The latest installment in Big Finish’s Sherlock series finds an older Holmes facing revitalised foes from his past, enemies that have come back stronger, and who are focusing on his destruction. It’s not a promising start for the world’s greatest detective, although being reunited with Dr Watson provides perhaps a single strand of hope in the battle. But both men are old and adrift, Holmes now deprived of the help of his brother Mycroft whom he suspects has been murdered by the Society, and Watson alone due to marital difficulties.
The Society has been a formidable foe for Sherlock in the past and once again its members seek to test him to his limits. Their new leader has a ruthlessness and boldness that allows them to directly attack London itself, and the constant escalation of hostilities creates a tense backdrop to the tale. Each stumble from Holmes, no longer able to operate at his youthful peak, leads to death and destruction; and the smoke and chaos obscure patterns that his younger self would have seen, as traps are blundered into and puzzles remain unsolved. Combined with monstrous villainy, political intrigue and Dr Watson’s deteriorating home life, there is a complex and gripping saga awaiting listeners.
Nick Brigg’s makes an excellent Sherlock and he brings the weight of Holmes’s advanced age with him here: Richard Earl’s Watson seems youthful by comparison – but he of course is carrying the emotional weight of multiple marriages and failed relationships with his current and past wives. Despite these millstones around each character’s neck, they still manage to sparkle when teamed up together as the crime-fighting duo.
The story is fast paced and varied, and is told in a mixture of live action and Watson’s recounting of events, an odd narrative framing but one which works well. A long tale, the story is split over four parts but in all honesty it flashes by. I did worry that it might have jumped the shark at the end of episode three (or whatever the Victorian version of that phrase would be – vaulted the coelacanth?) but it’s cleverly explained away in part four without the series veering outside the rules you would expect to ground it.
The new leader of the Society (Alan Cox’s Agamemnon) is an intense foe, verging on the OTT but never quite going that far, which makes for something of an intense performance. Elizabeth Rider brings grittiness to the interaction between Watson and his wife Eleanor. The rest of the cast is also excellent.
If you enjoyed the previous battle between Holmes and the Society, then this is a fitting follow up – although as it has spoilers for previous parts it’s not a suitable jumping on point. Listen to the others first.