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Time traveller Sherlock will be a hit

"I'm not a psychopath, I'm a high-functioning sociopath -- do your research," Dominic Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes blasts at a clueless copper in Sherlock, BBC1's updated take on Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective.

I have done my research: when I was a boy I spent countless hours devouring the beautifully-bound editions of the Holmes stories they used to have -- and may still have -- in Kevin Street public library, so I know a bit about Holmes.

Steven Moffat, the guiding hand on Doctor Who at the moment, and The League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss, who's written a few Who episodes, have also done their research, and clearly know -- and more importantly, love -- Holmes.

If you insist on dragging the cerebral detective with the deerstalker, the pipe and the cocaine habit into the 21st century, these are the men you want to do the job.

And what a wonderful job they've done. The deerstalker, of course, has gone by the wayside. Wisely, I reckon. There are a few things you can't get away with, even in London, and poncing around in a silly hat and expecting people to take you seriously is probably one of them.

Smoking, a habit they'll soon be punishing more harshly than murder, has gone too, to be replaced by nicotine patches. Where the old Sherlock used to refer to a tricky case as a three-pipe problem, the new guy calls it a three-patch problem, which doesn't have quite the same ring about it.

The drug problem, though, is still there, albeit only obliquely in a scene where the cops raid Sherlock's flat at 221B Baker Street as a means of making him co-operate and he exchanges some worried/guilty glances with Dr Watson.

Ah, yes: Dr Watson. He's here too. You can't have a Sherlock without a Watson, and in this case he's played by the likeable Martin Freeman as an ex-army medic just returned from Afghanistan with a limp and some troubling nightmares.

But as Sherlock deduces early on, Watson is not suffering from the trauma of being in a war; he's suffering from the trauma of NOT being in a war. He misses the danger and the buzz.

Incidentally, Sherlock's deductive powers, as visualised here, are a joy to watch. When he's examining a corpse or a crime scene, little captions explaining what he's discovered flash up on screen.

It sounds corny and clumsy when written down, but it works brilliantly. So, mostly, does everything else about this new Sherlock. The idea of taking the most popular character from 19th-century fiction and transplanting him to a world of mobile phones and the internet might have seemed daft, yet it makes perfect sense.

Every TV detective, from Morse to The Mentalist to House (whose makers freely admit is Holmes with a stethoscope instead of a magnifying glass), owes a debt to Sherlock Holmes.

The one thing that lets Sherlock down, ever so slightly, is the plot. Last night's episode hinged on a story about suicides that turn out to be murders perpetrated by a terminally ill taxi driver (Phil Davis) in the employ of Sherlock's nemesis, the as-yet-unseen Moriarty. It was perfunctory stuff.

Then again, anyone who knows their Holmes stories can tell you that the plots always played second fiddle to the characters. In that respect, Sherlock has struck gold. Cumberbatch is the ideal modern Holmes, with a brain as sharp as his cheekbones (which are VERY sharp) and an arrogance bordering on cruelty, and the chemistry between him and Freeman's Watson is tremendously enjoyable to watch.

This is great Sunday night viewing. If Sherlock takes off -- and I sincerely hope it does -- my powers of deductive reasoning tell me it's going to go stratospheric, in the same way Doctor Who did. Elementary.

STACEY'S STARS

SHERLOCK ****


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