school of deduction

I’m increasingly in love with John Watson’s poor typing abilities. Not because it’s hilarious to think of Sherlock’s reaction to them and just on their own (though it is), but because of what they say about him and the SH tradition.

See, I’m a second-generation fan of Sherlock Holmes, or if you prefer a third-generation with a generation skipped. My grandmum loved putting on what I call “old school Holmes,” basically any radio and film adaptation from before Granada. I grew up spending a lot of times in her kitchen, baking or doing the dishes or when I got older playing away on my computer with those shows wafting in from the other room. And in some of them Watson comes off okay but in a lot of cases Watson is just the chronicler. There is the great detective with his feats of wit who solves the crime and saves the day, and then there’s his faithful companion who records it all but doesn’t bring much in the way of brains or help at all to the table. He’s often not particularly smart, and to be fair by the later Doyle canon one has to wonder at Watson. The deductions aren’t that hard to predict, especially if you’ve had decades of watching Holmes at work, and there he is pulling his best impression of Arthur Shappey in opening scene after opening scene.

Ritchie and Granada avoid this issue and definitely make Watson a full participant (*hearts Jude Law’s Watson 5ever*), but they also don’t really attack it straight-on that much. It’s just not something that come up.

Whereas the BBC’s John Watson… he’s a bad typist. His blog is painfully out-of-the-box. Seriously - when you find out the Queen reads your blog, maybe it’s time to switch to something other than the default WordPress skin, or even use the fifty pounds you won off Sherlock at Baskerville to get some kid to tweak the CSS file, maybe buy a slightly pithier URL. Maybe update your bio at some point in the last five years. Something. He’s a successful blogger, but I’d hardly call him a good one. And he seems to do this out of compulsion, first from Ella and then because it’s how they get their cases (and also because it gives him a bit of a community to grieve with, when Sherlock “dies.” He doesn’t really want to be writing about Sherlock, certainly not at first, nor is he particularly skilled at it.

Which is really quite brilliant, because it means John’s value isn’t in being a chronicler. He’s still hugely important to Sherlock, but it has almost nothing to do with his gift for recording Sherlock’s exploits. John Watson is good and important for reasons all his own, and it really turns that traditional way of dealing with his character on its head. It’s hard to imagine (say) Peter Cushing talking about the two of us against the rest of the world the way Benedict does, and it’s really quite a glorious change.

So the next time you think of John Watson pecking away at those keys, remind yourself that it’s more than just a gag: that this John Watson isn’t all that good at what a long succession of Watsons have been known for, and he’s still worth having around. (Then think of him deleting a sentence he spent five minutes typing out, hitting the backspace key thirty-seven separate times, and have your laugh anyway.)