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.