Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed League

adventures of sherlock holmes 1984Well, I confess I have a special fondness for this episode, what with my own people getting center stage.  Being a ginger is a raw deal: we can’t enjoy the beach and we get picked on for being carrot-topped.  To know there could be a league dedicated to the upkeep and maintenance of we red heads is a nice thing.  A shame that it’s a ridiculous plot!  Even more tragic that we learn that Moriarty is behind it, because this is one poorly handled scheme!              

Of note, this episode was a real who’s who for me.  I was stunned to see that Spaulding was played by Tim McInnerny, aka Mr. Halpen in Doctor Who’s Planet of the Ood.  To see him with hair was a shock that almost had me throwing up tentacles!  Then, perhaps the sun was in my “errrres…” the first time I watched this but I was delighted to see John Woodnutt aka the Duke of Forgill (among other episodes) from Doctor Who’s Terror of the Zygons.  Lastly, I must have had one foot in the grave when I realized Richard Wilson played Duncan Ross, one of Moriarty’s minions.  A veritable cornucopia of great guest stars!   But onto the episode…

The Crime

Mr. Jabez Wilson, a red-head, is being coaxed out of his shop under some crazy pretense of copying the Encyclopedia Britannica while his assistant, Spaulding (actually a noted criminal named John Clay) can dig a tunnel from Wilson’s pawn shop to the nearby bank which is keeping a reserve of French coins.  Note, the crime is that he’s being coaxed out of his shop, not the theft which will be prevented by Holmes. In fact, this adventure costs Moriarty’s people money since they pay Wilson for his copying work!

The Motive

Standard get-rich-quick scheme without Ponzi.  Let’s be honest, there’s not much in a bank heist besides greed!  Moriarty knows the bank has a fortune waiting to be plundered and giving Wilson some money to get out of his shop is a small price to pay.  

The Mistakes

First off, the chap they got to play Jabez Wilson, Roger Hammond, does not have a head of red hair.  He’s got strawberry blonde hair at best and the wisps that cover the top of his head barely qualify him for the role.  Now, he may not care considering he’s the lucky recipient of the money, but to get to the interview in this supposed League, he had to pass at least 150 red heads and it would not take Sherlock to tell him that there were far better candidates.  All Wilson would have needed were eyes to be able to see that!  I’m not knocking him but there had to be a better option even if it entailed a wig!

Then the episode makes the mistake of showing that Moriarty is behind this ploy – the Napoleon of Crime himself.  This is because at some point in the canon, Holmes reminds Watson of this case and mentions that Moriarty was responsible for it.  But I take issue with that because if he’s such a genius, why did he authorize disbanding the League before the deed was completed?  To save 4 pounds?  It cost him millions!  If he really was that smart, he would have paid Jabez Wilson until the stolen money was in hand rather than disbanding the League the weekend before he obtained the money!  Napoleon of Crime?  More like The Scooby Doo Villain of Crime.  Not to mention, everything hinges on Jabez Wilson being a supremely lazy idiot who never goes into the basement of his shop or he would have seen the whopping great tunnel in the making, stretching from one side of the street to the other.  


“It is quite a three-pipe problem!”  Holmes tells Watson not to bother him for 50 minutes while he sits in his chair contemplating the absurdity of the problem, and it truly is absurd.  We also have Holmes give the description of Moriarty that fans will recognize from the short story, The Final Problem: he is responsible for “half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city.” 

Watson is back on form looking for “a sandwich and a cup of coffee” at one point, always managing to make me smile and the director also gets some credit with those little visual moments like the Persian slipper nailed to the fireplace mantle.  This is a series that is crafted with care, and I feel like I am actually seeing the home of Sherlock Holmes every time I watch it.

The Verdict

“I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all.”  Wilson comes off as a bit of joke insulting the man he comes to for advise.  It’s wonderful having Watson remind him that he has little to be upset about: he’s made money for a menial task and increased his knowledge on a number of subjects at the same time.  And yet, Holmes takes care of the man and proves to be both the hero we want, and the detective London needs.  A most enjoyable story.  And the best part is that it is a perfect lead-in to the season one finale.     ML

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