A BBC production created by David Pirie, Murder Rooms is an intriguing concept for those who enjoy all writings and viewings Sherlockian; rather than writing yet another Holmes pastiche, he focuses instead upon spinning adventures that involve the actual model for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character Dr. Bell, and implements Doyle himself as an assistant, the equivalent of a Dr. Watson, to the mix.
According to the Murder Rooms website, Murder Rooms as a concept began in January 2000 when Murder Rooms, the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes topped the TV ratings chart on British TV. Gaining rave reviews, this second series of stories were aired by the BBC2 in late 2001, and by PBS in mid-2002. Tey place the series time line three years after the pilot in the early 1880's, with Doyle beginning his career as a doctor on the South coast of England. He no sooner starts a fledgling practice when he encounters his first odd medical case and before long Dr. Bell comes to visit, seemingly always available when the game is afoot.
Here is a listing of the four episodes on this 2-DVD set:
Patient's Eyes- A young woman is haunted by a masked cyclist who follows her daily through the woods, then disappears. Curious, Doyle investigates and is surprised to find out that this spectre is real. Calling upon his mentor Dr. Bell, the two delve deeper and deeper into a mystery filled a growing number of hideous murders and begin questioning a number of plausible suspects, finding that the killings are connected to a gruesome incident in the Boer War.
The Photographer's Chair- With an undercurrent plotline involving Doyle's fiance' being murdered years before, he finds himself investigating the murders of a serial killer who leaves strange markings on his victims. Inspector Warner, part of the previous episodes' investigation, asks Dr. Bell to step in and assist his protege' Doyle with the case. Doyle looks to a spiritualist for answers and is warned about his investigation from beyond the grave; in time he will find out how mad the motive is behind the harrowing murders.
The Kingdom Of Bones- When an ancient Egyptian mummy is unwrapped in public, a recently murdered Englishman is found, involving Doyle and Bell in a bombing conspiracy.
White Knight Strategm- Two men with knowledge of a woman's suicide are murdered, setting off a heated disagreement between Bell and an old police rival. At the risk of alienating Bell, Doyle sides with the policeman; but both men prove to be only partly correct.
There are a number of things about Murder Rooms to like as a series. The plotlines themselves are of a nature seeming far more dark and sinister than Sherlock Holmes mysteries, hence the dark beginnings reference. The murders seem more deplorable, the details of the cases of a nature more grim, and the surroundings and settings have an eeriness about them that seems to wed The Hound Of The Baskervilles with Jack The Ripper's streets of Whitechapel. I've been a fan of Sherlock Holmes pastiches since childhood but will be the first to admit that some of them are pretty bad, more sensational than sinister. The writing on these episodes is excellent, with the characterization of Doyle and Bell getting better as they are fleshed out with each installment. Each episode is 90 minutes in length, giving ample time to further detail the stories. The period sets are splendid on the whole, conveying at times an elegant Victorian fells as well as a dark primitive Britain when the story calls for such.
Perhaps the best thing about the show is the casting; stage actor Ian Richardson absolutely nails the part of Dr. Bell, giving the character a nature akin to Holmes but without some of his colorizations such as a penchant for cocaine use or an ego closer to arrogance. His sleuth comes across as learned, kind, stern and thoughtful. Richardson brings a presence to the role that will be missed if there are further installments without him; Bell is advanced in years and at this point it has been 5 years since an episode was filmed. Likewise, Charles Edwards is a fine choice in the role of Arthur Conan Doyle; he presents a man young and vigorous in years, with considerable skill in medicine and a willingness to learn from his tecaher and close friend Bell. At times he is a bit pompous when skeptical of evidence Bell puts forward to him, but when proven wrong more than humble enough in concession. The chemistry between the two makes one wish this series had gone on well beyond the four episodes filmed. From what I have read there are a series of Murder Rooms books with a new adventure about to be published; it would be splendid if these two actors were able to return to the vehicle should more episodes be filmed.
Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings Of Sherlock Holmes is presented as a 2-disc set in a standard case with 2 episodes on each disc, totaling 6 hours in length.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Video here is fine on the whole. Imaging is good, if not as sharp as I might have liked. Colors are rendered well. Overall a solid transfer.
The lone audio track here is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. While not a particularly notable track it is clear, consistant and easy to understand.
Murder Rooms is an interesting slant on the Sherlock Holmes legacy, staying faithful to the genre while adding its own dark, sinister edge to the mix. Four fine installments are presented here, 6 hours of Sherlockian goodness that should make Baker Street fans happy. This is worth watching even for the casual viewer. Highly Recommended.