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How Sherlock Changed the World: The Literary Godfather of All CSIs
think of Sherlock Holmes stories as classic mysteries, but they were
practically science fiction when they were first released. Such was the state of forensic science at the
time—it simply did not exist. Various
forensic fans pay their respects to the consulting detective in the two-part,
one-night special How Sherlock Changed
the World (trailer
premieres this Tuesday on most PBS stations nationwide.
first Holmes story came out during the Jack the Ripper investigation, when most
of London had concluded most of the city’s coppers were just a pack of dumb
thugs—and not without justification.
Crime scenes were not preserved and nobody bothered to give them the
once-over for telling information.
Instead, it was round-up the usuals and beat out a confession—a strategy
doomed to fail with a serial killer.
fact that the fictional Holmes served as a catalyst for smarter investigative
techniques makes perfect sense, considering how science fiction has always
inspired technological breakthroughs. In
the early segments, producer-director Paul Bernays and his expert witnesses
make a strong case for Sherlock’s influence on the pioneers of forensic
investigation, particularly Edmond Locard, a French Holmes fan who assembled
the first legitimate crime lab in 1910.
HSCTW settles into a familiar
pattern, introducing an investigative avenue prefigured in Doyle’s stories (like
toxicology, ballistics, and hair and fiber analysis) and then demonstrating
real world applications from the case files of its talking heads, including the
sometimes controversial Dr. Henry Lee, probably best known for his work on the
notorious “Woodchipper Murder.” Initially a bit of a revelation, the Sherlock tribute
largely becomes reasonably diverting comfort viewing for true crime fans.
HSCTW was shrewdly programmed to
stoke viewer enthusiasm for the upcoming third season of PBS’s Sherlock. We do indeed see clips from the Cumberbatch
show, but most of the points are illustrated with original recreations of
Holmes at work. Granted, clearances can
be tricky, but the HSCTW cast lacks
the distinctive presence of the many classic screen Holmeses, such as Basil
Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jeremy Brett, Patrick Macnee, Tom
Baker, Christopher Plummer, or even Ronald Howard.
is television viewers can safely dip in and out
of. Nonetheless, it makes a compelling
case on behalf of the contributions made to criminal justice by Holmes, as well
as his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. In
fact, it leads one to believe Doyle’s stock is rather undervalued given his
post-Sherlock endeavors. While it has a
fair amount of filler, How Sherlock
Changed the World also provides some intriguing cultural history. Recommended as a pleasant distraction for Holmes
and CSI fans eagerly anticipating the
new season of Sherlock, it airs this
Tuesday (12/17) on most PBS affiliates nationwide.
Labels: PBS, Sherlock Holmes