10 Times BBC's 'Sherlock' curved away from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes'

January 21, 2017 Anson 3 Comments

Its safe to say BBC's rendition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' caught the audience like no other copy of the classic stories have. Elementary, the American version and the Sherlock Holmes movies are close, but not quite equal a rival.

It's wonderful how much resemblance there is between the book and the show, for instance in the book, John's friend states Sherlock is too scientific, sometimes beating subjects in the dissecting room with a stick to verify how far bruises may be produced after death, and in the TV show we see in his introductory scene, Sherlock whipping the living hell out of a corpse in order to learn how bruises are formed after death.

That being said, there are many, some subtle, some obvious, differences between the TV show and the books. Here are ten from chapter 1, A Study in Scarlet/Pink:

1. Mrs Hudson

Right of the bat, the first episode aired by BBC is titled A Study In Pink, whereas the story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was titled A Study in Scarlet. Close, but not the same (ask your girlfriend who picks out the curtains). In the show, Sherlock names the case so because of the pink attire worn by the murdered woman. The reason in the book is more philosophical, Sherlock states: There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

The first major difference however was the mention of Mrs Hudson in the show. In the book, Sherlock and John merely walk into 221 B Baker Street and decide to move in because of the large number of amenities provided and the meager rent being asked in return. There is mention of a landlady but never by name and with no prominence. In the show however, Sherlock is receiving a handsome discount because of a favour owed by the landlady, Mrs Hudson. It is made known that Mrs Hudson and Sherlock knew each other from a case Sherlock once took.

2. The First Deduction

And then there is the first deduction, one which made us all fall in love with the show's format of portraying deductions as hovering texts on screen. The difference is in the deduction made and the revelation of how it is was made. In the book, Sherlock merely deduces that John Watson served for the military in Afghanistan, whereas in the show Sherlock goes ahead to deduce that John has a brother who worries about him, who is an alcoholic and walked out on his wife, that John is seeing a therapist and has a psychosomatic limp. None of this is mentioned throughout the story in the book.

The deduction piques John's interest in both the book and the show and he often asks Sherlock how he found out. In the book, after having just moved in to 221 B Baker Street, John reads an article in a magazine about deductions and how an observant man can learn a lot by an accurate and systematic observation of all that came his way. He believes it to be rubbish. Sherlock goes on to point that this article was written by him and then reveals how he deduced John's military background, by his stance and skin colour gradient, converting him to a believer.

In the show, the revelation comes later in a cab ride to the first crime scene and although the deduction about John's military background is quite similar, the rest of the deductions in the show are made from Sherlock's observation of John's phone, a commodity not yet invented in the 19th century when the book is timelined.

3. The Ominous Clue: Rache

The next difference, and quite an obvious one I must add, is the gender of the dead body in the first crime scene. In the book, the first corpse Holmes and Watson examine is that of a man, whereas in the show it's a woman. In the book, the word Rache  is sprawled out on a wall in blood, which the police suspect is a message from the murderer. In the show, the word Rache is seen scraped onto the wooden floor panel next to the woman's body just above her left hand, clearly having been written by no one but her using her fingernail.

The most subtly intelligent difference is in the interpretation of the word Rache. In the book, the police come to the conclusion that the murderer was inscribing on the wall, the name Rachel. Holmes later states that it is not pointing at the name Rachel but is in fact the German word for Revenge. He also claims it is a diversion which turns out to be true. In the show, the police assume Rache stands for revenge, a translation from German, but Sherlock claims them wrong and says it stands for Rachel which turns out to be right. The scene is a mirror opposite between the book and the show. Fascinating!

4. The Brother Who Cares Too Much

In the show, we see a short cameo by Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's elder brother. He abducts Watson, with his consent (if that's possible) in order to have a quick word about his brother. In the book however, Mycroft does not make an appearance throughout this case.

