Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Sign Of Three: To Love, Honour & Obey

'Marriage changes you as a person in ways you can't imagine.' 'As does a lethal injection.'
It's something of an oddity, dear blog reader, that yer actual Arthur Conan Doyle's 1890 novel The Sign Of Four isn't more widely known or appreciated by the general public. Next to The Hound of The Baskervilles and A Study In Scarlet (or, even some of the more famous short stories in Doyle's canon - The Dancing Men, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of The Speckled Band, The Bruce-Partington Plans, The Final Problem, et cetera) it's one of those Sherlock Holmes tales which lots of people know the title of but then tend to think about for a moment, look a bit blank, and ask 'The Sign Of Four ... Which one was that again?' This is especially odd because, not only is it one of the very best Holmes stories (albeit, it suffers from the same problem as A Study In Scarlet in having a sodding great flashback central to it), but it's also a really important building block in the development of the characters of Holmes and Doctor Watson. Particularly in the case of the latter as it is in this story in which John meets the future Mrs Watson, Mary Morstan.
Conan Doyle, many years later, described how he was commissioned to write the story over a dinner with the colourful Joseph M Stoddart, the managing editor of Lippincott's Monthly magazine, at the Langham Hotel in London on 30 August 1889. Stoddart wanted to produce an British version of the American publication with a locally-based editor and contributors. The dinner was also attended by Oscar Wilde, who eventually contributed The Picture Of Dorian Gray to the July 1890 issue. Doyle discussed what he called this 'golden evening' in his 1924 autobiography Memories And Adventures. His subsequent story was brilliantly intriguing: Heiress Mary Morstan comes to Baker Street with not one but two puzzles for Sherlock Holmes. The first is the disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan, a decade ago. The second is that she has received six pearls in the mail from an anonymous benefactor once a year for the past six years, ever since she answered an anonymous newspaper small ad inquiring of her whereabouts. With the last pearl she received a letter remarking that she has been 'a wronged woman.' Holmes, of course, takes the case and soon discovers that Major Sholto - Captain Morstan's friend who had denied to Mary seeing Morstan after he disappeared - had died in 1882 and that within a short span of time Mary began to receive the pearls, implying a connection. The only clue Mary can give Holmes is a map of a fortress which, she presumes, comes from a time when her father served in India, and a list names: Jonathan Small and three Sikhs - Dost Akbar, Abdullah Khan, Mahomet Singh. It first appeared in the February 1890 edition of Lippincott's Monthly under the title The Sign Of The Four. The British edition of the magazine originally sold for a shilling, and the American version for twenty five cents. Surviving copies are now worth several thousand smackers on eBay. Over the following few months, the novel was re-published in several regional British journals. These re-serialisations usually gave the title as The Sign Of Four, the name under which the story has become popularly known. The actual text in the novel nearly always uses 'the sign of the four' to describe the titular symbol in the story, although the four-word form is used, twice, by the protagonist Jonathan Small in his narrative at the climax.
As with the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study In Scarlet, produced two years previously, The Sign Of Four was not particularly successful in its initial run. It was Conan Doyle's short stories, beginning with A Scandal In Bohemia, published from 1891 onwards in the Strand magazine, which made household names of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and their creator.
'Either I've caught you in a compromising position, or you're working out again. I favour the latter.' Like The Sign Of Four, its Sherlock counterpart, The Sign Of Three, is told primarily in flashback with the core of the action taking place during the six month period between the climax of The Empty Hearse and John Watson's wedding day. Apart from the use of a couple of character names, there's very little of The Sign Of Four in it, of course. The bulk of the episode is, in fact, one - extremely long - monologue: Sherlock Holmes's one-of-a-kind best man speech which is cunningly interwoven around a series of extended, occasionally interconnected, flashbacks. These form the spine of the narrative, dipping in and out of a critical part of Mr and Mrs Watson's happy day through a complicated, but fascinatingly realised structure which leads the characters, and indeed the audience, to some very unexpected locations. The hollow client, for instance. A dwarf with a blowpipe (yes, that bit is from The Sign Of Four, admittedly). A Pulp Fiction reference. And, best of all, 'the elephant in the room'! Even an hour after it was alluded to, dear  blog reader, this blogger was still chuckling about the elephant in the room.
