Where The Hell Did Sherlock Holmes Go?

a collection of cut out images of different actors playing sherlock holmes

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As a child of the ’00s and early ’10s, I grew up with a smorgasbord of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. But lately, we seem to be seeing less and less of the iconic detective.

Between 2000 and 2018 there was, what I like to call, the Holmesian Boom: the perfect storm of 2010s Geek Culture and the original Sherlock Holmes stories leaving copyright and entering the Public Domain. The Holmesian Boom of the ’00s included hospital drama House MD, Cartoon Network’s Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, HBO Japan’s Miss Sherlock, Elementary on CBS starring Lucy Liu, the BBC’s modern Sherlock series, and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film duology starring Jude Law as Doctor Watson and Robert Downey Jr as the titular detective. And these are just some of the main players.

Remembering The Holmesian Boom

So many adaptations of Holmes have crept into the mainstream across the past two decades, and creatives’ attempts to modernise the myth of Sherlock Holmes have seen the classic characters reimagined with more modern ideas and identities that reflect more current lived experiences.

House MD, Elementary, and BBC Sherlock adapted the classic character’s love of smoking as a struggle with addiction. CBS’s Elementary series also played around with race and gender-bending — famously starring icon Lucy Liu as Doctor Watson and Game of Thrones’s Natalie Dormer as Jamie Moriarty, a woman version of Holmes’s classic nemeses.

The only on-screen media featuring a woman Sherlock Holmes during the Holmesian Boom was Miss Sherlock, which imagined Sherlock as a woman in modern-day Tokyo. It was also the first on-screen adaptation where Holmes was portrayed by a woman of colour. Airing in 2018, the series got plenty of fun reviews. But it was sadly left to a single season after the lead actress, Yuko Takeuchi, died in 2020. Miss Sherlock was the last addition to the Holmesian Boom of the late 00s-2010s, defining the era as one that really tried to pull Sherlock Holmes from the Victorian era into the 21st century.

The New Wave Of Sherlock Holmes Adaptations

The new decade has seen a shift away from centring the famed detective — though these stories haven’t moved entirely away from his mythos. Series like The Irregulars on Netflix, the Enola Holmes films, and anime series like Moriarty the Patriot, not only explore the Holmes archetypes in more diverse ways, but even relegate Sherlock Holmes to a supporting role.

Netfix’s Enola Holmes films star Millie Bobby-Brown as the titular little sister of Holmes. But Enola herself is essentially a version of the famous detective as a teenage girl in Victorian-era London. The films also feature Moriarty as a young brilliant Black woman forced to hide her intellect and manipulate things from the shadows. Meanwhile, Henry Cavil takes on the supporting role of Holmes himself, only sparingly appearing to assist Enola in her investigations.

Netflix’s other, far less popular attempt at remaking Holmes was 2021’s The Irregulars. The cancelled series saw a drugged-up Sherlock take a backseat to the brilliant street urchin protagonist, Bea. Bea and her network of fellow street urchins (Holmes’ ‘Baker Street Irregulars’ in the original stories) solve the crimes famously credited to the detective. Oh, and there were ghosts and monsters for some reason? Anyway, between The Irregulars, Enola Holmes, and even Elementary, we seem to be stuck in the limbo between a desire for a truly new kind of Sherlock Holmes, and actually being okay with letting the traditional white male upper crust idea of Sherlock Holmes go.

Whatever the reasons, it’d be easy to conclude that the Sherlock Holmes figure has been slowly disappearing, even replaced – though I don’t think he has really gone anywhere. The enduring pop cultural love for the self-made eccentric detective figure that Holmes made so famous will never go away. His most adored traits are constantly reimagined in weird, wonderful, new characters. A little piece of Holmes is in Knives Out’s Benoit Blanc, Poker Face’s Charlie Cale, A Murder At The End Of The World’s Darby Hart, or even in the beloved intergenerational mystery-loving besties of Only Murders in the Building.

In an interview, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said of his iconic detective, “I am rather tired of Sherlock Holmes. I expect the public is too.” Despite Doyle’s best efforts to retire the character, Holmes has achieved an immortality that probably has his creator rolling in his grave. As long as there are mysteries that the authorities fail to solve, Sherlock Holmes, or a character who wouldn’t exist without him, will always be close at hand.

Sherlock Holmes is dead, long live Sherlock Holmes!