Friday, September 21, 2012

Watson is not a rose.

What’s in a name?

I had reason to contemplate this today, following a recent mention of  an old comic book called “Baker Street” that featured a Sherlock Holmes character named “Sharon.” Sharon’s last name was Ford, not Holmes, but it put me in mind of Shirley Holmes, and that’s when things took off.

Gender-bending Holmes and Watson has always had one very big problem. Unless you have two women named “Sherlock” and “John,” they’re not the real Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. Not because they’re women. I’d love to see two women named Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. But it’s the names, you see. After a hundred and more years of Sherlock-clones, a real Sherlock requires the brand name.

We’ve seen Sherman Holmes, Sherrinford Holmes, Sheridan Haynes, Solar Pons, etc., etc., etc., and some of them have been better Sherlocks than most characters bearing the One True Name in non-Doyle books. But without that name, “Sherlock Holmes,” they just can’t be Sherlock Holmes.

Setting Sherlock and John in the modern day was a master’s trick by Moffat and Gatiss, to be sure, but what was the very first thing that they did right, atop the long, long list of things they did so very right? They called the modern day duo Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.  They planted that flag in the twenty-first century soil and went, “We claim these fellows as the one true Sherlock and John.” And many of us felt that.

Whatever your feelings are about Lucy Liu in the new American series, Joan Watson can and will never be the one true John H. Watson in our minds, sad to say. Not because she’s female. Because she’s Joan. Had they named Jonny Lee Miller’s character “Sherman Holmes,” would we think for even a second he was our Sherlock? Not a chance.

Sherman Holmes is a pastiche character from the outset. And so is Joan Watson, I’m afraid. Names are important.

The calendar pages turn, and within a week everyone can quit going, “Quit pre-judging ‘Elementary’ before it comes out!” We’ll all have seen it, and we will all have judged. But Joan Watson will still be Joan Watson, and not John, when you come down to it.

Too bad, too.

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