A few weeks ago, we looked at the pastiche. For those who do not know, those are the stories written by other writers that imagine Holmes in a different sort of story. Many are incredibly enjoyable, and they often defy expectation. Holmes as a comedy? Yep, works well. Holmes against Cthulhu? I love it! Holmes against Count Dracula? You bet. But the pastiche isn’t where we first see Holmes up against a vampire. The Sussex Vampire, upon which this story is based, gave us the first speculation of how Holmes would really do against the nightmare world of Vampires.
Roy Marsden plays John Stockton, a man the town believes to be a vampire, or vampyre if you prefer. Thing is, Marsden is great at playing a morally ambiguous characters. I recognized him as the doctor in the Doctor Who episode Smith and Jones, who was a pompous jerk. As a man who may or may not be a vampire though, he is superb. There is something utterly electric when he and Holmes meet, one absolutely could be excused for hoping Holmes would be up against a supernatural entity. Alas, the original stories were entrenched in the real world and so we miss out on a marvelous “what might have been” moment. What we get instead is still nearly 2 hours of engrossing story.
When a local blacksmith dies after Stockton shot a venomous look at him, dark powers are suspected, but after he visits Bob Ferguson (Doctor Who’s Striker, Enlightenment) and touches his new baby and the baby also dies, it leaves a suspicious town looking for a scapegoat.
The thing about motive is there’s usually a crime. The motive for Stockton’s animosity around the townsfolk is based on the fact that his family was driven out of town because the townsfolk believed them to be vampires years earlier. But that doesn’t make him guilty of anything. However, that doesn’t make it where Bob’s older son, a young boy named Jack, isn’t behind something awful.
Jack has been neglected by his father because of the new baby. I know the feeling: I was 7 when my sister was born and it was an adjustment. I didn’t try to kill people as a result, but hey, I had toys. Jack lived in the late 1800’s and let’s face it, Pac-Man was a long way off. When Bob is introducing Stockton to his family, he even refers to the baby as his “pride and joy”. On top of that, Jack is a cripple and has a thing for the maid, Dolores. She allows him to kiss her boot, but when he tries to kiss her leg instead, she gives him what would have been a hilariously over the top kick had this been a comedy. Jack sees that Stockton has a way with women, almost mesmeric, so he tries to mimic those powers. Using a 2-pronged needle, he simulates vampire bites in his victims and acts the part to somehow imbue himself with supernatural powers.
This is a convoluted episode where mystery is built and even Holmes seems to be on the cusp of believing in vampires. When Stockton plays at some amateur theatrics, claiming the Mistress Death is insatiable and hungry for him, Holmes hallucinates a woman atop a ruin. When the image fades, Stockton is gone. The way they craft this story is fantastic and very evocative of a real horror movie.
Holmes doesn’t really uncover mistakes, but pays very close attention to details and follows the events to a logical and very worldly nature before Jack attempts to transform into a bat by leaping off a building where he plummets to his death.
Holmes exemplifies his beliefs in this story time and again. He states that the world is big enough for them and there’s no room for the supernatural: “No ghosts need apply.”
There are also references to other cases again, including the Gloria Scott (one of the original stories) and a personal favorite around the “giant rat of Sumatra, for which the world is not yet prepared.” This has been the source of many pastiches, in fact and may play a big part in the Doctor Who story, The Talons of Weng Chiang!
Holmes also refers to the church as “the source of all gossip”, which sort of sums up a lot about his character on its own. Watson gets a chance to reminisce about his time in Afghanistan and Constantinople.
This episode had many people I recognized, beyond the aforementioned ones. Dolores is played by Juliet Aubrey who played Helen Cutter in Primeval and Reverend Merridew was played by Doctor Who alum Maurice Denham from The Twin Dilemma. Always fun playing “spot the actor”! Overall it’s a really enjoyable story, chock full of great performances. There are many moments where we question whether it will be a real vampire or not, and Marsden nails it. I did love one quote which I suspect will resonate with a good friend of mine: “There are people we know who suck up the energies of others like a sponge, draw out their resources and pocket them, leaving them fatigued, no longer master of their wills.” Make of it what you will, I just look forward to my good friend reading this review. That is, if he has the energy to get through it all…. mwahahahahahahah… ML