Sherlock Holmes: The Speckled Band

adventures of sherlock holmes 1984“The Speckled Band… it was the speckled band!”  The final words of Julia Stoner’s life are chillingly delivered.  This episode is considered one of the best and it’s also rumored to be Conan Doyle’s favorite.  It is a great story and for the episode, it’s easy to understand why.  Coincidentally, it’s also the one story I read while watching, so convinced was I that Brett lifted the character off the page, and to my amazement and delight, it really is a near word-for-word recreation with minor changes that helped the dialogue flow better in the televised format.  Across the board this is a magnificent, memorable story but let’s get into this classic to understand why.

When Helen Stoner comes to see Holmes, she’s terrified and desperate.  Forced to sleep in her dead sister’s room due to work being done in hers, she has started hearing a strange whistle at night.  She remembers that, before her death, Julie also claimed to have heard one.  Convinced she’s not long for this world, Helen turns to the one man who can help her.  After telling Sherlock the facts, she leaves but her stepfather, Dr. Grimsby Roylott, bursts into 221B and warns Sherlock to stay out of his business. 

The Crime

When Helen’s mother died, she left a sizable amount of money to the family that would be paid out to the two daughters as they married.  Julia is dead at the start of the episode, having been killed before she left to get married.  Helen is engaged and will be leaving soon.  Knowing the impact this will have on his income, Roylott has a diabolical plan.  He has gypsies living on his land who are in possession of a number of wild animals but the most lethal is a swamp adder.  Using the swamp adder, he sends it through a vent connecting his room to his daughter’s.  The snake slithers down the bell pull and into the victims bed, knowing sooner or later, it will strike.  Then, with the use of a whistle, he summons the snake back to his room where he locks it in a safe.  Julia’s cry of “the speckled band” is a reference to the only thing she could see in the darkened room.

The Motive

Greed.  Roylott wants the money and doesn’t love his stepdaughters enough to protect them.  If any credit is to be given to him, Helen tells Holmes that after her mother died, a change came over him.  Perhaps he was not always so vile, but now he’s about as brutal a man as one could encounter.

The Mistakes

“Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another.”  Sherlock summarizes it perfectly; Dr. Roylott gets what he deserves when Holmes strikes the snake with a stick.  It races back up the bell pull and attacks the first thing it finds: Grimsby Roylott himself.  (A note about the televised adventure: the sequence is limited during the episode, but the end credits show the entire scene of Holmes striking the snake; it’s worth staying for this “after credit” scene!)


This episode is a veritable cornucopia of classic Sherlock moments.  The deerstalker cap, the scene on the train, even the bent fire poker are all iconic.  The quotes abound: “I’ve heard of you before!  You’re Holmes the meddler, Holmes the busybody, Holmes the Scotland Yard Jack-in-Office.”  Holmes tells Watson that “it’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all.” Later, speculating about Dr. Roylott, another similar declaration is made: “When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals.  He has nerve and he has knowledge.”  

Watson also has to be given some credit here.  He talks of his military service in the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers.  And David Burke needs to get credit as well for being a delightfully human Watson.  Having been woken by Holmes, he has yet to eat and even with Helen Stoner’s extraordinary tale, he is determined to get that opportunity.  “I’d say it was time for some breakfast!”  Though she declines and tries to leave, Watson is ever-persistent, “You’ll stay for some breakfast, surely!”  Later, when Holmes is planning an overnight vigil to watch the home of Roylott and Stoner, Watson yet again pushes for food, “We shall have dined, surely!”  Yet it’s not all about food for this Watson.  Upon arriving at Stoke Moran, Roylott’s ancestral home, Holmes turns to find Watson on his knees in the dirt.  When asked what he’s doing, Watson says “applying your methods” and while he finds only his own footsteps, it does show the respect he has for Holmes.  

Lastly, of the duo, during their vigil, Watson confesses that he knows Sherlock saw more than he did.  This offers another of Brett’s stunning performances as he kindly admits that he did not see more, but perhaps inferred more.  He then apologizes for asking Watson along as there is a distinct element of  danger to what they are doing.  Watson simply says, “If I could be of assistance…”  The bond between these two men is magnificent and thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

The Verdict

If the length of this article does not give you a clue, I think this is a masterpiece.  Brett brings Sherlock quite literally off the page, as I discovered while reading/watching simultaneously.  Whether flashing that quick smile, or making his eyes gleam with excitement, Brett breathes life into the character in ways I’ve never seen improved upon.  And Watson is wonderful as well.  But a hero is often defined by the quality of the villain and special appreciation has to go to the villain of this piece, Dr. Grimsby Roylott played by Jeremy Kemp.  His crazy-eyed, red-faced mania is perfectly portrayed, but when he bursts into 221B and bends a fireplace poker in half, we realize just what a dangerous man this is.  He is the first truly formidable foe we’ve seen in the series.  This is a must-watch episode of the first season.  I suspect there will be others.  ML