5. The Bait

In both the book and the show, the murderer is baited by Sherlock to reveal his existence. The difference is in the decoy used. In the book, the murderer unknowingly leaves behind a gold ring, which we later find out belonged to his lover. Sherlock then places an ad in the newspaper's lost and found section stating he is in possession of a gold ring found at the street outside the house where the murder took place and the owner can come claim it. Surely enough someone shows up for it proving Sherlock's theories about the murder.

In the show, the dead lady's mobile phone is missing which Sherlock presumes has the highest probability of being with the murderer. He sends a text to her number from John's phone and just as predicted, the killer takes the bait. He shows up at a location mentioned in the text. The phone also turns out to be key evidence and the mode with which John finds Sherlock and probably even saves him.

6. The Reason Behind it All

This one is wildly inconsistent: the reason for the murders. In both the book and the show, the murderer is a man and drives a cab, albeit one driven by a horse and the other by an engine. But their reasons for murder are further apart than the fuel used for their cabs.

In the book, the murderer, Jefferson Hope, was in love with a woman, Lucy, who was a Mormon. In compliance with the Mormon rules, she was to marry one of two men belonging to prominent families. But her father would have none of it and planned to escape and marry her off to Jefferson. Jefferson goes on ahead only to realize that Lucy's father was murdered and she was forcefully married. A month after her wedding, she dies. This drives Jefferson into a fit of vindictive rage and he chases after the two men who solicited Lucy's hand in marriage. In the book, the murders are of these men, and the reason is Rache, revenge.

In the show, the murderer is doing it for a reason altogether different and mercilessly inhuman, although the rooted cause seems to be the same, love. He is suffering from a terminal illness and a 'sponsor' promises to give him money for every life he takes. In an attempt to leave his kids behind money, he agrees and embarks on this murderous spree, killing anyone unlucky enough to hail his taxi.

7. The Catch

In both the book and the show, Sherlock nabs the cab driver. But in the book, Sherlock already knows who the killer is and tricks the cab driver to come to him with the false pretense of needing a ride.

In the show, the cab driver shows up at Sherlock's apartment himself, in an attempt to leverage Sherlock's need for answers and make him play his deadly game of 'pick the pill'. We later realize he was tipped of by Moriarty to make Sherlock his next victim.

8. Moriarty

Although he is a prominent figure in many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, he plays no part in this particular crime in the book. In the show however Moriarty has a significant role.

In the book, the murderer is driven by vendetta alone. In the show, the murderer is just a puppet. The strings are in the hands of James Moriarty. He promises to sponsor money to the cabby's kids for every person he manages to kill.

9. The Motivating Disease

In both, the book and the show, the murderous cabby is suffering from a fatal disease. The difference is, in the book he is suffering form an aortic aneurysm whereas in the show it is a brain aneurysm. A very small difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Another difference we see is in the book, the man's disease is not a reason for his crime, but in the show it is a heavily weighing factor.

10. The Two Pills

We see the cause of death in the book and the show as poison. In both, the murderer carries two pills, one infused with a deadly poison and one completely safe. They offer their victims the choice of picking one and swallowing it, while the murderer swallows the other. And then it is left to fate.

The difference is in the reason for picking this mode of killing. In the book, Jefferson Hope believes in God and that a higher power will, in all its justice, force the wrong doer to pick the poisonous pill. In the show, it is more of a game. The murderer believes he is a genius and can play the victim through a series of mind games to pick the poisonous pill. He seems to enjoy his cleverly invented riddle.

So there you have it. 10 differences I spotted between the first episode of BBC's Sherlock: A Study in Pink and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first short story Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet. Next we will spot differences in episode 2, stay tuned.

All references to the short stories are taken from the book The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and from the online manuscripts at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com. All references to the show are taken from the episodes aired by BBC and from the online transcript at http://arianedevere.livejournal.com


  1. Brilliant. Absolutely loved it.

  2. You're welcome. I only speak the truth! I'm a Sherlockian myself :)