TV Review: ‘How Sherlock Changed the World’

How Sherlock Changed the World

PBS documentary proves a trifle repetitive in making case master sleuth was the 'first CSI'

At the risk of quibbling about titles, the overreach in “How Sherlock Changed the World” — a mildly enjoyable but slightly bloated PBS documentary — might explain why this two-hour, de facto promotion for the “Masterpiece” movie series “Sherlock” doesn’t quite work. “Sherlock: The First CSI,” OK; “The Science of Sherlock Holmes,” sure. But “Changed the World?” Only if you happen to be one of the forensic scientists, among them the renowned Dr. Henry Lee, who enthusiastically lend their expertise to the proceedings. So yes, “Sherlock” is afoot, but it’s only marginally worth catching.

Narrated by “The Walking Dead’s” Andrew Lincoln in his oh-yeah-that’s-what-he-really-sounds-like native tongue, “How Sherlock Changed the World” identifies Holmes as “the first CSI,” whose meticulous examination of crime scenes and deductive reasoning rendered the character about 120 years ahead of his time. (Notably, it’s pointed out there was no such thing as a forensics lab in Britain until 1935, nearly 50 years after the detective’s first literary appearance.)

Still, the testimonials from criminologists, dramatized sequences culled from Holmes stories and scenes from “Sherlock” quickly prove a tad repetitive, and viewers have to wade through a lot of that to get to the juiciest tidbits — like actual video of Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who died in 1930), or insights regarding the doctor, Joseph Bell, who provided Doyle with real-life inspiration for the character.

The glut of talk about how “eerily prescient” the Holmes stories were has a similar numbing effect, making the observations about where Doyle got it wrong — like Holmes using stride length to determine a suspect’s height — somewhat more interesting.

Given the long shadow Holmes has cast over popular culture, the topic is certainly ripe. Yet even an ardent Holmes aficionado might find two hours singing the praises of a fictional character feel like a bit much. And while one CSI mentions that, like Holmes, she’s never out and about without a magnifying glass, “How Sherlock Changed the World” is one of those promising ideas that, alas, looks better from afar.

TV Review: 'How Sherlock Changed the World'

(Documentary; PBS, Tues. Dec. 17, 9 p.m.)


Produced by Love Prods.


Executive producer, Trish Powell; producer-director, Paul Bernays; camera, Brendan Easton; editors, David Richards, Paul Holland; music, Nicholas Paul Simpson. 120 MIN.


Narrator: Andrew Lincoln.

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  1. SonnyU says:

    Now i do not care about this, i’m making average $5000 a month. There is very useful method i found on the internet. If you want to learn it too, just type in google: Willis Mounts Strategy

  2. Virginia Cerezo says:

    I am noy sure what to think about this, but I feel it is going to be interesting. Of course, it is too much to say “it has changed the world” about anything, but it can be said, without hesitation, that Sherlock Holmes has been an influence to many things, including several TV shows currently on air.

  3. laura says:

    Sounds like the critic is a bit out of touch with the world. To think that criminal investigation shouldn’t be important to anyone but other investigators is a bit naive and arrogant. Let’s hope he is never in the unfortunate situation where he might be in need of a CSI.

  4. Dr. Herbert Leon MacDonell says:

    My name is MacDonell.

    It was reasonably well done.

  5. Dick says:

    The show was pretty well done. I liked the reenactments but thought they could have been less repetitive. Overall it was a good and I think CSI watchers would enjoy it.

    Dr. Herbert Leon MacDonnell, you are very arrogant. I was curious so I looked you up. How are those criminal charges working out?

  6. Dr. Herbert Leon MacDonell says:

    Overall it was entertaining but fraught with errors. Had the bloodstain “expert” been one of my students in the Bloodstain Evidence Institute she would not have made so many mistakes. My former student, Dr. Henry Lee, did a reasonably good job but Dr. Rieders saved the day. I was pleased to see a brief glimpse of his father, my old friend, Fred.

    Paul Kirk told me that my research into bloodstain patterns in the Shaff case far exceeded his own.

    Dr. Herberet Leon MacDonell, Director
    Bloodstaitn Evidence Institute

    • laura says:

      Maybe you could use your superior forensic skills to figure out why that sweet heart deal you got didn’t require you to register as a sex offender

    • laura says:

      So was leaving that comment just an excuse for you to say “I am smarter than all of those other experts”? If so, I would think someone of you education would be better at subtlety.

      Usually when someone wants to show that their kung fu is better they provide examples instead of empty claims.

  7. just my opinion says:

    While I enjoyed the show I felt that some statements were somewhat exaggerated. One idea that Sherlock was 120 years ahead his time seemed inflated. I would have accepted 80 or 90 years but not 120. The show also kept stating Sherlock was the very first to use deductive reasoning. This is not true. Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, (ca. 1841) has that recognition. I do agree that Sherlock Holmes has inspired many to improve upon techniques used for solving crimes and prompted others to enter the field but I think the show was a little over the top as evident by its title.

  8. Fred says:

    Good documentary, lousy review. Brian Lowry is no Sherlock.

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