Sherlock Holmes
The Sign of Four & The Blue Carbuncle

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

In one of his most exotic adventures, Sherlock Holmes encounters some lost treasure, a murderous pigmy, a mysterious pair of twins, and a beautiful but wronged woman with whom Watson falls in love...

As with the previous volume's A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four has been compacted from a full-length novel to a 50-minute episode. As a result, Michael and Mollie Hardwick's dramatisation flies by at a rate of knots, though some elements, including the contribution made by Toby the dog (played by Toddy), have been pared down to almost nothing in the process.

There are all manner of strange characters in this intriguing tale, including the eccentric twins Thaddeus and Bartholomew Sholto (Paul Daneman), the one-legged Jonathan Small (Howard Goorney), and the murderous pigmy Tonga (Zena Keller). It's also quite remarkable how much tea Mary Morstan (Ann Bell) is seen to guzzle throughout this episode!

Special mention should be made of Nigel Stock, whose performance as the infatuated Watson is really quite touching.

Holmes declines an assignment to locate a missing gem, the Blue Carbuncle. However, the jewel crosses the detective's path due to what he describes as "one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles..."

Originally broadcast on December 23, 1968 and with a yuletide setting, there is a distinctly festive feel to The Blue Carbuncle, which is, in my opinion, the best of the surviving Cushing episodes. Humorous touches include some nicely played sight gags involving Holmes and Watson, and larger than life characters including the pompous Lady Morcar (Madge Ryan) and the hot-tempered stallholder Breckinridge (Michael Robbins). Adding to the celebratory mood are passing references to two of Holmes's greatest cases, A Scandal in Bohemia (via a name check of Irene Adler) and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

And just in case anyone ever thought that Peter Cushing was too softly spoken to play Sherlock Holmes, check out his angry outburst towards the end of this story.

The only things that let this episode down slightly are a few vinyl scratches on the stock music that opens the show and a rather stilted performance by two times Doctor Who Time Lord Clyde Pollitt as the Police Sergeant.

There are no extras on the disc, but the DVD is worth its very reasonable asking price for these excellent episodes alone.

Richard McGinlay

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