Possibly more than any previous episode of Sherlock, this is one which will require repeated viewing to fully appreciate the complex, intricate, interwoven nature of the events depicted. And, all the jokes. And it's one that will probably find a few miserable fuckers whinging about it. Oh yes, there's gong to be a shit storm on Twitter and Facebook about this one, dear blog reader, of that you can be certain. But, and this is really important, this blogger thought it was great. And he, also, thinks that anyone who didn't think it was great is bloody stupid. Not just a little bit stupid either, but what-little-brains-they-have-dribbling-out-of-their-ears stupid. Then again, there are, of course, also people who believe NASA faked the moon landings and the world is run by giants lizards. They're also quite vocal on the Internet, I've noticed. And, they're also worth ignoring. This blogger was asked, shortly after The Sign of Three ended - and by someone who hadn't, actually, seen it yet, merely 'read about it on Twitter' - whether yer actual Keith Telly Topping was 'expecting a backlash.' Yes, he is. The reason is, as noted, that some people are stupid (and they have access to Twitter and Facebook as well which makes them doubly dangerous). And, I don't want to talk to them. I'm sick of the negativity of chunks of TV fandom. I'm sick of people who suck all of the joy and goodness out of life with a sneering, 'I could do better than that' disdain for anything and everything. Particularly stuff I life. So, yes, damned right I'm 'expecting a backlash.' From the usual suspects. And, they can do it on their own page(s) to their hearts content. It is, after all, a free country. But, they're not going to do it on mine. This is not open for debate. So ... here's the backlash to the backlash, if you like. The big day for John and Mary is, ultimately, also a big day for Sherlock, when he gives a best man's speech that is, after a shaky start, surprising, touching, dramatic and very very funny (Cumberbatch is a natural comedian when given the material to work with) but also acts as the nexus of the entire episode: a clever structural scaffolding holding everything in place which will probably be even more impressive on a subsequent viewings. And, unless you're a joyness naysaying tosser - and, let's face it, there are plenty of those around, dear blog reader - you will want to watch this episode again (and again, and again) just to chuckle at the parade of almost-but-not-quite cases. And, the elephant in the room. The script is credited to all three of the series' writers for the first time. Beside Moffat and Gatiss's contributions, this blogger would hazard a guess that the bulk of the episode comes from the word-processor of Steve Thompson with elements of his style evident throughout the narrative. If The Empty Hearse fashioned Sherlock Holmes as an almost indestructible idealised vision of the hero, a quasi-mythical living legend, then The Sign Of Three reminds the viewer that there is, very definitely a (brilliant, if sometimes flawed) man and – more improbably – a man with a heart, beneath the deerstalker and the great coat. As has been noted, the episode is also, essentially, 'a love letter to John Watson.'
'What if John asks Sherlock to be his best man? He'll have to make a speech. In front of people. There'll be actual people there, actually listening.' 'What's the worst that could happen?' Following The Empty Hearse, the characterisation emphasis remains on the relationship between the two central characters. There is, however, a truly delightful interplay with and between the supporting cast, as well as a genuine further deepening of the friendship between John and Sherlock. The events of Sherlock's return from the dead in The Empty Hearse have, seemingly, strengthened the solid bond between them. While viewers have become used to the idea of Doyle's characters living in the modern day, The Sign Of Three is - in essence - the first time that we see Sherlock and John fully concreted into the context of Twenty First Century social and popular culture. With many surprising and amusing results. It is, easily, the funniest Sherlock episode to date - John's stag night, in particular, being wee-in-yer-own-pants funny from start to finish (especially 'what a couple of lightweights, you couldn't even make it to closing time'). 'Of course there's hours of material here but I've cut it down to the really good bits!' And, there's Sherlock's conversation with Molly about her boyfriend - 'How's ... Tom?' 'Not a sociopath', 'Still? Good.' 'And, we're having quite a lot of sex' - which is worth the price of entry on its own.
