Life is infinitely more pleasurable when there are people in it who care about you. That is ultimately the hidden meaning in Murder Rooms, the subtle emphasis that lies just under the surface, and even pervades many of the scripts. In the downtrodden streets, among forgotten photographers, abused prostitutes, and melancholic museum curators, is a desperate need to be cared about by another human being. Souls cry out for it, for a friend, for a hand in the darkness to pull them into the light, for someone, anyone, to care. And it echoes most strongly in Doyle, the lead protagonist; a struggling but compassionate young doctor reeling from feelings of inadequacy, through the forced abandonment of his father into a mental institution. The guilt, and the misery of seeing his father thus, eats Doyle up inside, leaving him alone in his sadness and desperately in need of guidance. And then, miraculously, through his own sharp tongue and moral outrage at others who dismiss the plight of those weaker than themselves, he finds Dr. Bell. Imagine, the glory of it. An opinionated, indignant, even angry young medical student, who catches the compassionate, guiding attention of one of Edinburgh’s most respected professors. Continue reading
Growing up, my favorite fictional hero was Sherlock Holmes. The creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and one of the most revered literary figures in history, he set the standard for all detectives to come. Most are familiar with Holmes but some do not know of his remarkable source of inspiration: Dr. Joseph Bell, a renowned physician, professor, editor, and writer famed for his deductive reasoning and his skills as an early forensic pathologist. Conan Doyle studied medicine under him in Edinburgh and was so impressed by his ability to observe minute details about a person’s appearance and deduce information from it that he forever embodied him into the immortal character of Sherlock Holmes. Continue reading
Have you ever met someone that you felt both in and out of step with, at the same time? Like you were so similar in many ways, yet very different at the same time? You might find an unusual kind of synchronization with such a person, once the initial surprise at your differences wore off. You might even become friends.
The relationship of Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle in Murder Rooms illustrates how radically different the cognitive functions of personality type theory can behave when in a different order. Bell and Doyle are both “Alpha” types, in that they use Introverted Thinking (Ti), Extroverted Feeling (Fe), Introverted Sensing (Si) and Extroverted Intuition (Ne), but the way these functions are aligned makes them very different individuals. Continue reading
This guest post about the Murder Rooms novelizations was written by the moderator of The Dark Beginnings. Frequent that tumblr all week for fun stuff!
When you turn a gaslight down a trifle, the shadows around you grow longer and blacker; then turn the light down more, until the flame is about the length of your fingernail, and these shadows begin to tremble, mingling with the surrounding darkness. This is how I would describe the change made to Murder Rooms when it was turned from a TV miniseries into a book trilogy. The book universe is an AU of the original production with all the lights turned down – a vividly Gothic work, its humour blacker, its descriptive language more genre conventional (cue epic thunderstorms every five minutes or so), its characters moodier and more mysterious, the central conflict more well-defined.
Now perhaps I should include in this review a short introduction to the series is a whole. In 2001, BBC produced a show describing the (largely fictional) adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his university teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell. The real-life Dr. Bell was quite the intriguing figure – not only did he possess the powers of observation that inspired Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes, but he also assisted the police on actual forensic investigations, which may or may not have included the Jack the Ripper case. A screenwriter of Murder Rooms, David Pirie, then went on to write a novelization of the series, which, however, turned out to be very different from its TV counterpart as well as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I will therefore be writing about the book version of Murder Rooms and not about the TV series – though I will throw in a few comparisons where appropriate. Continue reading
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was just crazy about Sherlock Holmes. She became so obsessed after reading the short stories and novels that she set out to watch every adaptation ever made of the famous detective, and sat in judgment of them all based on how they measured up to her Sherlock Holmes. Some were too fat, too manic, too rude, or too broad to fit her ideal, but one actor, she made an exception for because he was so charming in the role: Ian Richardson.
His two adaptations (The Sign of Four, and The Hound of the Baskervilles) were absurd, campy, ridiculous, melodramatic 80’s films, but despite Ian being too short for the role, she loved him very much because of the charm, wit, and good-natured playfulness that he brought to the role. Continue reading
I admit, I did not grow up with a fondness for Lewis Carol’s books. They were interesting but largely nonsensical, a random sequence of events thrown together for the amusement of children. But I have a weakness for Tim Burton, so I approached the film with interest, knowing he would put his own particular creative stamp on it. Many people hate this movie, and I can see why, but I like it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the question of, “Was it all a dream?”
