TV Shows, Weirdness

The Sherlock Problem

So I’ve been watching Sherlock. Have you been watching Sherlock? You should. Season 2 Episode 2 just aired yesterday, and I saw it about 5 hours after the telecast time. Making this the first TV series EVER, since BR Chopra’s Mahabharat aired on Indian National Television way back in 1987-89, that I’ve watched the same day it first came on TV. The Hounds of Baskerville was fun, though not as much as episode 1. There, I said it – even a great TV series like this one has its off moments, and this episode was it. The structure and the plot was too glaringly obvious for my taste, and besides, the whole set-up felt a little too X-Filesey for my taste. Though there are a bunch of snappy moments between Holmes and Watson that iron the disappointment away.

On a side-note, I feel glad about having read the Sherlock Holmes stories early on in life. An attempted rereading of A Scandal In Bohemia last week ended up being a little disappointing. I have a bad feeling that if I start rereading the Conan Doyle stories, I may not enjoy them as much.

Now here’s something that sort of stuck in my head, with all these reboots and remakes being churned out nowadays, especially the ones where the lead characters and the main story-line are re-imagined as contemporary characters. There’s an obvious problem with these reboots, one that I had not thought about until watching Sherlock. Or specifically, one scene in episode 1 of the first season, where John Watson searches online to find out more about his prospective flatmate. The results show us that within the world of Sherlock, Arthur Conan Doyle never existed. Or even if he did, he never met Dr Joseph Bell. Well, maybe the two did meet, but Conan Doyle definitely did not write the Holmes stories. Which also means that there were no adaptations of those non-existent Sherlock Holmes stories. No Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett. No Jamyang Norbu or Laurie King or Detective Comics #572. None of these are particularly earth-shaking changes. But one specific thing worries me quite a bit – Google does not exist in this world. How on earth the absence of Conan Doyle’s Holmes is related to the non-invention of the world’s biggest search engine is something that needs careful, logical train of thought, something that astute people around me will know I am not capable of.

Quest Search, the fictional search engine inside the Sherlock TV series

But if you extrapolate this further, every fictional world has the same problem – which real-world people and items can exist inside a given work of fiction without upsetting the central conceit of that world?

Homework: Can anyone think of a movie with a sequel that contains the former as a movie inside itself, watched by a character in the latter? (I can)

Also, can you think of a reboot/remake that explicitly refers to the events of the original movie? (I can’t)

Also related: Rockstar as Speculative Fiction. Because I think of shit like this all the time.


5 thoughts on “The Sherlock Problem

  1. And perhaps no Prof. Challenger, as well.

    Good point – the same thing kept nagging me as well. I had to wonder if I could convince myself that all of this is happening in a parallel universe where the only difference is that Conan Doyle never existed.

    How did you conclude that Google did not exist in that world? (just curious) Perhaps this was the only side-effect of non-Doyle world :), that Brin and Page’s parents did not meet since the thing that brought them together was a mutual love for Holmes… :)

    What might have been fun is in Season 3, Ep 1, Sherlock finds out that there once existed an obscure man named Doyle who wrote about a fellow named Holmes who shares an uncanny resemblance to…

    • Maybe Conan Doyle just wrote the Challenger stories, but because he wasn’t famous enough (thanks to the non-existence of his Holmes work), nobody read them. :-D

      I think the Doyle reference, if it happens, could make more sense if they bring up Cottingley. Or even Challenger, why not? Prescient Victorian writer is taking things too far, no?

      Why Google does not exist: Elementary! Everybody in the series uses Quest Search!

  2. Louise says:

    Personally I think you’re all looking into this a bit much. If google was shown instead of Quest search then Doyle would have been displayed in searches and how awkward would that have been for dear old Sherlock. Not everyone gets a novel on their life stories.
    Movies do it all the time, (Not that im a fan), but Bella, in Twilight uses a fake homepage to search for something because the real deal might have ruined a major part of the movie.
    Completely open to dismissal and dissagreement here.

  3. Google was not shown as this is a BBC production and the BBC is forbidden from advertising. Virtually no trademarks are shown on the BBC as it is a national broadcaster paid for by a licence fee not advertising.

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