Irregular Observations: Boldly going where no Sherlock has gone before

Sherlock DVDWatching the BBC’s current Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, squaring up to Captain James T Kirk and company of the USS Starship Enterprise the other day got me thinking about the various connections between Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, unlikely though that pairing may seem. Cumberbatch is not the first actor to both portray Sherlock Holmes and appear in Star Trek.

Mr Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, donned the deerstalker in 1976 in a revival of William Gillette’s stage play, Sherlock Holmes. Slightly less well known is the fact that he played Holmes just before that in a 15 minute educational film about planet Earth, ‘The Universe and I’. Here’s a small clip (though you do have to watch a few seconds of Roland Rat as Holmes at the beginning…).

It may not be too surprising that an actor known primarily as the logical, seemingly emotionless Vulcan was also cast as Holmes.  In A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson says of Holmes,

“It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen”.

Could not these words apply equally well to Mr. Spock?

While on the subject to the original series, while William Shatner never played Holmes, he did play the villain George (yes, George) Stapleton in a now fairly obscure 1972 US TV version of The Hound of the Baskervilles opposite Stewart Granger as Holmes. Another pretty obscure link, obscure at least in the UK, is provided by another Canadian actor, Matt Frewer, who played Berlinghoff Rasmussen in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He played Holmes in a series of low-budget Canadian TV films and is probably better known as Max Headroom.

Data as Holmes action figure on EbayStar Trek: The Next Generation provided the next link to Holmes, when the character we can truly call “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine” took to playing Holmes on the Holodeck – Mr Data, played by Brent Spiner. Two episodes used this theme: Elementary, Dear Data and Ship in a Bottle.

A dressed 9” action figure of Data as Holmes was released in 1999, complete with violin, pipe and magnifying glass. It is now something of a collectible (see link to Ebay on right).

This has all been about actors portraying Sherlock Holmes. There is a deeper connection. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Mr Spock says, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth.”  Holmes says this sort of thing in slightly different words several times, for instance in The Sign of Four,

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head.  “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?  We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney.  We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible.  When, then, did he come?”

“He came through the hole in the roof!” I cried.

“Of course he did.  He must have done so.”

Spock is only half Vulcan, on his father’s side, so his descent from Holmes must be on his mother’s side.

The Canary Trainer by Nicholas MeyerSuch a connection is not so surprising when you consider who co-wrote and directed Star Trek VI – Nicholas Meyer. This film was his third involvement with the Star Trek films, but he was already well known in Sherlockian circles for two best-selling novels featuring Holmes, The Seven-per-cent Solution published in 1974, for the film of which he later wrote the screenplay, and The West End Horror published in 1976.  It is the first of these two which is generally credited with having kick-started the whole fashion for writing new Sherlock Holmes stories, or “pastiches”.  He published a third in 1993, The Canary Trainer.

Time for a break – Tea, Earl Grey, hot…..


Irregular Observations is an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.


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