'Murder Rooms: Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes'
(Ian Richardson, Charles Edwards (VI), et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / (2000) 2006 / MPI Home Video)
Overview: 'Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes' tells the story of the relationship between the young Arthur Conan Doyle (Charles Edwards, Batman Begins) and his real-life mentor and a noted forensics scientist, Dr. Joseph Bell (Ian Richardson, From Hell), as they unite to solve the most baffling murder cases in Edinburgh in the late 1800s.
DVD Verdict: "Murder Rooms" consists of five episodes, starring Ian Richardson as Dr. Joseph Bell, the historical personage on whom Arthur Conan Doyle allegedly based Sherlock Holmes; with Dr. Watson based on Doyle himself. The 116-minute first episode ("Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle, The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes") was a BBC series pilot released in January 2000. In "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle...," Robin Laing starred as the young Doyle in medical school. This pilot has been available in NTSC for two years and IS NOT INCLUDED IN THIS PACKAGE. In the remaining four 90-minute episodes comprising this set (on BBC in September-October 2001), episode chronology begins three years later, Charles Edwards assuming Laing's role as the young, idealistic but adult Doyle with his own medical practice. FOR BEST APPRECIATION, ONE MUST TREAT THIS SERIES AS AN INTEGRATED FIVE-PART, EIGHT-HOUR MINISERIES, beginning with the pilot "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle..." setting the backdrop against which the other four, described IN ORDER below, play out. Missing "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle...," this reviewer STRONGLY RECOMMENDS you purchase this set now and set it aside until that pilot can be seen. In "The Patient's Eyes," a black-shrouded cyclist repeatedly stalks a lady patient cycling to Dr. Doyle eye appointments through eerie wooded terrain, leading to a mysterious abandoned house, love-interest conflicts, betrayal, and murder. (There are striking scene similarities to "The Solitary Cyclist.") In "The Photographer's Chair," a series of murder victim corpses bearing strange marks lead to mesmerism, spiritualism, séances, apparitions, erotic mutilation, daguerreotype photography, and genuinely chilling moments. In "The Kingdom of Bones," the publicized spectacle of unwrapping an apparent Egyptian mummy for scientific study yields highly unexpected results leading to suicide, dinosaur bones, gypsies, kidnapping, attempted murder, multiple murders, and political terrorism. And in "The White Knight Stratagem," Doyle and Bell come to a near falling-out involving a Dickensian business climate leading to suicide and murder; with a curious chess enigma hovering over everything. This last episode concludes the miniseries and should be viewed last. These adaptations get this reviewer's highest commendation, being at least the equal (or better?) of the David Suchet / Jeremy Brett adaptations in their prime. The general tone is exceedingly dark, uncompromising, and far more menacing than the light-hearted Poirot-Holmes adaptations. (The atmospherics remind this reviewer of that excellent film "From Hell.") Excepting as discussed below, nothing in these episodes is short of first-class: plots, incredible principal and supporting cast, direction, cinematography depicting 1880s Victorian Edinburgh, hauntingly mysterious musical score, period mood, and the appallingly brutal times with modern medicine in infancy. Sound is fine; extraneous background noise is nil; diction is clear with no accent barriers. This is a Full Screen presentation (1.78:1), but does not come with any Special Features.