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Elementary, my dear Miss Watson!

Daily Mail, September 1986.

Now it’s 20th century Holmes, with female companion.

Sherlock Holmes has been freeze-dried into the 20th century. He’s even been given a female Dr Watson and made to support London punks.

One hundred years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most enigmatic sleuth first won the affection of the British public, the American television network CBS has resurrected him in ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’.

While the thought of Baker Street’s esteemed detective journeying by car and plane on both sides of the Atlantic may strike purists as sacrilege, to the Americans – who are endlessly fascinated by him – nothing could seem more timely than putting the world’s top crime solver on commercial television.

Holmes is played by Cambridge-educated Michael Pennington, a former member of the RSC. Aware of Jeremy Brett’s hold on the character, particularly for American fans of the three-year Granada Television series, the star of CBS’s made-for-TV film doesn’t seem bothered about stepping into such a legendary role. It may be because there is nothing traditional about this Holmes script.

The just-completed Movie of the Week shows how Watson’s American great-granddaughter, played by Margaret Colin, inherits the Watson country manor.

She discovers detailed instructions for ‘thawing’ Holmes, whose body has been preserved by freezing it in a 19th-century cryostat.

The modern Ms Watson fills the elaborate machine with buckets of boiling water until the lid lifts off and reveals Holmes, lying in a deathly repose.

After taking his pulse and discovering that he is alive, she gingerly approaches the sleeping form and asks: “Can you hear me?”

Holmes, as you might expect, opens his eyes calmly, turns to her, and says: “You are an American, I perceive. Originally from California and most recently from Boston.”

From that point the two join forces, travel across the Atlantic, and solve 1980s’ crimes that have baffled America’s top law-enforcement agencies.

The updated Holmes, with a female Watson as his new partner, is forced to learn how to cope with jet lag, punks, traffic jams, and all the absurdities of modern life.

Pennington says: “The major problem was not the fact that Sherlock Holmes had been played by high-profile actors like Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.

“For me the challenge was coping with all the physical demands of the film. Everything was a bit rushed.

“Before I knew it I was being flown out of overcast London straight into the boiling hot Arizona desert. Once filming returned to England, I had to cope with being ‘defrosted’ with endless amounts of steaming hot water, while wearing a hot wool suit.

“So between the extremes of weather and the rigors of playing a frozen and subsequently thawed-out Sherlock Holmes, I didn’t even have a chance to worry about the earlier Sherlocks.”

Co-star and heroine of the TV sitcom Foley Square, Margaret Colin, says: “I certainly wouldn’t call this a serious dramatic role, by any means. But I do think it is a very good adventure story.”

Producer Nick Gillott: “I’ve worked very hard to ensure that this film carries an aura of accuracy, even though it’s a fantasy adventure.

“What we’ve done is see how Holmes would fare if he came back to life today.”

But the wool suit, the deerstalker and the trademark pipe are still there to remind American TV viewers that, even in 1986, Sherlock Holmes will always belong to another era and another country.

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