Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes

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Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes is a television crime drama series created by David Pirie, and co-produced by the BBC and WGBH Boston, a PBS station. Six episodes were made and were first broadcast on BBC Two, the first two on 4 and 5 January 2000, and the other four from 4 September to 2 October 2001.

Murder Rooms: Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes
GenreCrime drama
Created byDavid Pirie
StarringIan Richardson
Charles Edwards
Robin Laing
Simon Chandler
Mossie Smith
Ben Macleod
Dolly Wells
Charles Dance
ComposerJohn Lunn
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series2
No. of episodes6 (list of episodes)
Executive producersRebecca Eaton
Jim Reeve
ProducersAlison Jackson
Ian Madden
Running time90 minutes
Production companyWGBH Boston
Original networkBBC Two
Picture format16:9
Audio formatStereo
Original release4 January 2000 (2000-01-04) –
2 October 2001 (2001-10-02)


The series follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time as a general practitioner in Southsea, solving mysteries with the help of his mentor, Dr Joseph Bell, who is based in Edinburgh. The series stars Ian Richardson as Dr Joseph Bell, alongside Robin Laing and later Charles Edwards as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.




The series was inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's choice to base the character of Sherlock Holmes on Dr Joseph Bell, who had been his tutor at the University of Edinburgh and occasionally worked as a forensic expert for the Edinburgh Police. The series exaggerated the similarities between Bell and Holmes for dramatic effect, with Doyle acting much as Doctor Watson acts in Doyle's stories, and included several scenes from the books, the implication being that these inspire Doyle's fiction.


One of the most notable references to Sherlock Holmes is a version of a scene in The Sign of Four in which Holmes deduces that a pocket watch provided by Watson was formerly owned by a drunkard, upon which a furious Watson believes that Holmes has callously acquired information about his unfortunate brother, to whom the watch had belonged, for the sake of a cheap trick. The series' version of the scene has Bell deduce the mental state of Doyle's father, inspiring much the same reaction. (This scene also appears in the otherwise unrelated drama The Strange Case of Arthur Conan Doyle, also by David Pirie.)

David Pirie also wrote three novels related to the series: The Patient's Eyes, The Night Calls and The Dark Water.


The series was filmed in Scotland and Cromer, Norfolk.


Ian Richardson had earlier played Sherlock Holmes in television adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four.


Pilot (2000)Edit

The pilot, also sometimes referred to as a "Christmas Special", was first broadcast in two parts on BBC Two.[1] On 24 March 2003 the pilot was released on a DVD on which the two parts were edited into a single 100-minute film, removing more than 20 minutes of footage from the original broadcast.[2] The U.S. release of the DVD, for which the series was retitled Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle, followed in 2006. It retains the original two-part format.[3]

Episode Title Written by Directed by Viewers
Original airdate
1 "The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: Part 1"
"Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: Part 1 (U.S. Title)[3]"
David PiriePaul Seed4.314 January 2000 (2000-01-04)
Following the "death" of Sherlock Holmes Doyle finds himself reflecting on his friendship with Dr Joseph Bell, as well as his long-ago romance with a fellow student, Elspeth Scott (Dolly Wells), the victim of a killer whom he and Bell failed to capture.
2 "The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: Part 2"
"Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: Part 2 (U.S. Title)"
David PiriePaul Seed4.275 January 2000 (2000-01-05)
When Elpseth's sister Lady Sarah Carlisle falls ill Doyle comes to believe that her husband, Sir Henry Carlisle, who is a Member of Parliament, may be behind some of the killings.

Series (2001)Edit

After the pilot was critically acclaimed a series of four episodes was commissioned for BBC One. Although the response was initially positive, viewing figures quickly declined and the final episode of the series drew fewer than three million viewers. These episodes were released on DVD on 16 January 2012, but many fans criticised the decision to reduce the original 16:9 picture ratio to 4:3.[5] The U.S. release, which first circulated in 2006, retains the original 16:9 picture format.[6]

Episode Title Directed by Written by Viewers
Original airdate
1 "The Patient's Eyes"Tim FywellDavid Pirie5.294 September 2001 (2001-09-04)
Doyle and Bell investigate the case of a woman who believes that she is being followed by an apparition of the man who killed her parents some years before, but Bell assures her that the killer was hanged many years ago and that there has to be another explanation.
2 "The Photographer's Chair"Paul MarcusPaul BillingTBA18 September 2001 (2001-09-18)
Doyle and Bell investigate the deaths by strangling of two people whose bodies are found floating in a river. While Doyle finds himself captivated by spiritualism, Bell's suspicions lead him to a photographer who believes that he saw his wife's soul leave her body at the moment of death.
3 "The Kingdom of Bones"Simon LangtonStephen GallagherTBA25 September 2001 (2001-09-25)
A museum curator hires Bell and Doyle to unwrap an Egyptian mummy, but they are surprised to discover that the body is that of a man who has been dead for only three weeks. The subsequent investigation uncovers a group of expatriate rebels plotting to create havoc.
4 "The White Knight Stratagem"Paul MarcusDaniel BoyleTBA2 October 2001 (2001-10-02)
Bell helps the police to investigate the murder of a moneylender, but an old animosity between him and the officer in charge leads to conflict. Matters become worse when Doyle sees merit in the lieutenant's theories rather than in Bell's.

Reception and cancellationEdit

The series was produced by BBC Films, rather than the drama division. Following the conclusion of the four-episode series the decision was made not to recommission the series despite the critical acclaim for it. One BBC insider wryly commented that it was "too successful for the wrong department".[7]


  1. ^ "BBC Four - Murder Rooms the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes". BBC Four. 26 September 2009. Retrieved 30 September 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Murder Rooms - The Dark Beginnings Of Sherlock Holmes DVD 2000: Ian Richardson, Sean Wightman, Robin Laing, Dolly Wells, Charles Dance, Ralph Riach, Aly Bain, An...
  3. ^ a b The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle DVD 2000 Region 1 US Import NTSC: DVD & Blu-ray
  4. ^ a b Weekly top 30 programmes | BARB
  5. ^ Murder Rooms - The Mysteries of the Real Sherlock Holmes - The Patient's Eyes, The Photographer's Chair, The Kingdom of Bones & The White Knight Stratagem - Starring Ian Richa...
  6. ^ Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock DVD 2001 Region 1 US Import NTSC: DVD & Blu-ray
  7. ^ "Back to the Murder Rooms". Retrieved 29 January 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External linksEdit