After Sherlock and Elementary do we really need another contemporary take on the world of Sherlock Holmes? For fans of everything 221B Baker Street, the answer is always yes. More than any other set of fictional characters, the world of Holmes has proven time and again to be nearly limitless in its ability to accommodate a myriad of new adaptations, sometimes with competing themes. And now, five years after CBS concluded its little Sherlock show that could, a new mainstream drama based on the famous detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is coming soon. Though, it doesn’t sound like Sherlock himself has been invited.
Titled Watson, the new series will star Morris Chestnut as a contemporary version of John Watson. According to Variety, the show will be “set one year after the death of Holmes at the hands of his archnemesis Moriarty.” In other words, it’s a bit of a departure from what you’d expect from a show set in the world of Sherlock Holmes.
So, what can fans expect from this series? Well, we don’t know much more than what’s in the press release, but, if you dip into various long-running canon mysteries within the Watson-penned stories of Holmes, it seems like this series could be poised to answer several questions about the detective’s beloved companion, some of which have never really been answered.
Like when Elementary gender-swapped John Watson for Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson and also revealed that Natalie Dormer’s Irene Adler and Moriarty were the same person, it’s very possible that Watson will contain unexpected twists on the canon. The official logline says, “Moriarty and Watson are set to write their own chapter of a story that has fascinated audiences for more than a century.”
But here’s the interesting thing about this chapter: In the original stories, and most adaptations, we almost never linger on Watson’s missing three years; the time between “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House.” In the original Doyle stories, those stories were set in 1891 and 1894, respectively, but even in different time periods, the Holmes hiatus is generally glossed over. In the Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman version, the 2014 episode, “The Empty Hearse,” only briefly depicted Watson living without Holmes. Similarly, the Granada series starring Jeremey Brett faithfully adapted “The Empty House” in 1986, just one year after the airing of “The Final Problem” in 1985. The most substantial manner in which Watson’s life without Holmes was addressed in that series was perhaps accidental — the show switched Watson actors between seasons, swapping David Burke for Edward Hardwicke. So, in the Granada show, Watson was so depressed by the loss of Holmes that he regenerated!
All kidding aside, even various non-Doyle pastiches and continuation novels seldom (not never) focus on Watson alone, without Holmes, in between the detective’s apparent “death” and his return. So, right off the bat, the series Watson is unique in its subject matter. And, in focusing on Watson, it’s possible the show could reveal the hidden layers of the character.
On the surface, we tend to think of Watson as a steadfast everyman, the kind of person who is braver than he is wise but is the sort of best friend everybody would want. But, was he also a terrible husband? Although Watson apparently marries Mary Morstan at some point after the events of the novel The Sign of the Four, in all the stories that take place chronologically between that book and “The Final Problem,” Watson is constantly finding excuses to not be with his wife, or, conveniently, tells Holmes she is visiting a relative. In the 1974 book Sherlock Holmes Detected by Ian McQueen, the author raises a theory that various Holmes scholars have debated forever. Based on the evidence the theory goes like this: “…Watson and his wife had steadily deteriorated and she had finally left him. The parting would in all probability have made Watson careless of his medical duties.” Boom. Watson mysteries sorted. He and his wife got a divorce because she was sick of him running around with Holmes, and his inconsistent time practicing medicine is explained because he basically gave up on it, and doesn’t admit to that — or the divorce — in the stories, ever.
On top of this, some Sherlockians have also subscribed to the theory that Watson had a longtime gambling problem, which would explain his reference to “another set of vices” in A Study in Scarlet. Plus, the original canon is widely inconsistent about how Watson makes his money. Once he starts publishing stories about Holmes in The Strand, it seems like that becomes very profitable. But his medical practice is also very inconsistent, leading many to wonder if he was, in fact, a bad doctor, or, at the very least, a lazy one.
In the forthcoming show Watson, we’re told that the titular character will “resume his medical career as the head of a clinic dedicated to treating rare disorders.” This implies that while he was running around with Holmes, this version of Watson ceased being a doctor altogether, which, on some level, is a more honest take than what Doyle gave us in the original 56 short stories and four novels. We’ve always known that Watson played fast and loose with the truth, often admitting to changing facts to protect people’s “real” identities. But the crucial details of his personal life, his medical career, and even the specific location of his war wound were always inconsistent.
Was there another, very different version of John Watson lurking beneath the stalwart narrator of the majority of the Holmes stories? While many adaptations have given us excellent contemporary Watsons — again Lucy Liu and Martin Freeman in Elementary and Sherlock, respectively — it’s been quite some time since a Holmes series has fully embraced the character of the good doctor. Hopefully, if Watson is a smart show, it will have the good sense to realize that the greatest mystery of the canon isn’t necessarily the whereabouts of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, but instead, the personal secrets of John Hamish Watson.
Watson does not have an airdate at this time.
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