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Turn the lights off and stoke up the fire as we take a spooky Victorian trip to the fog bound Baskerville Hall where legend has it a spectral demon hound roams the moors in revenge for the misdeeds of a Baskerville ancestor. There is only one man who can possibly solve this ghostly mystery, none other than the Great Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous Holmes adventure was first serialized in 1901 and this BBC 4 radio adaption was recorded in 1998, released as an audio adventure in 2001 and features Clive Merrison & Michael Williams respectively as Holmes & Watson. I think I've seen just about every film or televison adaption of this enduringly popular tale but am not terribly familiar with the audio adventures - despite the generally positive impression most places seem to have of Merrison's work as Holmes. He certainly makes a crisp and polished Sherlock and, of course, one great advantage radio has is that you conjure up the images and characters in your imagination as you listen and therefore almost have a certain control over proceedings.
In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the story begins with Dr Mortimer (Roger May) visiting Baker Street to seek the help of Sherlock Holmes in a most curious mystery. Mortimer fears that the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Donald Sinden) is related to a family curse passed down from sadistic ancestor Sir Hugo Baskerville. Legend has it that a ghostly demon hound lurks in the wilds of Dartmoor to reep a terrible revenge on generations of Baskervilles. Holmes agrees to investigate and meet young Sir Henry Baskerville (Mark Leake), the latest heir to Baskerville Hall and therefore presumably the next person due for a visit from this phantom pooch. Sir Henry shows Holmes a letter he was sent warning him to stay away from Baskerville Hall and Holmes soon works out that the note was made up of letters cut out of The Times newspaper. More intrigue abounds when one of Sir Henry's boots is stolen. Holmes says he has urgent matters to attend to in London but will send Dr Watson to Baskerville Hall to watch over Sir Henry and begin an investigation. The lonely expanse of Dartmoor awaits...
This adaption of The Hound of the Baskervilles is two hours long (split into two parts) and has a full cast besides Merrison & Williams. It's good fun to have veteran luvvies like Donald Sinden and Judi Dench (as Mrs Hudson) playing characters in the story. Certainly though, Merrison and the late Michael Williams make a good team as Holmes & Watson and have good chemistry together as the Baskerville mystery unravels. The fact that you can't see Merrison means you can picture him the way you imagine Holmes to look, which I quite like. He has the right sort of attitude for Holmes and you can just imagine he looks like some sort of cross between Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone or something. A strong atmosphere is the key here and this adaption manages to generate a good spooky aura as we learn about the terrible Grimpen Mire where a false step means death to man or beast in quicksand and the wind whistles around the ancient monolithic moor. This is a fun adaption to listen to through earphones and allow yourself to escape into.
The music is nice too in this and adds to the old-fashioned and eerie atmosphere. It's the mark of a great story when you've already read it and seen countless adaptions and yet still find yourself becoming absorbed in yet another version. This adaption is an enjoyable one and draws you in right from the start with the dubious Holmes rather unimpressed by Dr Mortimer's story at first but then becoming more and more interested by the puzzle that presents itself. The analytical and scientific Holmes is a man of reason even when faced with a case of a supernatural hound. When the story moves to Devon, you can picture the strange rocks and boulders of the moor and imagine the grand but desolate Baskerville Hall sitting in stately isolation in this rugged outpost, shuddering amidst the trees and leaves, the house glimmering like a ghost. This adaption does an admirable job in generating a foreboding air of oddness and tension and is fun to listen to late at night.
The Hound of the Baskervilles famously has Holmes away from the story for a period but it's interesting and enjoyable to have Dr Watson alone for a time in the creaky corridors and rooms of Baskerville, further mysterious capers enveloping the adventure when we hear about an escaped convict roaming the moors and being hunted down by soldiers. Don McCorkindale and Jenny Lee here are good too as Barrymore and Mrs Barrymore, as is Ian Masters as Stapleton. The cast is generally enjoyable. This is a relatively faithful adaption of the story I found, certainly compared to that BBC television adaption with Richard Roxborough from around the same time which, although not bad and well made, liberally added its own material including an action chase coda and had Watson being rather frosty and dismissive to Holmes at times. This adaption is less revisionist, gimmicky and post-modern and far more traditional and warm, with a cosy glow at the heart of all the spookiness.
On the whole, I enjoyed this audio trip back to the Victorian era with Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and found this BBC 4 radio version of The Hound of the Baskervilles to be a very solid and entertaining adaption of the famous story with a great deal of care and affection from the cast and crew evident in its production. I don't own a great many audio books but generally find them to be fun when I do take the time to immerse myself in one and The Hound of the Baskervilles is certainly an enjoyable experience. Now, if you'll please excuse me, the rain is lashing against the window and I'm sure I just heard a rather strange howling noise coming from outside in the garden...
Sir Henry Baskerville is bequeathed an eerie estate on the moors which has a legend attached to it of a mysterious hound. At first this is dismissed as nonsense, but when a murder occurs Sir Henry wisely sends for the omniscient Holmes.