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12 Responses to Sherlock Holmes: The Speckled Band

  1. This is such a great story/episode it even makes me forget the fact that snakes can’t actually hear whistles!

    Liked by 3 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      My goodness, you know I wondered about that at one point and never remembered to look it up! I remember reading that they heard vibrations but totally forgot to look into that about the whistle. I think that’s an incredible point and thanks for making it.
      Also, sincere thanks for visiting our site and sharing some thoughts. I hope you come back. (Plus I think your avatar is awesome. Unless I’m very much mistaken, your skin looks green in the picture and I’m especially fond of the Orions, so if you are in fact green, or just using a really cool filter, you’re a welcome guest of our site!) ML

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you very much! Whenever I read that story I always giggle slightly about how little Doyle knew about snakes, but that’s forgivable!

        Thank you, I will! My avatar is indeed me painted green, cosplaying as Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy! I was having a lot of fun with cosplay before the pandemic hit! Ah well. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Really?! Do you have a site where you’ve posted pics? How could I have forgotten Gamora! (First off, she’s awesome, and second off: Zoe Saldana! Never even dawned on me that Gamora’s species could be Orion if we ever see a multiverse mix of Trek with Marvel. There were a few of those crossovers in the comics but I think what Spiderman did for Marvel can have amazingly far reaching effects.
      Cosplay is great fun. I lack the time and know-how to really indulge, but I love looking at the photos. One of the best reasons to go to NY Comicon is to see the different costumes people put together.
      As for Doyle, I’ll forgive him for that too. The story is just so good one might almost credit the snake for smelling the milk and the whistle just being Roylott’s mistake thinking it was being heard. The snake never claimed to hear the whistle! 🙂 ML

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you! I do post cosplay pics on my blog sometimes because my sister-in-law is a hobbyist makeup artist and she’s the one who gave me green skin for Gamora! We probably would’ve done more over these past few years if not for the pandemic. Man I would LOVE to go to NY Comicon, maybe one day!

        Ah, I wonder if Doyle ever even met a snake up close. He did use the animals in his stories to tremendous effect though. There’s the Hound of the Baskervilles, of course, but also, the bit in this story when Holmes and Watson spot the baboon prowling the estate at night sends a legit shiver down my spine.

        Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Funny you mention the baboon one, because when reading that, I was reminded of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and a bit of Dr. Jekyll. That lead me to look into the Sherlock Holmes Pastiches where they put Holmes with other characters from that same period and some of those stories are remarkable good. I’m reading one right now actually.

      NYCC is fun, but definitely not a great place for a germophobe. HYPER crowded. Still, I’ve met a few actors there that have made the trip worthwhile. And the cosplay is amazing. There was a Yennifer there (The Witcher) and Hella (?, from Thor… long horns, green armor?) that were both stunning. I gather you don’t live close enough that you could get there easily? ML

      Liked by 1 person

      • Like Doctor Who I’m a product of Britain! I did visit NYC once though and I loved it so, so much. I would love to go back there again and stop off at ComicCon.

        I have been to some more nearby Comic-Cons though! One of them had Dan Abnett (co-creator of the modern-day Guardians of the Galaxy) show up which was damn cool. He signed one of his Doctor Who books for me, The Story of Martha!

        Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      I noticed in your comment on your own site about Capaldi that you spelled favorite with the u and realized you were from the UK. As Roger will tell you, my soul is British anyway.
      I grew up in NY but moved to NJ, but I manage to get back to Comicon now and again. A good friend of mine works the Marvel booth each year. He got me up close with Whittaker when she was there. Capaldi I had to travel to Maryland for though, along with Michelle Gomez. Most of the other Doctor’s I’ve met in Long Island. So I do manage to get around to see them! ML

      Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      McGann is super nice. Very easy to talk to. The handful of times I’ve spoken to him have each felt like talking to an old friend. And it’s also non-Who related. Last time, in Long Island with Daphne Ashbrook, we were discussing politics. (I don’t get too into the political stuff but we had some thoughts!) Truly nice guy and the sort of fellow who makes you glad to have gone to the convention. Too often there are celebrities who are just trying to make a quick $ and don’t bother conversing. Talking to him is worth it! ML

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “The Speckled Band” was probably one of the best Sherlock Holmes short stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, and this is definitely a superb adaptation.

    Oh, and I was genuinely surprised to learn that Jeremy Kemp, who portrayed the thuggish, murderous Grimesby Roylott, also played Captain Picard’s brother Robert on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Liked by 1 person

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