A rundown of the shows (non Doctor Who) that have been taking up my time of late: Sherlock Holmes, The Legend of Korra and Torchwood.
Sherlock Holmes (Granada)
Since I’ve recently discovered BBC’s Sherlock, I decided to revisit the classic Granada adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories featuring Jeremy Brett. I’d seen a number of these on television a few years ago and noted then what masterful adaptions they were (prompting me to start reading the Sherlock Holmes stories themselves), thoroughly gripping and well-composed.
Although I think my 21st Century tastes prefer the modern Sherlock series to the more faithful Granada series, these more reverent adaptations of Conan-Doyle’s works are nevertheless very much accessible to modern viewers. Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes is superlative and utterly magnetic. To me, it is Brett’s acting that makes the series. It is patent that Brett is supremely in his element playing this iconic and singular character, and even the duller and less imaginative stories are alighted by the genius of Brett’s acting.
I’d go as far as to say Brett’s Holmes is an even more compelling and watchable portrayal of the character than Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, although one can confidently say that Brett’s Holmes would not work in a modern adaptation of the character; Brett’s Holmes is a peculiarly Victorian character, a man very much of his times — which, of course, only adds to the period magic of the show. Like Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Brett’s Holmes is an unabashed eccentric, and arrogant about his own abilities; he has sociopathic tendencies, and one gets the impression that he’s a creature of pure intellect, something more than a normal human being. Unlike Cumberbatch’s portrayal, though, Brett’s Holmes seems to understand how normal humans are supposed to relate to each other, but nevertheless regards himself above such trivialities: Holmes never gives the impression of being vulnerable, which certainly adds to the mystery of the character. One thing conspicuously missing from Brett’s portrayal of the character in relation to Cumberbatch’s is those orgasmic displays of Holmes’ deductive prowess to which Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is prone. Brett’s Holmes gives small glimpses, teases, to lesser minds of his intricate intellectual processes, but never shows off like Cumberbatch’s character does.
The Granada Sherlock Holmes adaptations convey the drama and tension of the stories very well. They do the more peculiar cases (e.g. The Solitary Cyclist, The Dancing Men) very well, and have a way of pulling the viewer into the plot and the mystery without particularly special visuals beyond the period elements. Although I’ve only seen the first two series thus far, from those I’ve seen, I would recommend The Dancing Men, The Solitary Cyclist, The Speckled Band, The Copper Beeches and The Resident Patient.
The Legend of Korra
The Legend of Korra, the sequel to one of my favourite ever series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is currently nearing the end of its final season (Book 4). For those that don’t know, Avatar and Korra are set in a fictional world composed of four nations corresponding with the four elements: the Fire, Air, Water and Earth nations. Certain members of these nations possess special powers to “bend” the elements of their respective nations, while there is one figure, the Avatar, who is possessed of the power to bend all elements, and whose obligations as Avatar include maintaining the balance between the nations, as well as between the physical and spirit worlds. In the original Avatar series, the airbending Air Nomad, Aang, was the Avatar, who, having woken from a 100-year sleep trapped in an iceberg, returned to a world at the knees of a warmongering Fire Nation.
Korra is set in the Avatar world after Aang’s death, and the young and headstrong Korra of the southern water tribe is the new Avatar. The Avatar world has changed since Aang’s salad days fighting the Fire Lord, where a new “nation” has arisen in the former Fire Nation colonies in (former) Earth Kingdom territory: the United Republic (with its capital and dominant location of the stories, the Manhattan-like Republic City), an agglomeration of peoples of all nations and none. Unlike Avatar, in Korra there is no unifying plotline that runs throughout the entire series, but different adversaries and conflicts for the Avatar to deal with in each season (Book), other than Korra’s own coming-of-age and self-realisation as a mature Avatar.
