Long before Benedict Cumberbatch was a twinkle in anybody’s eye, the BBC was making a Sherlock Holmes series with a screen star who was no stranger to 221B Baker Street. Buying the rights to adapt at least five stories, the BBC had started their series in 1965. After the original BBC Holmes, Douglas Wilmer, declined to make another series, they went looking for a new Sherlock and eventually found him in Peter Cushing. He’d played Sherlock Holmes in 1959, in the Hammer adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and was more than keen to play the role again.
There was hardly any time to rehearse, and just about enough time to film each episode. Watching each episode is like watching an am-dram group who have only been able to meet up once a week. It’s not the most naturalistic of performances. And it’s a pity for Peter Cushing, who was a huge fan of Holmes. While working on the Hammer film, he edited his lines to include dialogue from the novels and covered his script in drawings. Here, however, the emphasis was less on capturing the correct performance and more on just remembering his lines. Yes, he looks the part – all aquiline features and haughty expression – but his heart just isn’t in it.
The episodes themselves, leaving aside the performances, aren’t great. The scripts range wildly in quality, and the sets look like jumble sales. The costumes are occasionally so brightly coloured that it hurts (it’s like they used the same costumes from the black and white earlier series, and failed to take colour television into account). And the incidental music is so out of place it feels like it’s not even part of the series – you start looking around the room to see if you’ve accidentally left something playing, but no, it’s just some random music on screen which bears no relation to the plot or the mood. About the only distinction this series has is the fact that it was the first version of Hound of the Baskervilles to actually film on Dartmoor. That’s not enough to save it.
Basically, this is not a good adaptation. If you want to see Peter Cushing in action as Sherlock Holmes, go for the Hammer version, which might have a comical mask on the dog, but does benefit from Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. Steer clear of this series unless you’re a completist.