'The game is on. Solve it!' The Sign Of Three is visually stunning, featuring fluid, pacey direction from Colm McCarthy. The entire episode is packed with stand-out moments, including the clever use of split-screen editing and a dramatically different visualisation for some of Sherlock's deductions, the first significant change in the series' stock visual format since it was established by Paul McGuigan in the first episode: I doubt, when McGuigan first through up the on-screen text idea that anyone ever throught, one day, we'd be told that Sherlock is thinking: 'Egg? Chair? Sitty thing???' There's also Sally Donovan's constantly changing haircuts and Lestrade kicking his car in frustration at one point and, let's face it, that's always funny.
And, of course, the dialogue is as great as ever: 'You didn't go to any trouble, did you?' And: 'Your mother has a lot to answer for.' 'I know. I have a list. Mycroft has a file.' And: 'They're right about you, you're a bloody psychopath.' 'High-functioning sociopath. With your number.' And: 'Grown-ups like that sort of thing.' 'Why?' 'I don't know, I'll ask one.' And: 'Can I keep you?' 'Do you like solving crimes?' 'Do you have a vacancy?' And: 'It later transpired that I'd said none of this out loud.' And: 'Lets stick her by the bogs!' And: 'You're a detective, broadly speaking, what's your theory?' And: 'A meat dagger? No.' And: 'This blog is the story of two men and their, frankly ridiculous, adventures!' And: 'You are not a puzzle-solver, you never have been. You're a drama queen.' And: 'Do you always carry handcuffs?' And: 'You're already the best parents in the world, look at all the practice you've had!' And, many, many more.
'There should always be a spectre at the feast.' This is the warmest, wittiest, more interestingly structured episode of Sherlock certainly since A Scandal In Belgravia and, possibly, ever. Take Sherlock's flirty and nuanced conversations with Janine the lovely Irish bridesmaid, for example. Or his - really rather touching, if a bit disturbing - relationship with Archie the page boy. 'Get this right and there's a headless nun in it for you!' Plus, the description of Mrs Hudson laughing: 'Sounds like she was torturing an owl.' And Mycroft on the treadmill. Hilarious. And, the eye floating in the tea. That was hilarious and gross.
Then there's Mrs Hudson telling John far more than he bargains for about her murdering, drug cartel-running smugbag of a late husband, Frank. And, wholly unexpectedly, The Woman turns up. Very briefly. And, she's not wearing much, again. ('Out of my head, I'm busy!') There was a massive dollop of continuity references plastered across the episode (everything from Harry Watson's drinking to Sherlock's faking his own death). And who could fail to love Sherlock's memories of Billy Kincade, someone whom he claims was the best man he ever knew? 'Yes, every and again there'd be some garrottings but stacking up the lives saved against the garrottings ...' The Sign Of Three sees the series continuing the tentative moves made in The Empty Hearse and venturing into broader comic strokes whilst, simultaneously, playing with far more intense and emotional themes than previously. The friendship between Sherlock and John is - clearly - at the forefront of this and Sherlock's reactions to the changes in John's life - both openly and, in secret - give the story a rather subtle, very powerful and quite moving edge to it. Not what you might have been expecting whilst still giggling at the elephant in the room. You really will be joining Mrs Hudson and Molly in reaching for the hanky during Sherlock's best man speech when he, finally, gets it absolutely right. It's the Sherlock equivalent of the Gettysburg address: 'The point I'm trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and obnoxious arsehole that anyone could  possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So if I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man it's because I never expected to be anybody's best friend. Certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing. John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship, but as I'm your best friend unfortunately I cannot congratulate you on your choice of companion ... Actually, now, I can. Mary, when I say you deserve this man it is the highest compliment of which I am capable. John, you have endured war and injury and tragic loss ... so sorry, again, about that last one! So know this, today you sit between the woman you have made you life and the man you have saved.' Mind you, this was after a few not so successful attempts, admittedly. 'And, the other one is ... a complete dickhead!' Even The Four Seasons on the soundtrack works.