We assume that it wasn’t, that Underland is a real place, that Alice is quite “sane,” and that all of these events truly happened to her; but the fact that so many of them symbolically parallel aspects of real life and explore her psyche suggest that it’s not unreasonable to consider the fact that Underland and her adventures there are her mind trying to deal with difficult questions in reality, as a form of escapism. It is not insanity, but Alice reasoning things out in her imagination.
Alice, like many Tim Burton characters, is at a crossroads in her life; she stands between adolescence and adulthood and must choose one. The prospect of marriage, because it is the sensible thing to do and what is “done” (“everyone expects it,” she says halfheartedly), looms before her… a bit like a Jabberw0ky that must be slain in order for her to find what she truly wants. Her tyrannical potential mother in law bears more than a passing resemblance to the psychotic Red Queen, in terms of her general dislike for anything being out of order or control, not how she likes it, and distaste for innocent life (“I hate rabbits,” she says; “I like setting the dogs on them”). It is a bit like OFF WITH THEIR HEADS, is it not?
The absurd and rather stupid twin boys that turn up in Underland reflect Alice’s contempt for a pair of giggling, silly, slightly malicious twin girls in reality. The sense of urgency throughout her Underland adventure, as a certain day whose events are foretold looms before her with everyone’s expectations resting on her shoulders, is a reminder that “time is running out” for her to be a child, and that the day everyone expects is soon to arrive… the day she grows up, gets married, and fulfills their expectations. Alice is in an emotional crisis, uncertain of who she is and what she wants. She is cowed at first around all of these people, who dismiss her whimsical, imaginative nature as being preoccupied with nonsense, when all she does is be amused at others’ antics and think about what it might be like to fly. She has, as the Hatter puts it, “lost her muchness.”
But what IS her “Muchness”? It is Alice. Her sense of self. Her knowledge of what she wants. Her proving to herself through slaying the Jabberw0ky that she is strong and capable enough to turn her back on what is “expected” of her, and become the person she wants to be… to partner in her father’s business, to carry his vision on and even expand on it, to make her own decisions and be her own person. Absolem, the caterpillar, stitches himself neatly into a cocoon toward the end of the story while telling her to, in a sense, grow up and face her responsibilities; what follows, in the fight to the death with the Jabberw0ky, is Alice breaking out of her cocoon, out of a period of intense introspection, self-analysis, and doubt, to stretch her proverbial wings and finally claim for herself what she wants most: the freedom to be herself, to be an adult but still hold to her powerful imagination and sense of wonder. Absolem, now a blue butterfly, turns up at the end, to fly ahead of her into the unknown as she embarks on a much greater adventure – life, to symbolize that Alice is now a butterfly.
The film is full of delightful Tim Burton signatures (curly trees, absurd situations, and all) and has his usual whimsical charm, but superficial as it may seem at first glance, a story more style than substance, it’s actually a journey of self-discovery, full of metaphors about the human existence and the transition from childhood into adulthood. And perhaps that is why I like it, because underneath the seriousness with which I view life, there’s a hint of Alice in me too.
Murder Rooms Blog Party: Oct 26th-Nov 1st
I’m co-hosting this with The Dark Beginnings.
We’re inviting any Murder Room fans to join us for reviews of the books, episodic reviews, collective thoughts on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell, and so on.
If you have never heard of it, this will be a great introduction for you to a tragically short-lived but brilliant BBC murder mystery series. It follows the fictional antics of Doyle in his real-life friendship with Dr. Bell, who inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes. The mysteries are creative, blending familiar elements from Doyle’s short stories into unusual settings, with a sense of humor, irony, and depth that is rare in detective stories.
We invite you to participate (please do!) in whatever way strikes your fancy, to spread the word if you can, and to follow our posts.
If you intend to participate, please let me know so that I can track down and share your blog post on tumblr when it goes live.
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