HOUND ROUND THREE: THE ODDBALL HOLMESES
Herewith the long anticipated clash of Max Headroom (Matt Frewer) and Dr. Who (Tom Baker) as rival Sherlock Holmes. This is really an honest comparison, since both films are TV movies. The Frewer version was made by Canadian television (2000), the Baker by the BBC (1982). Let’s get ready to rumble!
1: Sherlock Holmes: You couldn’t imagine more wildly contrasting performances. Matt Frewer is twitchy and energetic, to the point of annoyance. Tom Baker, fresh off his run as Dr. Who, is quiet and emotionless, to the point of woodiness. Frewer’s facial expressions are wildly animated; Baker’s run the gamut from A to B. I’m almost tempted to give it to Frewer, because he LOOKS so damn much like Holmes should look, but the play swordfighting pushed the envelope just too far. Baker 6, Frewer 4
2: Dr. Watson: Kenneth Welsh is superb as Frewer’s foil; surprisingly so, he’s the best Watson I’ve seen so far. He carries the middle of the movie, as Frewer drops out at about the twenty-five minute mark and doesn’t reappear until the final five minutes of the film. Terence Rigby, Baker’s Dr. Watson, is all stiff upper lip as he does his best Nigel Bruce impression, except without being avuncular or showing the least bit of personality or emotion (Do you detect a trend developing here? I do.). He’s pretty much a tabula rosa, a characteristic he shares with much of the film’s secondary cast. Frewer 8, Baker 2.
3. Holmes/Watson interface: Both follow the normal pattern, though everything in the Baker version is so subdued that it’s hard to detect actual warmth between them. Thinking about it, I believe I observed Rigby showing petulance once. Frewer 6, Baker 4
4. Supporting Cast: The Frewer supporting cast, led by Jason London as Sir Henry, does great work in their various roles. London, in fact, is the first Sir Henry who actually imbues his character with a discernible personality beyond yep-I’m-the-new-Sir-Baskerville. Robin Wilcock, as Stapleton, breaks out the creepy just at the right time. The Baker supporting cast (much like the sets, now that I think about it) are all complete wallflowers, except for Nicholas Woodeson as Sir Henry, who does show a bit of vim. Unfortunately, Woodeson must be like five foot two and I could never take him seriously, especially with Tom Baker looming over him and dolefully eyes him as if he was the last canape on the tray. He was also shorted by a poor script that didn’t allow, for example, the “romance” between him and Beryl Stapleton to bloom. It’s just there, unbelievably, and the first time we see them together (though we see them from Watson’s viewpoint, so don’t actually hear them) he asks her to marry him. Frewer 8, Baker 2
5. Setting: The Frewer exterior shots look as if they were mostly shot in the Canadian woods, which they probably were, with some low-lying meadows filling in for the Great Grimpen Mire. They did take the trouble to go to the UK and film interiors in a manor house. The Baker interiors were all cramped and claustrophobic. The TV budget must have been minuscule as the interiors are by far the cheapest looking I’ve seen in the series. Some of exteriors could have been filmed in Devon. Unfortunately, most were probably were filmed on a soundstage. Frewer 7, Baker 3
6. Screenplay: Frewer is on-stage less than any other Holmes so far, but this didn’t hurt the film. Welsh as Watson carried the ball quite capably in Holmes’s absence, and the decision to leave Holmes until the last moment actually made quite a lot of sense. There was none of that tedious coming and going, getting on trains before the climax and then getting off them stuff that watered down most of the other versions. The actual ending is the most satisfying I’ve seen so far. In fact, the screenplay for this version is perhaps the best in the series. The Baker version has a decent screenplay, but it’s covered up by the lackluster acting (and direction) and cheap-looking, claustrophobic sets. Good ending, but underplayed, like most of the movie. Frewer 6, Baker 4.
7. The Hound: The Frewer Hound is smaller, leaner, more athletic, with somewhat scary red-rimmed eyes. They explain this by stating that Stapleton blinded the beast, but that doesn’t really explain why his eyes would glow red, does it? We also see and hear him several times through-out the movie, all to good effect. The Baker hound is a big, glowing, sad-looking mastiff, who underplays like everyone else in this film (the director must have been on ludes). I generally feel bad for the hound when they shoot him. In this case, I felt really bad. Poor doggie. Frewer 7, Baker 3
Not much of a contest in this one, as Max Headroom kicks Dr. Who’s ass 46 to 24. Not really Dr. Who’s fault, but he should have had better corner men (and hounds). A surprise contender emerges.
Next the obscure Holmeses (Stewart Grainger and Ian Richardson) match up in the last quarter-final match. Be there!