And, I've mentioned the elephant in the room, haven't I? Come on, it was so daft, so utterly preposterous that it deserved to be applauded. But, despite all the lightness and the funny bits which marble the episode (and the elephant in the room), the closing revelation manages to cast a shadow of dread across the series finale, His Last Vow. 'Who leaves a wedding early? So sad.' Oh dear. Someone's not long for this world, I fear. Possibly, a couple of someones. 'Sorry. Off piste a bit. Back now! Phew!'
Tom Daley's Z-List Celebrity Drowning returned to ITV with 4.76 million sad, crushed victims of society, according to overnight data. A variety of non-entities and never-weres desperate to get their face (and, more) on television including Michaela Strachan, Gemma Merna, Gemma Collins, Perri Kiely and Ricky Groves took to the pool - and filled it with stinking diarrhoea - for the competition's first heat, with a twenty per cent share of the avilable audience from 7.20pm. The show's second series began with less overnight viewers than last year's 5.49 million debut. Pointless Celebrities partially dented the return of Z-List Celebrity Drowning, as actors from the likes of Grange Hill and Waterloo Road took part in a school-themed edition, attracting 5.87 million viewers from 7pm to 7.45pm. BBC1 also led the evening with Celebrity Mastermind at 6.30pm (four million) and The National Lottery: Who Dares Wins from 7:45pm (4.78 million). The channel topped its schedule off with Catherine Tate's Nan, which took in 4.3 million. Meanwhile, ITV's most watched programme of the night was their coverage of The Arse and Stottingtot Hotshot's FA Cup match. Coverage between 4.45pm and 7.15pm drew 5.11 million. Risible, odious Take Me Out presented by gurning Northern buffoon Paddy McGuinness was watched by 4.17 million. The late, and much lamented Dave Allen filled the BBC2 schedule, with a new compilation of the comedian's funniest moments, Dave Allen: The Immaculate Selection, taking the biggest audience share for the channel. Some 2.87 million punters tuned in from 10pm, while 2.75 million watched a repeat of the 2012 documentary Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian an hour earlier. On Channel Four, 2010's Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, took in 1.28 million. The channel also served five back-to-back repeats of Come Dine With Me, with one episode at 5:30pm peaking with 1.7 million. Secrets Of The Terracotta Warriors: Secret History attracted an average of 1.05 million viewers. Meanwhile, Celebrity Big Brother on Channel Five had 1.68 million punters from 10pm. On the multi-channels, BBC4 celebrated a four and a half per cent share of the audience from 9pm, as 1.49 million tuned into the first of two episodes of series two of The Bridge. Eight hundred and twenty nine thousand also watched the second episode at 10pm. BBC3 managed to hold nine hundred thousand at 9pm, for Die Hard with a Vengeance, giving the channel a four per cent audience share.

The football legend Eusébio, who was the top scorer at the 1966 World Cup, has died aged seventy one from a heart attack. He had been admitted to hospital several times over the past year for the treatment of heart and respiratory problems. Built like a really big brick shithouse and nicknamed The Black Pearl and, in Portugal, O Rei (The King), Eusébio was known for his speed, athleticism and his thunderous right-foot, making him an outstandingly prolific goalscorer and one of the greatest free-kick takers in history. He won the European Cup with Benfica in 1962 as a nineteen year old and was in the side which lost to The Scum in the 1968 final at Wembley. He is considered to be both Benfica's and Portugal's most renowned player and one of the first world-class footballers to emerge from Africa. Although born in Mozambique and having an Angolan father, Eusébio, like Matateu and Mário Coluna among others before him, qualified to play for Portugal since both of the African countries were Portuguese overseas territories at the time. Born in 1942, Eusébio Da Silva Ferreira went on to play sixty four times for Portugal between 1961 and 1973, scoring forty one goals. He first played for a local amateur team called Os Brasileiros as a teenager. He signed for Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques in 1957. His team-mate, the full-back Hilário Rosário Da Conceição, would precede Eusébio to Portugal, signing for Sporting Lisbon and later, playing forty times alongside his old friend in the Portugal national side. But, it could all have been so different, Eusébio later noted: 'When I was fifteen, Juventus wanted to hire me, because one of their scouts, who had been a famous Italian goalkeeper for them, saw me and told