Arthur Conan Doyle’s last Sherlock Holmes stories may have been published way back in 1927 (The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes) but the fictional detective’s popularity rides high to this very day.
The Guinness World Records books list him as the “most portrayed fictional character” in history, with countless appearances in books, films, stage plays, and video games over the years.
Today’s audiences are probably most familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch’s TV version (in the BBC’s ongoing Sherlock series) or Robert Downey Jr’s movie one (in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies). While these generally conform to Conan Doyle’s portrayal of the great detective, there have been more unusual iterations over the years (some even involving animals!).
Here are some that have appeared on TV and movie screens (plus one on the printed page):
Elementary – Where Holmes is a recovering drug addict working in modern day New York City, and Watson is a woman: In this ongoing TV series (2012-), Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) is a former Scotland Yard consultant who travels to New York City for drug rehabilitation. He feels that the criminal cases are more interesting in America and decides to remain; however, his father, anxious about a relapse, forces him to live with a “sober companion”, Dr Jane Watson (Lucy Liu), a former surgeon.
The series was initially criticised as being a mere gender-swap knock-off of BBC’s Sherlock, which came out slightly earlier, but over the years, it has been recognised as a fine adaptation in its own right.
Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century – Where Holmes is brought to the future, and Watson is a robot: In this animated American TV series (1999-2001), Holmes’s body has been preserved after his death, and is reanimated in the 22nd century. He teams up with a robotic version of Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade, the female descendant of Holmes’ famous police associate, to fight a Moriarty clone.
The series is a blend of 3D and 2D animation, with every episode inspired by one of Conan Doyle’s original stories.
Without A Clue – Where Watson is the real genius, and Holmes an actor: In this 1988 British comedy, Holmes is a fictional character created by Dr Watson (Ben Kingsley) so he can solve crimes without being recognised. When the public demands to meet the “great Holmes”, however, he is forced to hire a bumbling, womanising actor (Michael Caine) to pretend to be him. As expected, crazy shenanigans ensue.
House – Where Holmes and Watson work in a hospital: In the American TV series House (2004-2012), we meet Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie), a brilliant but unconventional genius dependent on pain medication. His best friend is oncologist Dr Robert Wilson; House lives on 221B Baker Street; and in one episode, is shot by a gunman named Moriarty. Does any of this sound familiar?
That’s right, House is actually Sherlock Holmes, but he solves medical mysteries instead of crimes! House = Homes = Holmes, get it, get it?!
A Study In Emerald – Where Holmes and Watson are mixed up with Cthulhu: This short story by Neil Gaiman combines the Sherlock Holmes stories with the H.P. Lovecraft’s hugely influential Cthulhu mythos. The narrator of the story is approached by Inspector Lestrade to solve a puzzling murder where the word “RACHE” has been scrawled on the wall with the victim’s blood. Holmes and Watson are soon involved … but not in the way that the reader may expect!
The story won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
Sherlock Hound – Where Holmes and Watson are talking dogs: In this Italian-Japanese cartoon series (1984-1985), all the characters are dogs living in a steampunk world. No, we are not making this up. Sherlock Hound (a red fox) solves crimes with the help of Watson (a Scottish terrier) and fights Moriarty (a grey wolf). In this version, he’s also in love with Mrs Hudson (a golden retriever) who is a crack shot with a revolver. Yes, really.
Fun fact: some episodes of this series were directed by anime legend Hayao Miyazaki!
The Great Mouse Detective – Where Holmes and Watson are talking mice: This 1986 Disney movie is set in a Victorian London inhabited by rats and mice. Young mouse Olivia seeks out Basil, the great mouse detective who lives on Baker Street, to help find her missing father. She also encounters Doctor Dawson, a bumbling mouse doctor who has just returned from Afghanistan.
So we’ve had Holmes and Watson as dogs, and now as mice. That’s crazy. What next, the pair as vegetables?
Veggie Tales: Sheerluck Holmes And The Golden Ruler (Ep 9) – Where Holmes and Watson are talking vegetables: Holmes is a cucumber and Watson is a tomato. There’s really nothing more that can be said about this episode of the American children’s TV series….