For all the time the web saves us, there still those moments when the web wants to steal it back. A prime offender, and I do mean offender, is the internet publications that use "top ten" type lists and give you their lists . . . ONE . . . ITEM . . . PER . . . PAGE . . . in hopes you'll read more ads and give them more page hits to boast about.
Britain's The Telegraph came up with one this weekend, however, that piles irritation upon irritation, as they seem to have come up with their list almost at random, leading up to a top five that looks like this:
5. Robert Stephens
4. Robert Downey Jr.
3. Jeremy Brett
2. Basil Rathbone
1. Benedict Cumberbatch
Now, we could quibble about those top three at any Sherlockian gathering for hours upon end. Each of the three has their fans, and diehard fans at that. But here's the thing.
While The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is my favorite Sherlock Holmes movie of all time, Robert Stephens has never been a favorite Holmes. He's the Robert Downey Jr. of his era, a fine actor doing a great job in a role that I might have cast a little differently. Downey, of course, is the Robert Stephens of the current day: great guy, great movie, maybe just one that could have had a better casting choice for a truly perfect Sherlock Holmes. I'd keep both men in a top twenty Sherlocks list, but top five? No way.
The Telegraph's list includes people like Buster Keaton and Peter Cook, while leaving out Jonny Lee Miller. And as much as I truly, truly hate Miller's portrayal, even I'd give him a berth well above those two clowns. (And I mean clowns in the "things that used to make people laugh but are now just scary" sense.) And did I need to be reminded that Tom Baker once played Sherlock Holmes? Man, I love the Doctor, but seeing him in a deerstalker again with that hair just made me wince.
The Telegraph's heading simply reads "Sherlock: the 20 Greatest Sherlock Holmes," and gives no further explanation, proceeding into John Cleese's parody Holmes and Jeremy Irons in a Saturday Night Live skit as its first two candidates for "greatest." No stage actors are included, no animated incarnations are listed, and those two sources rate at least as highly as Saturday Night Live skits as a place to draw Holmeses from.
And personally, if we're doing "Greatest Sherlock Holmes" without specifying media, I'd have to through Sidney Paget's Holmes in there, if no other illustrators' versions. (And if you're including Peter Cook, you might as well include Slylock Fox, for heaven's sake.)
The thing about twenty Sherlock Holmeses that's most bothersome, however, is this: there is only one greatest Sherlock Holmes because there is only one Sherlock Holmes. He's not Doctor Who. Peter Cushing Sherlock is not going to team up with Basil Rathbone Sherlock to solve a case. Downey, Cumberbatch, and Miller are not going to be in a very special "Three Sherlocks" episode of Elementary. When you start grouping up bunches of Sherlocks, no matter which ones you collect, Sherlock Holmes loses something every time. Part of his charm is that he's unique.
And the love of Sherlock Holmes is a truly monogamous relationship, really. You can only enjoy one at a time, and if you're thinking about other Sherlocks when you're with a different Sherlock, you're not truly enjoying Sherlock Holmes to his fullest measure. An orgy of Sherlocks is just going to leave you as ruined as one of Baron Gruner's ex-lovers, and The Telegraph's silly click-twenty-times list of random Sherlock is the worst sort of Sherlockian brothelpalooza.
Instead of looking for their site, I'd recommend coming up with your own list of twenty to share with your friends. You'll have a lot more fun, and you definitely won't catch anything unpleasant . . . like a look at that Tom Baker hair. Or maybe just come up with your list of one great Sherlock and go celebrate him (or her -- we're getting there).