The “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes made his debut in 1887. That first novel, A Study In Scarlet, led to a series of short stories published in The Strand Magazine. Through 1927, the adventures of Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson, starred in four novels and fifty-six short stories. Those numbers only hold true of the official stories written by the icon’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Since his passing in 1930, several authors have penned new Holmes adventures, as well as the character becoming the most portrayed movie character of all time. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, seventy different actors across 200 films (and serials) have played the observant sleuth.
Heck, in just the last few years of pop culture there have been two big-budget studio movies starring Robert Downey Jr., two different primetime shows, and one new novel centering on Holmes. Not to mention, a handful of short prose, two board games, a few graphic novels, a radio drama, and a stage play all to keep the character alive. Some of these adaptations are reworkings with a comedic bent, others update to a modern setting, and others probably should have been a play.
Prolific author and icon in his own right, Stephen King even got in on the action, publishing the short story The Doctor’s Case in 1987. Now, thirty-one years later, that story has been adapted into a movie. Both the King tale and film of The Doctor’s Case start with an older Watson (William B. Davis) recovering from an injury. Captain Norton (Denise Crosby), the nurse tending to him is a big fan of his exploits about the master of deductive reasoning. As he waits to mend, Watson tells her of the only case he never published.
Watson (now Michael Coleman) and Holmes (J.P. Winslow) are talking when a hurried Inspector Lestrade (Ian Case) interrupts their day. He tells the duo of a case the “the perfect locked room mystery.” Insanely wealthy and infamously terrible human Lord Albert Hull (Andrew Hamilton) has been found murdered in his study but the door was locked from the inside. Considering that all the windows were locked, that there’s no place to hide in the office, and that the family and servants saw no one enter or exit just before or after the death scream that alerted everyone to the crime.
“…found murdered in his study but the door was locked from the inside.”
As luck would have it, a police officer doing his rounds nearby heard the scream as well and can vouch that no one escaped through the estate grounds. As usual in seemingly unsolvable cases, Holmes and Watson are brought in to makes heads or tails out of it. They are given a rundown of the family members and their rocky relationship with the bitter fellow. This makes everyone a suspect, and since the old man recently changed his will, all had a motive.
While studying the scene of the crime, at Hull’s grand manor, Holmes cannot concentrate very well, as he is allergic to cats. Hull loved them and owned quite a few, so due to constant sneezing, Watson takes charge.
A movie being adapted from a Holmes short story isn’t surprising, as most reworkings at least take elements from the most familiar stories. What is surprising is that The Doctor’s Case wasn’t a play first. Directed by Leonard Pearl and James Douglas, who also wrote the script, the movie feels very stagy. Mainly confined to the study where the murder occurred, with just a few other locations, including the hospital set, the movie never feels cinematic. The things that make a movie unique, the editing, a camera that can travel anywhere and show anything, and not being bound by a writer’s limitations or the confines of a stage space are not put to effective use here.
No single aspect, on the technical side is incompetent, rather that they’re bland and forgettable. The movie is an independently produced Canadian film, and the cinematography can’t hide the limited means. The central stairwell and where it lies in relation to the study doors, and where characters were on it, is of vital import to the story. All the shots of the stairs, or from them, are static and boring. The same thing can be said for all the shots in the film.
The script is another matter entirely. The dialogue is refreshing, intelligent, and hearing Watson piece things together as his more famous counterpart does is lots of fun. Plus there are several instances of well-placed humor. Watson tells the nurse that he believed Holmes hated Lestrade and he goes on that he doesn’t think Holmes would ever admit to such a lesser emotion. The audience’s introduction to Holmes is him stating that he “hates that man,” referring to the inspector. It is gold.
“…quite fascinating with a resolution that is rather brilliant.”
The mystery is also quite fascinating with a resolution that is rather brilliant. The way Watson goes through the witnesses, starting with the eldest son, and deduces what they have at stake is efficient and engaging. It effectively introduces the viewer to the cast and their relationship with everyone else.
Every cast member does a job in their role. Davis, perhaps best known for his role on The X-Files, is fun as the elderly, put-upon Watson. He wrings many laughs from his dry delivery. As the younger version of the good doctor, Coleman isn’t quite as humorous, but he delivers the drama well and is believable when putting the pieces together. Playing Holmes in a slightly over the top fashion, Winslow is affable, but his wit and intelligence are never in question.
Ian Case plays Lestrade seriously, less the buffoon he is often portrayed as in other adaptations. It works rather well. Crosby’s role is small as Captain Norton, but she plays the fawning fan well. Hamilton is easy to despise as the now deceased Lord Hull, and he conveys that mean-spiritedness in just a tiny handful of scenes.
The Doctor’s Case has all the makings of a great stage production, from the limited sets, smart, rapid pace dialogue, and committed performances from all involved. However, it is not a play, it’s a movie, and it is only so-so as such. Massive Sherlock fans will probably enjoy this a lot, as it is an interesting new spin on the characters.
The Doctor’s Case (2018) Directed by James Douglas, Leonard Pearl. Written by James Douglas. Starring William B. Davis, Denise Crosby, Michael Coleman, J.P. Winslow, Ian Case, Andrew Hamilton.
5.5 Gummi Bears (out of 10)