Don't feel bad if you have lost count of the number of actors you've seen play Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's astute fictional supersleuth is actually listed in "Guinness World Records" as "the most portrayed movie character" ever, with 75 actors playing the part in more than 211 films.
But there's always room for one more. A new PBS version called "Sherlock" will première on "Masterpiece Mystery!" this Sunday, Oct. 24, with "A Study in Pink" – a retelling of the Holmes classic "A Study in Scarlet" recast in contemporary London. Two more episodes of the contemporary Holmes ("The Blind Banker" and "The Great Game") – starring Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, with Martin Freeman as sidekick Dr. John H. Watson – will air on Oct. 31 and Nov. 7.
It was quite "nerve-racking" to portray a figure as iconic as Holmes, Cumberbatch admitted in an interview. But the new series, he insists, "maintains the integrity of Conan Doyle's original."
Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in 1887 and was featured in four novels and 56 short stories, all but four of which are narrated by Watson.
Holmes's popularity was so overwhelming that Conan Doyle finally tired of his own creation and tried to kill him off in "The Final Problem" in 1893. The public could not forget, however, and eventually Conan Doyle brought his protagonist – along with his astute logic and formidable forensic skills – back to life with further adventures.
The tradition of resurrecting Holmes, it seems, goes on and on. Mark Gatiss, cocreator and executive producer of the new "Masterpiece Mystery" series, says that he believes placing Holmes in a contemporary setting was "the right thing to do." He describes himself as a "huge, huge" fan of the fictional detective – even a "zealot," who hopes to pay "homage" to Conan Doyle with his work.
But fans who don't like the new Holmes need not worry, he adds reassuringly. The character, it seems, is simply too popular to be destroyed. "If you don't like this one," says Gatiss, "actually there will be another in five minutes."
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.