The Many Watsons – Martin Freeman

Freeman & Cumberbatch

I kept from writing this one up until the week before the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate even though I know that my words may be used against me on the 10th of November. Someone was bound to move Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the 21st Century and Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have done it superbly! There, I said it!

The BBC TV shows have taken Holmes and Watson and placed them into 2011 not with some stilted and artificial cookie cutter approach, but by truly melding them into the current day. The spirit of Doyle is alive in the persons of Holmes and Watson. Cumberbatch is the essential thinking machine and Watson is a man of action and feeling. Even Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson is perfect.

Modern day technology is not neglected in the transformation of the centuries but integrated into the story. The cell phone and the computer are used but don’t replace the thinking machine and the stalwart fellow. Deductions once made on Watson’s watch are now made on the condition of his cell phone and numerous sequences from the canon are
seamlessly integrated into the story lines. The Hansom cab is replaced by the taxi cab but ‘the game is still afoot”. (Well the new Sherlock says “the game is on”, but we know what he meant!) I was a bit disappointed in the line taken with Watson as the sufferer of PTSD. I can’t imagine the fine fellow with shell shock. All who have been there know some can compartmentalize and some can’t. The Watson of the Second Afghan War could, why not the new Watson? Of course his association with Holmes helps him though the disorder and the show overall confirms what you always knew about Watson…He’s an adrenaline junkie. Fifteen minutes into the first show Watson is over his problems, so why have that
problem at all? I know, in the original stories there is the conflicting data about where Watson was wounded (shoulder or leg) so why not give him a real wound in the shoulder and a phantom one in the leg, but it just doesn’t play with what we know about Watson. Besides, it they had read Watson’s Afghan Adventure, they’d know the real answer to the

There are other interesting little quirks to the show. Why is there ill will between Mycroft and Holmes? Will we find out why in a later episode? And rather than write short stories Watson writes a blog, which all of Scotland Yard reads, including Lestrade. (Watson’s therapist suggested it.) I also like the fact that Watson wears a shooting jacket all the
time. Hunting for answers? Interesting.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are the perfect team for the new Holmes and Watson of the 21st century.

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman was born 8 September 1971 and has already had a career that would be the envy of any actor. He is the youngest of five children. He and his wife, actress Amanda Abbington have appeared together in numerous films. He has two children, a son named Joe and a daughter named Grace. He has a TV and movie career that dates back to 1997 with 58 rolls to his credit. The new Sherlock series is to be released in January 2012 and he has five other projects underway that are in different points of production. These projects include two Hobbit movies. One of my favorite films was the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Freeman was brought up as a Roman Catholic and educated in Catholic Schools. He also attended Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Besides TV and movies he has an impressive list of credits in theater and radio. He is at home doing comedy (for which he is probably better known: The Office, etc.) as he is doing serious drama. He has accomplished something that has been denied to Jeremy Brett, he won a BAFTA for his role in a Holmes story, as Dr. Watson in A Study in Pink. He is also a big fan of Motown music.

I hope he and Cumberbatch have a long and successful career as the modern day Holmes and Watson.

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11 Responses to The Many Watsons – Martin Freeman

  1. k.wagner says:

    Nice article. Your blog is incredible.

    I was just wondering, I mean I assumed that John’s PTSD was as wrongly diagnosed that as the reasons for his intermittent tremor and psychosomatic limp… in other words, that he didn’t have it at all, and everything amounted to missing the action and not knowing how to make the same difference with such a skill set as a civilian. (Unless this reaction can also be considered PTSD? I admit to not knowing especially much about it.) So, the fifteen minutes of PTSD, instead of being that, were fifteen minutes of a misdirected diagnosis, when the actual problem was his missing the battlefield. And if that IS Watson’s symptom of PTSD, then his therapist certainly didn’t realize it, which makes it kind of moot. That’s how I read it, at least!

    • Kieran says:

      Very interesting comment, and I would agree with it except (there is always an except) that, if you remember, Holmes concurs with the therapist. “I’m afraid she’s right.” And we KNOW that Holmes is never wrong. I completely agree that the adrenalin rush he gets being involved with Holmes’s mysteries are a replacement for the battlefield and brings Watson out of the doldrums. His new interests give him something to occupy his mind other than brooding on what he experienced in Afghanistan.

