TV Review: The Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes

TV Review: The Murder Rooms

Behiind Sherlock Holmes' legend 

By Mark HadleyWednesday 10 Dec 2014TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

Most people don’t look forward to the non-ratings period because of the sort of free to air television that makes it to air when, at least as far as the commercial networks are concerned, nobody is watching.

TV Review: The Murder Rooms

I would be the first to agree that the majority of programs that surface range from the ridiculous to the ho-hum. But, strangely, I find myself looking forward to the December-January doldrums. Amongst the flotsam and jetsam occasionally, just occasionally, something entertaining can be found. Take The Murder Rooms for example…

The Seven Network is as guilty as anyone else of disrespecting the viewer over the holidays. Nick Knowles’ Original Features is yet another home restoration clone out of the United Kingdom; Combat Dealers is at the more crazy end of the scale, making money from people who make money out of ex-military paraphernalia. But Murder Rooms is one of those dramas that might just as easily have made it to prime time in Australia were it not squeezed off the screen by local investments like… Celebrity Splash. Thanks to the holidays, though, you have a chance to catch up on a truly interesting period piece.

Set in Edinburgh of the late 1800s, Murder Rooms makes much of the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, based his master sleuth on the character of his university tutor Dr. Joseph Bell. The five part series begins with Doyle becoming the clerk of the eccentric academic who is pioneering a method of deductive reasoning for the solving of complex crimes. Ian Richardson stars as Dr Bell, a convincing character who is not as foolproof as Holmes but nonetheless entertaining. Doyle fulfils something of a ‘Watson’ roll, following Bell around crime scenes as they strive to capture Scotland’s greatest con-artists and killers.

For mystery buffs missing high watermark series like Holmes, you can’t do better. Murder Rooms is a period piece executed beautifully by BBC Films. The mysteries are fresh, but with just enough of a hint of Holmes to suggest to fans where Doyle might have got his ideas from. And though the series takes historical liberties in regards to the author’s life, it does provide an interesting take on a question which perplexed scientists and philosophers of the Victorian period: where does evil come from? Doyle talks about how his Jesuit school teachers used to try and scare him with the idea of damnation for such petty things as ‘running down the hall with a ball’:

Doyle: “Does evil exist at all?”

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Fellow student: “Certainly it does. Just stand on a high cliff and look down. No death could be worse but still some imp whispers at you to jump. Or you have an important task, time is desperately short, and the same imp will be there whispering delay.”

Doyle, like many viewers today, comes to look on evil as something external acting on our better natures. But Jesus offers a much simpler view. The devil may tempt us, but he’s not omnipresent; he can’t be everywhere at once. Even without him present, we discover that evil is at home within us:

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.”  

It’s going to be great fun watching Bell and Doyle solve their mysteries over the summer break, but we’d do well to remember that solving the problem of evil is not so easy as getting the right people behind bars. Evil is a heart problem we all share, and only Jesus can give us a new one of those.


Rating: M
Distributor: 7 Two
Release Date: Saturdays, 8:30 PM