Irregular Observations: ‘Who’ is Sherlock Holmes?

All consuming fire, by Andrew LaneA few months ago we recalled that Peter Cushing had played both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. In honour of this month’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Irregular Observations takes a closer look at the many links and parallels between the two iconic series.

Cushing is rather the forgotten Doctor Who, being the one cinematic Doctor.  One other actor has played both roles – Tom Baker. The fourth Doctor (1974 to 1981), Baker played Sherlock Holmes in a BBC television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982, with Terence Rigby as Dr Watson. Sadly, it is not generally regarded as one of the better versions, though did have a splendid villain in Christopher Ravenscroft’s Stapleton.

Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang, by Robert HolmesBaker’s Doctor Who emulated Sherlock Holmes, however, in a much better regarded 1977 story entitled The Talons of Weng-Chiang, adapted as a novel by Robert Holmes in 1989. Encountering mysterious murders in Victorian London, Doctor Who adopts the classic deerstalker and cape (not garb actually very appropriate at the date for town wear) to investigate in a story which takes one of Dr Watson’s Untold Cases as its inspiration. To say more would give the game away, but other explanations for the particular Untold Case are available.

The Doctor uses Holmesian turns of speech, even to the point of saying to Professor Litefoot “…elementary my dear Litefoot” (Holmes in the original stories never actually said “Elementary, my dear Watson” of course). Litefoot’s housekeeper is called Mrs Hudson.

If we stay with novels for a moment, Andy Lane’s 1994 All Consuming Fire matches Dr. Who and Holmes, the cover showing Doctor Who number seven Sylvester McCoy (1987 to 1996) with Basil Rathbone’s Holmes.

A much later Doctor Who, number eleven, Matt Smith (2010 to 2013) also dressed up as Holmes in the 2012 Christmas special, “The Snowmen”.  Given that Doctor Who now comes from the same stable as Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch with Steven Moffat at the helm, this is perhaps less surprising than back in 1977.  Interestingly, the villain was played by Richard E Grant, who had played Stapleton in the 2002 BBC Hound of the Baskervilles, opposite Richard Roxburgh.

Docto Who number two provides our next link. Patrick Troughton (1966 to 1969) was one of our best character actors and, while he never played Sherlock Holmes, he did play the part of Mortimer Tregennis in the BBC 1965 version of “The Devil’s Foot”, starring Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson.

Even Doctor Whos numbers three and five give us small links. Jon Pertwee (1970 to 1974) has not played Sherlock Holmes, but his son Sean is Insp. Lestrade to Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes in Elementary. Peter Davison (1982 to 1984) again has not played Holmes – he was one of the great detectives of the Golden Age, Albert Campion – but he did, it seems, provide an uncredited voiceover for the Planetarium in “The Great Game”, a 2010 episode of Sherlock.

There is one actor who links Sherlock Holmes’ brother Mycroft with Doctor Who. Mark Gatiss, who portrays a rather slim Mycroft in Sherlock has turned up, unsurprisingly, in Doctor Who. Most memorably he was Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment” in 2007 and was also Gantok in the 2011 episode “The Wedding of River Song”. He also provided the uncredited voice of Danny Boy in “Victory of the Daleks” (2010) and “A Good Man Goes to War” (2011).

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes - audiobooksEver-present through the life of The Doctor has been his arch-enemy – his Moriarty, if you like – The Master, in this particular context as portrayed by Sir Derek Jacobi (“Utopia” 2007).  In 2011 and 2012 Sir Derek recorded a number of the original stories for BBC audiobooks.

But we must look to the future as well as the past.  Doctor Who number twelve, Peter Capaldi, has already played Sherlock Homes. A small assay at the part, it must be conceded, but unquestionably Sherlock Holmes. We will leave you with this clip from The All New Alexei Sayle Show –  a look at the past of the future:


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.


One response to “Irregular Observations: ‘Who’ is Sherlock Holmes?

  1. Pingback: 2015 – Anniversaries Are Go! | Books & the City

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