Sunday, August 25, 2013

"How Sherlockian Dr. Who is . . . ."

Reading the much-esteemed Chris Redmond's guest blog over at Better Holmes & Gardens this morning, on his takeaways from the recent Minneapolis conference, I was struck hard by the line "I had not fully realized until last weekend how very Sherlockian 'Doctor Who' is."

Having been a Doctor Who fan and a Sherlockian both since my college days, it would seem that I would have a pretty solid understanding of what connects the two, much like Holmes and Star Trek's Mr. Spock, who have always seemed brothers in logical analysis. But it wasn't until reading Chris's words that it fully hit me just how close Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes are.

Sure, the Doctor has always had Sherlockian ties -- it's hard to be a time-traveller who spends a lot of time in London and not have Holmes bits. And Stephen Moffat has certainly entwined the two in the last few years, just by being Stephen Moffat. But at the core of their story arcs, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Who are practically the same guy. It's no wonder they have such fan overlap.

Sherlock Holmes has always been solidly based in Victorian reality, and his modern BBC incarnation is no different. Dr. Who is completely about fantasy and science fiction. Yet if you look at who they are and how they operate . . . well, they're the same guy.

Okay, easy first comparison: they both need a companion to be who they are, and aren't quite the same without that companion. Dr. Who, being immortal as far as we know, has to replace his a bit more often than Holmes.

Both are more than mere investigators into curious happenings: a key part of any successful Holmes or Who story is the undeniable feeling that no matter how bad things are, no matter how weird things get, the mere presence of this one special individual is going to set it all to right. Yes, that's what heroes have been doing since heroes first appeared in our culture, but with Sherlock and the Doctor, we find two heroes who walk into the strangest, most mystifying situations imaginable. The Hound of the Baskervilles would have been a different story if Dr. Who had walked out on that moor, but one can see it as an episode of Dr. Who just as easily as a case for Sherlock Holmes.

During a proper tale of either man, we have no idea what's going on in his head. They both do curious little things when they're investigating and can seem more whimsical than professional when dealing with the official forces. And in the end, we always get that whip-crack of an explanation, making all the weirdness make sense and helping people get on with their lives.

A good Dr. Who story and a good Sherlock Holmes story are practically the same thing, but Sherlock, being based in reality, has to be much harder to create. He has to be a genius within the confines of physics, human society, and Earth. The Doctor can summon up his conclusions based on fantasy-science, alien behaviors, and basically some very pretty deus ex Tardis-ina last acts. He doesn't have to play by the rules of our world, which is part of Dr. Who's escapist draw.

Seeing the similarities between Who and Holmes might just be something modern Holmes fans take in stride, as we old-timers once did Spock and Sherlock. But for me, it took a little push to stop and actually consider the matter. I like Who. I like Holmes. But until Chris Redmond's comment, I never stopped to think those affections might be coming from he same root.

Not a bad revelation for a Sunday morning.

1 comment:

  1. "The Doctor is an angel trying to be a man; Sherlock is a man trying to be a god." -Steven Moffat

    Love that quote.