Sherlock Holmes: Holmes and the Ripper Review
The famous consulting detective pits his wits against one of the most notorious real-world crimes in history.
Back in 2010, when Big Finish were launching their range of Sherlock Holmes audio plays, "Holmes and the Ripper" stood out as being the first to feature Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl as Holmes and Watson respectively. Now, of course, this team up have gone on to star in numerous stories and award-nominated box-sets since, so this step back in time to a period where this was all very new and very fresh is a strange one. And, while very unlike most of the other Holmes plays to follow, this is still an enjoyable listen, with an interesting plot, some well-developed characters and a great chemistry between the two lead actors.
The basic plot of "Holmes and the Ripper" is exactly as you'd expect: Holmes and Watson find themselves pitted against Jack the Ripper, who is going around murdering young women in Whitechapel. But it soon becomes clear that there is something else going on - a darker plot stretching right into the highest office in the British Empire... As far as explanations for the Ripper murders goes, this is one on the more extreme end. I'm not sure it's a totally plausible ending, but then this is fiction, and it does justify itself in the fiction of the story, which is where it really matters. It seems ludicrous, true, but then a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories are built on slightly outrageous outcomes: it's whether they seem believable in the fiction that counts. And this is a full-on tribute to the world that Arthur Conan Doyle created, as well as the many film and TV adaptations of his work that have so long enthralled audiences. One notable difference to the normal Holmes output of Big Finish is the lack of Watson's narration: as this is pretty much a straight adaptation of the stage play, this element doesn't feature here. It's a shame, as it is a way of honouring the format of the original stories, even in a new format like audio. It also means Watson does come across as a little.. well, redundant would be a bit harsh, but his role could be easily replaced by Holmes doing the legwork himself, and you wouldn't loose out on much. I think the portrayal of the character here is closer to the one seen in films: Watson is a bit slow, and there for comic relief more than anything else. Holmes, however, is characterised perfectly: he's sharp, analytical, and able to deduce whole conspiracies from the tiniest scraps of evidence. This play does, however, dive a little into the man behind the myth in a way that has been rarely touched upon, through the guest character of Katherine Mead. While I don't agree with all the directions this play takes, I think it is brave of them to try this, and they are, for the most part, successful.
As this is adapted from a stage play, there is a much larger cast of characters than in a standard Big Finish audio play, meaning there's lots of doubling up among the cast. And, while you sometimes notice some voices that crop up again and again, the cast are versatile enough to carry it off. It also helps that, in true Conan Doyle tradition, they are painted in broad brushstrokes, rather than being deep, nuanced, well-rounded characters, and it means that the performances can be rather broader as a result. This helps actors like Ian Brooker, Beth Chalmers and John Banks, as they can really go to town with their performances in order to make each character stand out. It shows just how strong the regular actors are that work with Big Finish, and testament to the hard work they obviously put in. Certain lead actors, however, get the chance to enjoy their roles a little more: especially Matt Addis, Lex Shrapnel, and the ever fantastic India Fisher, in her first Big Finish role since finishing as Charley in the Sixth Doctor Adventures. She really brings the character of Katherine Mead to life, and helps avoid the obvious pitfalls that this character could have, thanks to a natural and committed performance. It also helps that she has great chemistry with Nicholas Briggs, and the pair of them bring the difficult emotional scenes to life with just the right level of sentimentality, without overdoing them. But, ultimately, the stars of the show are Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl as Holmes and Watson respectively. Their chemistry and rapport as the two iconic detectives is there, right from the beginning, and they both commit completely to their roles. Briggs also directs and does the sound design on this play, and he brings many years experience to the table, as does Jamie Robertson, who composed the music for this release. Between them, they bring the world of Victorian London to life, as well as providing a suitably cinematic soundscape that feels less like an audio play, and more like a movie where you just can't see the pictures. It's wonderful work, and adds a sheen and a finish to the release that just completes it.
In conclusion, then, "Holmes and the Ripper" is a very good release that sets the ongoing tone and template for the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes range going forward. While it's a little different from pretty much every other story in the range (namely in the lack of narration, and the real-world subject matter), it does still offer a good feel for what Big Finish do with Sherlock Holmes. It's traditional, it's pulpy, it's dark and it's very Victorian. In other words: everything you'd want from a good Sherlock Holmes story.
You can purchase "Holmes and the Ripper" as a digital download here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/sherlock-holmes-holmes-and-the-ripper-16
All pictures copyright to Big Finish Productions/Tony Whitmore. Thank you for reading.