While I have only good things to say about Avatar, Korra has suffered from its fair share of deficiencies. The lack of a unifying plotline, while not the writers’ fault, fails to maintain the viewer’s interest in the series as Korra’s adventures become ever more repetitive. The plot in Avatar — Aang’s preparation as the Avatar to fight the Fire Lord — was, on the face of it, not that imaginative or well-conceived compared to at least two of the Korra plots (Books 3 and 4), but it was so well executed, and given such space to breathe and develop (as well as supported by such brilliant characters), that it looms large in the viewer’s mind over all of the even greater threats faced by Korra, which seem almost transitory compared to Aang’s conflict with the Fire Lord. In addition, the surfeit of characters sees too many characters receive too little development as the viewer has difficulty in paying attention to such a large cast, and the writers in maintaining so many characters, and consequently the viewer struggles to properly invest in any of the characters beyond the lead, Korra. By contrast, Avatar had a small, tight-knit cast of well-defined, beloved characters who were each given plenty of space for quality development.
To be sure, Korra is, on the whole, quality viewing, especially if you are already invested in the Avatar universe and want to know what happened after Aang. But I can see the reason Nickelodeon took the decision partway through Book 3 to make Korra an online-only programme and to discontinue the programme after Book 4 (not that I agree with that decision).
I’m surprised I haven’t got round to watching Torchwood before now, having been a Who fan for so long (and having adored the character of Captain Jack Harkness). I’ve recently finished watching the first season of Torchwood, and I return a positive, but not unmarred review. I very much like the concept: a secret organisation dedicated to investigating extraterrestrial incidents and developing technologies to “arm the human race” against what lurks beyond (although, honestly, I think it slightly redundant since there is already a similar, better-resourced organisation in UNIT, which could easily carry out Torchwood’s functions).
Torchwood has a cast of interesting, but not necessarily likable characters. The only truly likable character is the female lead, Gwen Cooper, and even she has a questionable morality. Other than Gwen (and Captain Jack of course), none of the characters are really the kind of people you’d choose to become friends with: they are all morally ambiguous and not very sociable. Despite this, they are compelling characters who are convincing as the staff of an organisation like Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness is a charismatic leader, as well as a mystery, to his “employees” at Torchwood: at first Gwen is the only one who knows of Jack’s immortality, as she sees him murdered and return to life in the first episode. He remains an enigmatic character throughout the first series until his Christ-like sacrifice in the series finale.
Torchwood has its good moments and its bad moments. I’ve only seen series 1, so I expect what I’ve seen thus far is the show trying to find its way, experimenting. The show is best when it’s not trying to copy Doctor Who’s formula of fighting aliens. Torchwood is at its best when it is trying something different, and dealing with heavy themes. The episodes I’ve enjoyed most include: Countrycide, a horror story dealing with the inherent evil in humans; Greeks Bearing Gifts, concerning the ramifications of being able to read others’ minds; They Keep Killing Suzie, about resurrection of the dead; and Out of Time, involving three people from the 1950s brought inexplicably into the 21st Century. There were also a couple of misfires, including Cyberwoman and the retch-inducing Random Shoes.
While I enjoy Torchwood’s readiness to deal with heavy and controversial themes, being beaten senseless with Russell T. Davies’ political agenda became very annoying after a while. I understand that Davies is using Torchwood to promote LGBT issues, but there comes a point where the constant barrage of anti-heteronormativity becomes OTT and feels like it’s being shoved down one’s throat. It seems like every character is bisexual, which is obviously unrealistic (particularly as it’s Wales), and by the time I got to Captain Jack Harkness snogging Captain Jack Harkness in Captain Jack Harkness, I could only roll my eyes in exasperation. Being prone to irrational religious superstition as I am, the show’s overt atheism also bugs me a bit, but I’m not overly bothered by that — it’s to be expected with science fiction — I just wish it would avoid the aggressive “religion is all bullsh*t” stuff.
Although the early episodes of Torchwood‘s first season were shaky and failed to grip me, the show found its feet by the end and sufficiently whetted my appetite such that I’m excited to return for the second series. I hope Torchwood continues doing what it does right, and learns from its mistakes.