Among the series this author has returned to of late has been a single season title: Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century*. The show is not well-beloved by fans of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle* series because the animated tale takes several liberties with Holmes’ character. Since the show was meant for tweens and teens, the alterations make sense – though even a casual Holmes fan such as myself can see why those who enjoy the original books would have reason to be upset.
While the overall softening of Holmes’ character does not bother this author (it is rather nice to see him behave in a more paternal manner to the new Baker Street Irregulars, and to be more openly concerned or happy for his friends), this writer does take issue with some of the lines he is given. No man of the Victorian era, for instance, would ever say that “violence is never the answer.” Adaptable as Holmes is, given the amount of 19th century customs he retains during the series’ run, using this phrase to calm an enraged man is not something that this novelist believes he would actually say.
There are other matters like this which crop up during the show’s run. I can only imagine that most Holmes’ fans would grit their teeth at the repeated line “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” one of Sherlock’s common phrases in the show and a repeating phrase in the opening theme. For those who have not read the books, Doyle’s master detective never uttered this line in the original stories. Holmes’ admirers commonly have to debunk the origin of this phrase, so hearing it on repeat in a TV show aimed at children probably does not help their opinion of it. The fact that the detective keeps the stereotypical magnifying glass on his person is doubtless another factor in their dislike.
Otherwise, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century remains an entertaining little series that does not get enough credit for what it did. Before any fans of Mr. Holmes pounce on me in the comments, I will state that the translation of the great detective to animation could have been done better. However, warts and all, the series still does something few sci-fi and sci-fi/fantasy stories consider doing, prior to its conception and following its cancellation. The show takes Doyle’s famous detective’s skill at observation and deduction and applies them to a science fiction world.
Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century is set in New London, three hundred years after Sherlock Holmes battles Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls and presumably plummets to his death. The show makes note early on that he did not truly perish in the plunge, as Watson assumed. Detective Elizabeth “Beth” Lestrade proves this by pulling Holmes’ honey-filled coffin out of storage when she finds Moriarty roaming the streets of New London. She takes Holmes’ body to a scientist who (conveniently) discovered how to revive deceased cells.
Lestrade is convinced Moriarty has been resurrected by similar means, while the Chief of New Scotland Yard is just as certain she needs a vacation (and, incidentally, that she needs to start following the book more than she currently does). Once he enters the mix after being revived, Sherlock clouds matters by agreeing with the Chief insofar as Moriarty’s identity is concerned, though he assures Lestrade that she is right about a mastermind being behind New London’s unexpected crime wave. He soon reveals that this Moriarty is, in fact, a clone, not the revived man himself.
With a new troop of Irregulars, Lestrade, and her robot sidekick Watson (who becomes Holmes’ companion by the finale of the first two episodes), Sherlock sets out to stop Moriarty’s clone from conquering a world that has no defense against him. In the process several original Doyle mysteries are re-imagined in a futuristic world so different from our own that it might as well be another galaxy entirely. Mutants, space travel, mind scans, and other fantastic – if theoretical – sci-fi tropes decorate old Sherlock tales and some new ones as the series speeds through twenty-six episodes to its conclusion.
It’s an intoxicating combination, one which has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Mischaracterization of Mr. Holmes himself aside, watching the detective thwart mad scientists, rebels, and a robotic Hound of the Baskervilles is a great deal of fun. It also proves that anything can be made into a sci-fi tale, and vice versa. Blackmail, desperate women trying to escape their pasts, mad men intent on ruling the world –these tropes can fit either in a Victorian setting or in the far-flung, thin atmosphere of Earth’s moon. A writer just has to be willing to put the two together and see what happens.
Often we are told today that genre fiction has to meet a certain checklist. Science fiction requires spaceships, hard science descriptions of technology and extraterrestrial environments, and no mystic powers/wildly alien creatures that defy description. Murder mysteries (or mysteries period) have to take place either in the present, the past, or a familiar sci-fi/fantasy setting, such as Star Trek*. And in the third genre, they should be one-offs, single installments meant to placate the writers rather than please the author and the audience.
Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century happily bucks that trend, madly mixing deductive reasoning and the darker aspects of human nature with a shiny future Earth which barely resembles the modern world. Sir Conan Doyle’s famous detective does not come out in pristine condition, admittedly, but given what the show does for the imagination this author is not inclined to hold that fact against the writers. They were creating a children’s show using classic characters and settings while dressing it all up in sci-fi garb. By and large, they pulled it off, as the show still has fans today.
Even if you are a Holmesean purist, future authors, you might want to give Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century a viewing. If you are a Sherlock fan, then consider this variation of the detective the original’s “kid brother.” It might make him more palatable, and the boost the show will offer to your imagination will be worth the sore jaw from gritting your teeth.
The series has a lot to offer writers in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I haven’t let too many details slip because it is better for a storyteller to observe and absorb them than to read about them here. Or, in the immortal words of 22nd Century’s Sherlock, “Eyes and brains, man. Eyes and brains.”
Give it a go. See if it sparks an idea, or at least the nerve to try a new combination yourself. You may just find it’s an elementary thing to create a series as good as – or better than – Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. 😉
*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.
If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna and Uranus. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s 2020 Summer Issue . Her most recent piece is available in Planetary Anthology: Sol. Order them today!
Like Caroline’s content? Then consider buying her a coffee on Ko-fi to let her know you appreciate her work. 😉