      • k.wagner says:

        Thanks for the reply. I’m sure you’re right – the only scene that comes to mind me for me is when he’s discussing the psychosomatic limp specifically, and I took that to mean just that Sherlock was acknowledging that John’s troubles are brought on (at least in part) by the war, but I didn’t make a direct connection to the PTSD diagnosis. However, I’ll be rewatching the episode, and in any case, I have a feeling your interpretation is closer to the mark. I guess maybe I’m adverse to it because then I’d feel the depiction of PTSD is trivializing something that’s very real and very painful for many people. Then again, television is not known for its sensitivity.

      • Kieran says:

        You may be right.It is sometimes hard to know what writers are getting at. I know that I didn’t like the added aspect because it was inconsistant with the character.

      • swanpride says:

        I agree with K.Wagner…when Sherlock says “quite correctly, I’m afraid” he is referring to the limp being psychosomatic, not to PTSD. Mycroft (who is smarter than Sherlock either way) points out that he actually doesn’t have PTSD at all but is instead missing the battlefield. Therefore his sudden recovery makes totally sense – as soon as he is useful again, and gets his share of adventure, he just forgets about his cane.
        Personally, I consider Martin Freeman as the best Watson ever for the simple reason that this adaptation is the first one who really asks (and answers) the question why Watson should put up with Holmes strange habits. I also love that they added the sarcasm which Watson sometimes displays in canon. Plus, Freeman is so incredible good in playing the everyday man. I just needed to hear his sight after the nightmare and I was already routing for him. It’s also nice that the show takes its time to introduce Watson instead of skipping immediately to Sherlock Holmes.

  2. Casey says:

    As I understood it (and I could be very wrong), the writers wanted us to go along with what Mycroft (the smarter brother) said. When he and John were talking about the tremor in his hand, he told him something like:

    “Your therapist thinks the tremor is PTSD. Fire her. She’s got it the wrong way around. You’re under stress right now, and your hand is perfectly steady. You’re not haunted by the war. You miss it.”

    Mycroft also said that when you walk with Sherlock Holmes, you see the battlefield. So going along with Sherlock is helping him cope with being away from the action in Afghanistan.

    Sherlock said the limp was psychosomatic, not that it was necessarily caused by PTSD. Even if he did believe that, this version of him can be wrong sometimes like he was about the gender of John’s sibling. I don’t think PTSD was his diagnosis though since a big part of his reason for the cab chase scene was to get John to realize that once the adrenaline took over and he didn’t feel useless/bored with civilian life the limp would disappear.

    I don’t know either if this would still be considered PTSD or if it even makes sense medically, but I think the writers wanted us to get the sense that John’s depression at the beginning was because he missed the action and could no longer be content with the tediousness of civilian life (hence his nothing happens to me comment).

  3. Valerie says:

    Interesting discussion. I understood the whole PTSD/pyschosomatic leg/John’s depression the same way you did, Casey.

    I’d only add that the therapist never really says particularly that the limp was psychosomatic. Sherlock clearly realised it was, told John and proved that he could overcome it via the cab chase (i.e adrenaline rush by working with Sherlock).

    The conversation with Mycroft was the mention of PTSD because he (likely thorough his connections) had glanced at her notes–he did mention the “trust issues” noted by the therapist. So, he likely knew that she had diagnosed him with PTSD and promptly disagreed after meeting John. My view is that the only reason to mention it was to disprove it and to show that Mycroft had outsmarted conventional therapy. He also sees the adrenaline junkie that John is (as does Sherlock through the cab chase).

    • Kieran says:

      Valerie also makes an interesting comment and I can’t say that it doesn’t seem quite valid. I guess my question at this point is why have that scenario at all? Watson had a real wound (or two). I suspect the writers wanted to make the story more “relevant” to the current times. I guess I let my own outlook color my attitude toward the story, also. The PTSD problem it seems is an assumption these days about soldiers because of the media. Fortunately it is still the exception not the rule. It seems that people confuse natural emotion over a significant event for some type of psychological problem. The two are quite different.

      • swanpride says:

        I think they added it for two reasons. One was naturally the nod to canon. The other one falls along the same line of why Anderson and Donovan call Sherlock a psychopath, and he himself a sociopath. He naturally is neither, but in out modern times, we have developed a tendency to analyse everyone who is somehow different as abnormal, and the series comments on this (quite cleverly imho). A child which has trouble to stay still? This has to be an disorder! A soldier has trouble to adjust to civilian live? PTSD! Not saying that those disorders not exist, but sometimes people are just different and don’t need to be “cured” of anything. In John’s case, he doesn’t need a cure, he just needs to feel useful. And in Sherlock’s case, he doesn’t have to be diagnosed as anything, he is just different.

      • Kieran says:

        Thanks for chiming in.

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