them that there was a boy with a potential, that it would be good to take advantage while I was still unknown. Juventus proposed but my mum never wanted to hear anything from anyone.' At Lourenço Marques, Eusébio won the Campeonato Provincial de Moçambique and the Campeonato Distrital de Lourenço Marques in his last season in Africa, in 1960. He moved to Lisbon joining Benfica, the then current European Champions, as an eighteen-year-old. By the end of his first full season at Benfica - 1961-62 - he had become an international superstar. He scored twelve goals in seventeen league matches, and even though the club finished third in the league, they won the Portuguese Cup against Vitória Setúbal, with Eusébio scoring two goals in the final. More importantly, in that same season, they retained the European Cup, with Eusebio also scoring twice in the final - one of the greatest games in the history of the competition - against Real Madrid in a game that Benfica eventually won 5–3. Though perhaps his greatest triumph of the night wasn't some much his two goals but, rather, being given, and then managing to hang on to, the shirt of his hero, Alberto De Stefano, when the teenager was mobbed by fans and carried form the pitch on their shoulders at the end of the game. He finished second in the 1962 Ballon d'Or. With Eusébio playing for Benfica, they were also European Cup runners-up in 1963, 1965 and 1968. The striker's nine goals at the 1966 World Cup in England included four against North Korea in the quarter final. Widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, he scored seven hundred and thirty three times in seven hundred and forty five professional matches. Famed for his blistering acceleration and dazzling dribbling skills, Eusébio was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965. He enjoyed eleven Primeira Liga titles and five Taça de Portugal triumphs in his fifteen years at Benfica and was Portugal's top league scorer seven times. Current Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was among those to pay tribute. Moscow Chelski FC manager Jose Mourinho called Eusébio one of his country's 'great figures.' Mourinho told state broadcaster RTP: 'I think he is immortal. We all know what he meant for football and especially for Portuguese football. He was not only a great inspiration but also an important figure in upholding the values, principles and feelings of football, even after finishing his career.' Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association in England, said Eusébio and Brazilian striker Pele were the best-known international footballers in the 1960s. 'He was the Messi or Ronaldo of his time,' Dyke told the BBC News Channel. 'Every generation has great footballers. He was clearly a world-class footballer who scored an awful lot of goals. He had a level of natural talent that most players don't have.' Eusébio's goals in the 1966 World Cup helped his country to third place, after they were beaten by eventual winners, England, in the semi-finals. Portugal won all of their group games during the holders, Brazil, out of the competition into the bargain and Eusébio starred in their dramatic 5-3 win over North Korea in the quarter-finals at Goodison Park, with his four goals helping his side come back from 3-0 down early in the game. Portugal went on to lose 2-1 to England in the semi-final, Eusébio being effectively marked out of the game by Nobby Stiles - as he would be again in the 1968 European Cup final at the same venue - and left the pitch in tears. But, he had captured the hearts of the British public and his figure was soon added to Madame Tussauds' waxwork collection. Eusebio continued to play at the highest level until 1974, though knee problems began to slow him down as he got older. This blogger saw him as a small boy, in 1971, playing in friendly against my beloved (though, even then, unsellable) Magpies and he quite simply took the crowd's breath away with his skill and shooting ability. (As a ten year old, Eusebio had seen Newcastle play against his local heroes, Lourenço Marques, in June 1952 on their tour of Southern Africa. Almost twenty years later, when United met Sporting Lisbon in the Fairs Cup, Eusebio, attending the game with some of his Benfica colleagues, hugely impressed North Eastern journalists he met by his telling them of his memories of Jackie Milburn and Bobby Mitchell.) In 1975, he moved to the North American Soccer League and then returned to Portugal in 1976 to play for SC Beira Mar, before further spells in the USA,Canada and Mexico. After his playing career ended in 1978, he was an ambassador for Benfica and Portuguese football. A statue to him is in place outside the (real) Stadium of Light.

No comments: