When I was in the middle of writing my first novel, A Biased Judgement, I already had an idea for the next couple of books in the series. The third, I decided, would see Holmes face off against a deadly, faceless entity known only as The Sorcerer.
Flash forward about 18 months and it’s announced that Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme.
I know it stretches credulity and I don’t blame you for being sceptical, but I really didn’t anticipate Doctor Strange being released just a month before my own Sherlock Holmes meets the Sorcerer book. Cosmic forces are at work, obviously.
On Friday, a couple of friends from my writers’ group took me out to see the film.
Confession: I am NOT a comic book fan. However, as a child I used to read my uncle’s comics. I didn’t like the Fantastic Four and I thought The Hulk was a big bully. But I genuinely liked Dr Stephen Strange. Maybe magic just seemed less far-fetched than men with elastic limbs or who could leap tall buildings with a single bound. I was delighted to see what Marvel had done with the character. Even more so, when it was announced that the part was to be played by one of my favourite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Spoilers abound on the internet, but I don’t want to do that to you. I will say that the cast is uniformly good to excellent. A few, like Rachel McAdams, are under-used, but they all acquit themselves well with what they are given. As to Mr Cumberbatch, it may be heresy for a died-in-the-wool Sherlockian like myself to admit it, but Strange may be the best part he’s ever played, even besting the Great Detective. I know. I’m still in shock.
What Doctor Strange did was allow Benedict to be funny. He’s also, for all his arrogance and brilliance, a more compassionate man than Sherlock. Though, admittedly, it takes some time for that to become apparent.
Reams of internet pages have been devoted to the CGI. They have, rightfully, been lauded. I will say only… Wow! Yes, see it in IMAX 3-D if you can, but even on a standard screen you’ll need to tie knots in your socks to avoid them being blown off. Even then…
I’ve read some reviews that bewail the lack of depth, the absence of Shakespearean-level of profundity in the script. Guys, at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s based on a comic book. You want Shakespeare, I suggest you check out Cumberbatch’s Hamlet or his Richard III. Doctor Strange doesn’t have any pretensions of being anything other than what it is: A fun and entertaining frolic. And this one does make you think of the universe on a cosmic level. AND looks pretty doing it. Job done, I’d say.
Coming back to my own work — naturally — this particular sorcerer is a much nicer guy than the villain in my upcoming novel Return to Reichenbach. This book sees Holmes confronting evil on the moors, in Kells, Ireland, and, yes, on the terrifying falls called Reichenbach. It will be released on December 5th by MX Publishing. Here’s a sneak peak at the opening scene:
FROM THE DIARY OF MR SHERLOCK HOLMES
Friday, 21st October, 1898
The telegram said only, “Man found on moor in nightshirt. Please come.”
On the train, Watson said, “What on earth could have possessed a man to go wandering around the moors in such a state, Holmes? Can he be a lunatic?”
“You know my process, Watson. It is a capital mistake to theorise in advance of the facts. Even I cannot be expected to develop a reasonable hypothesis based on six words.”
He fell silent, but I knew he was merely framing his next question. As the train pulled into Clapham Junction station, it came. “You must have formed a theory, Holmes,” he said.
My frown did nothing to discourage him. He is too used to me by now, I suppose, to take my aloofness at face value. I said, “I have formed seven hypotheses that broadly cover the little that we know. Until I have facts I cannot determine which is the most likely.”
Sometimes the man is like a child. His need for entertainment is really very immature.
Crowds alighted from the train and dispersed on the platform. They were replaced with another crowd who waved goodbye, and puffed and panted through the carriage in search of their compartments. I have never seen a duller group of travellers.
Were I a criminal instead of a detective, no form of public transport would be safe from me. It is such fertile ground for the picking of pockets and the taking of lives.
“Holmes?” Watson urged, again.
“For instance, I cannot determine how the man came to the moors until I know where, exactly, he was found. All I can determine is that he is alive and incapacitated.”
Watson’s face fell into that comically bewildered expression that usually irritates me, only because I know that most of the time he pretends an ignorance he does not, in fact, possess. In this case, I knew I had truly amazed him. I wrapped my coat closer around me and buried my head in my scarf.
“Wait a minute,” he cried. “You cannot leave it like that. Holmes!”
“Come, my dear Watson. You have as much information as I. You can draw your own conclusions, surely?”
Silence reigned for ten delicious minutes and then he said, “If the man were capable of speaking rationally, he would have given the police some sort of explanation. If that were so, they would not have consulted you.”
Another few moments and then, “But how can you be sure he isn’t dead?”
“My dear Watson,” I said, exasperated, “If the man were dead they would have said they had found a corpse or a body. They describe him as a man; ergo, he is still alive.”
“So he may prove to be a mental patient, if he is unable to give an account of himself.”
“Possibly, but I think not.”
“There are several mental hospitals in Devonshire. Most of them around the Exeter area, if memory serves. Isn’t it possible this poor fellow escaped from one of them?”
“Unlikely.” At his continued bewilderment, I added, “For two reasons: In the first place, the police would surely have checked the local institutions to determine if a patient were missing. In the second, it is customary in such facilities, I believe, to clothe the inmates in standardised clothing. This fellow was found in his nightshirt.”
I deterred him from further speculation by ruminating on the mathematical probabilities of being struck by lightening. Within twenty minutes, my oratory had the desired effect.
Doctor Watson was asleep.