gave me a look that said, “What kind of loser movies are you talking about?”

    Two years later when there was a waiting list for any of his videos, I wanted to return to the clerk and remind him of our earlier encounter. Knowing he wouldn’t remember, I decided against it.

    Still, when you’ve been made privy to something remarkable ahead of the herd, it brings a smile when the rest of the world finally catches on.

  4. There is something awesome about creations like Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes that span the ages, survive the cultural and societal changes, pique the interest of each new generation. I think because the stories and characters can exist in any time setting. These stories are true examples of pure genius. I would add the adventures of Ian Fleming’s “Agent 007” the ever popular James Bond, to this list.

    Great Post!
    Beautifully written.


  5. I love all those English series – though I have to admit that my preferred zany sci-fi series is Red Dwarf. I LOVE that series – own it on DVD, and watch it whenever I’m having a bad month!


  6. I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes in any media, but… don’t hurt me now… I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who. I know there’s a LOT of it. So… If I were to watch a few episodes to see how I liked it, where should I start? The beginning? The beginning of David Tennant’s run? (I’ve seen him on QI. He’s brilliant.) Somewhere else?

    As for your questions, I think the reason that some stories can be retold or extended across decades – or centuries – is amazing characters in fantastic situations. They are complex, they are human, and because of that, everyone can find something in them to relate with.

  7. I’ve only ever caught episodes here and there of Dr. Who and haven’t seen the BBC Sherlock at all because we don’t get BBC or BBC America.

    I think the interesting thing about both the Doctor and Sherlock is that they’re both outsiders who step in to save the day when nobody else can.

    Also, I *just* saw this and thought you might enjoy it. http://www.threadless.com/product/2899/Doctor_Hoo/tab,girls/style,shirt

  8. Star Trek? Different characters, but the same positive outlook for the future. Somehow, humans will survive in those stories. And we will be better humans.
    I find all the dystopian fiction popular now so depressing. And of course I LOVE the new Sherlock Holmes movies. They’re steampunk!

  9. Pingback: Doctor Who: Evolution Review « The Consulting Detective

  10. Pingback: Doctor Who: Evolution Review | The Consulting Detective

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