Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Watsonian - a review of 'Watson in the Twenty-first Century', by Linnea Dodson

Well, I guess saying it is a review is all wrong. Although I am going to say what I like and don't like about it, I am really trying to start a discussion and not just give my opinions. I hear them all day.

Like I said in the earlier post, I am going to 'review' each chapter and hope to get others thoughts on them also.

So, here goes.

The one I want to talk about today appears on page twenty-seven in the first edition of The Watsonian.

It is the one called "Watson in the Twenty-first Century", by Linnea Dodson.

Dodson first starts out by comparing the Canonical Watson to the decades long performance by Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

I thought her tone on comparing the differences between the two really set the tone for her piece. Where she described, in my opinion, the Canonical Watson as an articulate, intelligent man, and by comparison a bumbling inarticulate shadow of Watson in Bruce's performance, or as she said it best, "loyal as a dog, but also about as intelligent."

And she suggests Bruce's performance inspired the image of Watson throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Her arguments on this point are strong, even discounting the portrayals of Burk and Hardwicke as not being able to over-shadow the 'damage' done by the Watson as portrayed by Bruce.

This would probably be the only argument I have with her article.

While stating, and which may be true, that Bruce's performance still may have suggested the appearance and behavior of Watson in both Young Sherlock Holmes and The Great Mouse Detective, both of which were produced early in Granada's run, I don't think either of them had the Holmesian clout to carry the image created by Bruce through to the end of the twentieth century. The Great Mouse Detective, a fun film, was basically a remake of a Rathbone/Bruce film, with the two main characters now just living in the basement.
(Remember, they even had Rathbone's voice in the movie.)

I think by the end of the 1980's both Edward Hardwicke and David Burke had set the new standard for Watson portrayals, and are now the ones to be compared two.
To many of my fathers generation, who were not Sherlockains, it could be argued that Linnea's point would hold true.  But I think both Burke's and Hardwicke's portrayals were so low key and deftly handled that they made a much large impression than she may think.

After this, Ms. Dodson moves on examine Watson as played by Jude Law, Martin Freeman and Lucy Liu.
And for the rest of her piece, I think she is spot-on.

Her examination of Jude Law's Watson as 'arguably the closest to the original' would hardly find many dissenters, stating that while placed in more of a steam punk action film, Watson remains an active medical man, has a love life, and a publishing career. As she so aptly points out, 'Laws Watson is, in fact, the only modern Watson to have any kind of personal success outside is relationship with Holmes.'.
This is sort of the way I felt about it, but she was able to put it into words where I couldn't.
She doesn't fail to point out the darker sides of Watson's life in Law's performance either.

After Jude Law, she moves on to Martin Freeman's performance in Sherlock.
Not being as big a fan of Sherlock as many are, mainly because of the writing, I was surprised at how much more I appreciated Freeman's Watson after reading Ms. Dodson's piece. I always though he was a good choice for Watson, but her insight and observations made, for me, his performance even better.
Again not being a big fan of Moffat and Gatiss, I am glad she pointed out an observation they made that can really put into context modern adaptions of Holmes. They 'pointed out that Doyle was not writing historical mysteries but modern-day adventures for his readers.' We all realize that, when we think about it, but sometimes must be reminded to view them as such.

We next visit the set of Elementary and Lucy Liu as Watson.
Again, Ms. Dodson gets beneath the discussions of Elementary not being really about Sherlock Holmes and that it is not very Canonical, and really examines Liu's performance as a viable portrayal. And although I feel Ms. Dodson finds this Watson the least Canonical, she does give a fair assessment of the performance.

I get the impression that she appreciated Law's performance more than the rest, but really had a lot of respect for Martin and Liu. Without even stating whether or not she actually liked Sherlock, Elementary or the RDJ  movies, she was able to examine the performances objectively, the same being true for Nigel Bruce.

I really enjoy her article and came away with many new insights and many affirmations of things I believe about cinematic Watson's.
She made a strong case, and was very respectful of her subject. Or, comparing it to what one reviewer said about Rod Stewart's book, it makes to want to sit in a pub with her, have a pint and talk about it.

Thanks Linnea Dodson.

In my now world recognized rating scale, I give her

out of a possible five.
Well done! You made me want to read more. Really good writing. Thanks.


  1. Replies
    1. No, thank you. I look forward to more of your writings.

  2. I thought It was very good as well (five pipes, yes), although I would rate Freeman a bit weaker and Liu a bit stronger that she does. Moffat weaken Freeman in "A Scandal in Belgravia" by having him carry the laptop around the boomerang crime scene. While I could see Bruce doing it, Law and Liu would definitely not. Of course, it was necessary as set-up for Cumberbatch's naked butt in Buckingham Palace. Making Freeman lapdog-like just to set up a visual joke that really only caters to the fans and not the story or characters. But that's my personal spin.

    1. I am not sure freeman has reached his stride yet. With only six episodes he is not defined.

    2. Interesting how what the author thinks about a character, and how that character appears to the reader, can be so different. Arthur Conan Doyle stated, in a filmed interview from 1930, that he himself considered Watson to be "rather stupid." (The interview is on Youtube at

    3. That is so true about how one is written and how one is perceived.
      Thanks for the link on youtube, I will check it out. (Maybe Nigel Bruce had it right?)