Big Finish: Sherlock Holmes - The Final Problem Review

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Andrew East continues his journey through the audio adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I may be about to commit sacrilege, but on finishing The Final Problem, I have to wonder: what’s all the fuss about?

As Sherlock Holmes’ stories go, it is very atypical. Holmes doesn’t have a case to solve and is very much on the back foot for a lot of the story. It also takes Holmes and Watson away from Victorian England. Big Finish’s adaptation is, according to Nick Briggs in the extras, hardly changed from the original text. Richard Earl’s Watson narrates the lion’s share of the story with Nick Brigg’s Holmes interjecting at appropriate points. There is a brief scene featuring Alan Cox (who portrayed Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes) as Moriarty but no other cast (I’m fairly sure the brief conversation Watson has with the hotelier in Switzerland is Richard Earl talking to himself). All three are excellent in their roles but I didn’t feel there was a lot of story to actually enjoy or be intrigued by.

Holmes is effectively on the run throughout the story. After a tense confrontation with Moriarty, he heads to Switzerland and, ultimately, ends up at the legendary Reichenbach Falls. By the end of the story both he and Moriarty are missing, presumed dead.

My principal problem with the story is that the action mainly happens ‘off-screen’. Holmes has put into action a plan which sees Moriarty’s network of criminal in London arrested but this happens while they are away in Switzerland. The final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty atop the falls is never seen and never, technically, even confirmed as having happened. Watson returns to the spot after being sent on a wild goose chase by Moriarty and finds no sign of either man aside from a note from Holmes explaining what he is about to do and footprints and signs of a scuffle suggesting a struggle. It makes for a fairly unsatisfying ending.

My other issue with the story is the character of Moriarty. He has been misrepresented and altered beyond Conan Doyle’s original writing to the point of being unrecognisable from this, his first appearance in the Holmes’ canon. For Doctor Who fans, Moriarty is the Master – or at least that’s what Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts would like us to believe. But, in reality, the Master and Moriarty bear very little resemblance. Aside from the idea of Holmes and the Doctor having a polar opposite; someone who uses their superior intelligence for evil rather than good, there is very little else which matches. The Master is central to so many Doctor Who stories, very obviously present and in the middle of the action (particularly in Season 8 when he appeared in every story) but Moriarty has never appeared up to this point and is a mysterious, elusive figure plotting and planning from afar and allowing people in his employ to commit the crimes and take the fall if apprehended.

The fact that Moriarty suddenly appears in this story and dies at its end makes, actually, for a rather unsatisfying villain. We only have Holmes’ word for it that he is this intelligent equal to himself and with Watson never meeting him and only ever seeing him from afar, I’m not convinced by these assertions. It is telling that when Moriarty has appeared in television and film he is a much more prominent figure – take the BBC Sherlock series, for example – almost suggesting that most writers and directors think the same, feeling a need to increase his prominence in the stories. Indeed there are adaptations of other Holmes stories which place Moriarty in the centre of a case of which he was never, in the original stories, involved (the Jeremy Brett version of The Red-Headed League, for example, does this). Of course, it’s clearly these television and film versions of Moriarty where he has been expanded and developed into a true combative nemesis of Holmes that Dicks and Letts were drawing on when creating the Master.

I cannot fault Big Finish’s production of this as music, soundscapes, acting and direction are all very good (I particularly love the theme music for this series), and it will be interesting to see how this story is picked up in the direct sequel The Empty House. However, as a Sherlock Holmes story I didn’t find this particularly gripping or credulous. It’s interesting that, with this story, Conan Doyle intended on killing off Holmes, having grown tired of the character, and yet he still gave himself the get out clause of his body never being found. I’m not sure if The Empty House will be a satisfying follow-up or if it will feel like a cop-out.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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