Saturday, March 3, 2012

SHERLOCK - In the Footsteps of Moriarty.

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards LONDON to be born?"
(with apologies to W.B.Yeats).

Steven Moffat has suggested fans should expect new adversaries for the detective in future series of the BBC SHERLOCK. While leaving the door ajar for occasional re-appearances of Jim Moriarty, Moffat says: "There are other great villains in [the Conan Doyle books] we want to visit."

All well and good. But a trawl of the 4 novels and 56 short stories comprising the canon results in a surprisingly meagre catch of suitable (and 'available') candidates.

Col. Sebastian Moran ("the second most dangerous man in London") leads a small field by a mile. Whatever else it contains, Series 3 of  SHERLOCK must at some point present its version of The Empty House to reunite John with Sherlock. However, should Moran feature as the captured murderer of Ronald Adair, the writers will have to contrive his evasion from conviction or the gallows to retain his villainous services beyond one episode.

Moran is no Moriarty. Still, in his sketch of the Colonel, Doyle left the writers of SHERLOCK ample room for imaginative development within a 21st Century context.

In identifying more of Doyle's villains who may enjoy novel incarnations, two sources are available: those who appear "on stage" as it were and those merely mentioned in passing. The latter I shall reserve for a later post; the former I shall now consider by surveying the novels, then the short story sequence.

Beyond Moriarty and his gang who figure in The Valley of Fear, the 4 novels present no villain who may exist outside the original narrative. We can hardly expect again to encounter Jefferson Hope, Jonathan Small, Major Sholto, even Tonga. Stapleton's literary existence ends when we leave the Moor. (N.B. Holmes's contact within Moriarty's organization, Porlock, presents possibilities).

The 12 "Adventures" offer some possiblities. I have noted before that Irene Adler (while no classic villain) is likely to make welcome returns in future SHERLOCK episodes.

It is something of a pity that Rucastle is savaged for life and Grimesby Roylott dead: they had the makings of villains. James Ryder & Catherine Cusack escape punishment for stealing The Blue Carbuncle but hardly qualify as hardened criminals.

I shall be mildly surprised if the Ku Klux Klan does not appear (in some guise) in SHERLOCK. More so if the writers do not make creative hay (bricks?) from Sir George Barnwell ( he of The Beryl Coronet), from Lysander Stark and his forgery gang (The Engineer's Thumb), from, possibly the Lascar who runs the Bar of Gold in Upper Swandham Lane..

I shall, however, be amazed not to see good use made of a very promising pair of villains: John Clay and his confederate, Archie (aka Duncan Ross), of The Red-Headed League.

Arguably, Doyle fleshed out Clay's character beyond that of Moran. Holmes observes he has known of him before and considers him "the fourth smartest man in London".

And, helpfully for our purposes, Clay does not die at the end of his allotted story. 

The Memoirs offer fewer candidates. Brunton is dead; Harold Latimer and Wilson Kemp are killed in Hungary. The Cunninghams are as unlikely to bcome great villains as Joseph Harrison or Beddington and Pinner . The Blessington gang is dead or scattered. The Final Problem gave us Moran with Moriarty. Only Sillver Blaze offers a potential revisiting of the villainous Silas Brown.

The stories published as The Return offer some companions in crime to Col. Moran of The Empty House. I suspect The Mafia and The Venucci family could prove as helpful to SHERLOCK's writers as they (and The Klan) were to Doyle - ready-to-go criminal organisations.

Perhaps something may be made of Jonas Oldacre, WIlliamson and even Abe Slaney (great name!), but Hayes is for the gallows and James Wilder sent to Australia. Patrick Cairns is unpromising while I hope, despite his unfortunately dying, the creators of SHERLOCK re-visit Charles Augustus Milverton, a reptilian creation in the Moriarty mould. I doubt we shall see resurrected the Randall gang and Captain Croker is no villain.

Holmes is not just a detective: he is also a spy. The trio of agents Mycroft lists in The Second Stain offer scope as serious enemies: Eduardo Lucas (deceased), Hugo Oberstein ( also in The Bruce-Partington Plans) and La Rothiere.

His Last Bow offers more candidates as worthy villains than the Nazi agent Von Bork and Baron von Hurling. Prime among these is that other great Moriarty-esque creation, Culverton Smith, who offers the added advantage of surviving to sin again at the close of The Dying Detective.

Col. Valentine Smith dies in prison and Africa has swallowed up Dr. Leon Sterndale, but the Red Circle society still operates...and so, I imagine, do that talented couple, Henry Peters and wife.

We come, finally, to The Casebook, from whose Mazarin Stone Hollywood has already borrowed Blackwood or Count Negretto Silvius. The creators of SHERLOCK may return to this quarry ( for boxer Sam Merton too). And while we are on a pugilist theme The Three Gables introduced us to Steve Dixie, Barney Stockdale, Susan and a very promising villainess in Isadora Klein.

En passant  Shinwell Johnson, another of Holmes's informers appears in The Illustrious Client, as does a promising villain, the Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner. Chicago forger, Rodger Presbury may be dead but there yet lives John Garrideb alias James Winter alias Morecroft alias 'Killer' Evans.

That only leaves Josiah Amberley (but he is probably in Broadmoor for the duration) and....CYANEA CAPILLATA. Now there IS a fearsome, villainous sting!