Sherlock Holmes
A Study in Scarlet & The Boscombe Valley Mystery

Starring: Peter Cushing
BBC Worldwide
RRP 9.99
Certificate: 12
Available 21 June 2004

An American is found dead with the word RACHE - German for "revenge" - written in blood above the body. Holmes's investigation takes him from the dangerous London streets to the atmospheric world of the music hall...

This volume contains two more of the six surviving Peter Cushing episodes of Sherlock Holmes. One of the first BBC programmes to be made in colour, this series, produced between 1968 and 1969, clearly had a lot of money spent on it. If you didn't know better, its production values might lead you to believe it was a product of the late 1970s rather than the '60s. The episodes do show their limitations when the sets or cameras wobble occasionally, but then many a classic show, including Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers, have been prone to such failings.

Nevertheless, this is exciting stuff. A Study in Scarlet has been adapted into a standard-length 50-minute episode, despite being based upon a novel (the very first Holmes book in fact) rather than a short story. Dramatist Hugh Leonard has pared down the plot accordingly, omitting the initial introduction of Watson (Nigel Stock) to Holmes, since the audience already knows the characters well.

It is notable how some '60s sensibilities have crept into the adaptation. Rather than being a helpless victim of the advances of Enoch Drebber (Craig Hunter), Alice Charpentier (Edina Ronay) appears to put up only a token resistance.

Well worth studying.

A young man is found over the body of his father, an odious bully who has been brutally beaten to death. Holmes is called in to ensure that an innocent man is not hanged for the crime...

Each of these episodes boasts a stellar cast, including plenty of faces that will be familiar to sci-fi fans. The Boscombe Valley Mystery is no exception, featuring Space 1999's Nick Tate as James McCarthy, while A Study In Scarlet stars Gerry Anderson stalwart Ed Bishop as Joseph Stangerson. Doctor Who fans might also recognise Jack Woolgar, alias Staff Sergeant Arnold from The Web of Fear, as Moran in Boscombe Valley.

Of course the star of the show is Peter Cushing, an actor whose willowy frame and well-spoken panache were made for the role of Holmes. It's just a pity that he couldn't have been cast as a regular far earlier. In Hammer's 1959 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles he was just the right age, whereas by the time of this series he was looking rather old and grey.

Nigel Stock, who had previously accompanied Douglas Wilmer's Holmes in an earlier BBC series, provides good support as Dr Watson, though he is prone to some of the bumbling tendencies that Nigel Bruce brought to the role in the 1940s movies. Not until the '80s would David Burke finally distance the character from such associations.

There are no special features on this DVD, apart from subtitles, but at such a bargain price who's complaining?

Richard McGinlay

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