Tomorrow is a Big Day in the Hartley Household. Well, technically, a Big Day for a Subset of the Hartley Household. Well, if you want to be really technical, a Big Day for Clara and Me. [As an aside, I told Clara that in honor of the Big Day, we could have a Special Dinner—whatever she wanted. She said she would make crepes. Who knew she could make crepes? Clara is a woman of many hidden talents.]
The new season of Doctor Who begins. New Era. New Doctor. The New Doctor Moment is always a bit spine-tingly. One never knows—will this work or not? Shockingly, in the reboot, this will be the fourth Doctor and the previous three were all incredibly good. I have high hopes.
[There is a point to this essay beyond mere fan-boy crushing. Honest. Just wait. It’ll come.]
There is a curious idea at the center of Doctor Who—that as one actor leaves the role, make that The Role, another actor steps in. The Doctor is “regenerated” and he not only gets a new look (new actor after all), but a new personality as well. Yet, despite the fact that the main character changes, the show has a remarkably consistent Feel. Everyone has a favorite Doctor. It is always sad when wen Doctor leaves, but the show keeps fresh with the steady personality transplants. It is truly a great show.
These thoughts were prompted not, as one might think, by the excitement of tomorrow night. They were prompted by Sherlock—another BBC series. Clara and I finally got around to watching Season 3 a few weeks ago. Season 3 was quite good. The actors portraying Sherlock and John are outstanding. The show is funny. The whole season was great. Though, in a genuine oddity, a season of Sherlock is only 3 episodes long. As a result, all three seasons of Sherlock combined are less than a full season of every other show on the planet. Sherlock is really bending the definition of “season.”
Sherlock, the series, is impressive purely because of the actors portraying the main characters. The mysteries and the ensuing the deductions of Sherlock are terribly weak. As a mystery show, it is not very good at all. One watches Sherlock to see the characters in action, not because one wants to delve into mysterious occurrences and watch the mysteries be explained in clever ways.
Having watched the third season, I decided it would be a good time to go back to the books. As noted many months ago in this space, I haven’t read the stories for decades, so I started them anew. Next up was The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This is the fourth book. Two novels, followed by a collection of short stories, followed by this collection of short stories. As a book, it was pretty good. Sherlock Holmes stories are rather consistent—not jaw-droppingly great, but always a pleasant way to pass the time.
But, I noticed something shocking when reading this book. [Here, at long last, we are getting to the point of this essay. I’ll bet you didn’t really believe there was a point.] The mysteries in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes aren’t very good. Sherlock does not really solve them with clever deductions. I had noticed this in earlier volumes, but I assumed that Doyle was just warming up in the early books. But, now, half-way through the corpus, it is official. Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t very good mysteries. The stories are good because the two main characters are interesting and fun to watch interact and muddle their way through the events of the story. Sherlock Holmes is funny.
In other words, Sherlock Holmes books are just like Sherlock, the TV series.
Which, coupled with the Doctor Who reflections above gets me wondering something I once spent a long time pondering decades ago. Is every good story really only good because the characters are good? Are there, for example, great mysteries where the characters aren’t very interesting, but the mystery is just so excellent you don’t care? Or is a good mystery by definition a story with a detective you enjoy having along with you for the ride?
And, bringing it back, if this is true, and I suspect it is, that the thing that makes a mystery great is the greatness of the detective, then the accomplishment of the Doctor Who reboot is stunning. Three Doctors so far and the show has remained excellent, but if the goodness of the show relies entirely on the goodness of the Doctor, then there is nothing about the formula which guarantees success. A New Doctor who isn’t very good could kill the show. [Again. (That is after all why it needed to be rebooted.)]
On the encouraging side, Doyle tried to kill Sherlock Holmes and failed. It’s rather amazing that not even the author could kill the character.
At any rate, to conclude a blog post that probably was not worth the Reader’s time (so fortunately the Reader doesn’t actually exist), tomorrow night, Clara and I will settle down at 5 pm to turn on BBC America to watch the last two episodes with the previous Doctor and then the new episode with the new Doctor and we will eat crepes and we will enjoy our evening and we will look at each other when the whole thing is done at 10 and I do so hope we will say to one another, “So good.”
[I have no idea what Janet and Lily will do all evening. But Clara will certainly banish them from the room—she does not like non-devotees watching her shows with her.]