Full Episodes

Episode 29 – The Sign Of Four

It means murder! In this super-sized episode, Holmes and Watson hunt for treasure, we hear from members of the original cast and crew, and Gus and Luke discuss the hidden gems within the first feature-length entry in the series. Plus, listener telegrams!

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8 thoughts on “Episode 29 – The Sign Of Four

  1. Thanks for another great episode, Luke and Gus. As someone whose training is as a historian of the 19th Century, I clearly enjoy the steam launch chase much more than you two. It’s really great to see two (at least seemingly) actual steam launches put through their paces. Yes, that is their effectual top speed- but it would have seemed frightfully fast to Victorian/Edwardian readers of the story. That chase always was the biggest action set piece of the canon to me and the depiction of it here has always lived up to the vision of it in my mind’s eye. Well, except maybe for Kiran Shah’s makeup. Cheers!

    1. Hey John, that’s fair. I think we were a bit critical about the chase scene. It would be tricky to make it stand up to any sort of modern chases, but it is refreshingly accurate in that way, so we must applaud it. Thanks for listening! -Luke

  2. Gents…Good Day…I have been eagerly awaiting this episode, there are so many great moments that I visit and revisit in this adaptation. I must express my enjoyment as Mr. Holmes toys with Inspector Athelney Jones once he arrives at the murder scene, every expression of amusement within Jeremy’s face as he allows Mr. Jones to fish for answers hoping for an answer. I must confess that I use the phrase “There’s a Flaw There Somewhere” at work when those who work for me bring me their ideas that aren’t thought out very well. Playing back the initial Baker Street interview with Miss Morstan had a creepy feel to it as Dr. Watson mirrored her movements as he was on an invisible string maintaining him at an uncomfortable distance. To add to the previous weapon discussion, Holmes branded and fired the Webley RIC Model 83, at Tonga, simultaneously as Dr. Watson fired his revolver, who made the amazing headshot? I look forward to the discussions on this episode, thank you Luke and Gus.

    1. Apologies for the late reply… there are indeed a number of great lines in this story/episode and I for one really do enjoy Inspector Jones! There’s a lot to smile at this one. Reading the story as I watched the episode, it felt like they tried to fit all of Watson’s longing into a single scene, and yeah, it came across a little strange. Think if this was the first episode you ever saw of the series! As to your point about the head shot… who indeed!? Thanks for listening, Christopher! -Luke

  3. Gents,
    A couple of notes towards the one liners as you discuss during the podcast that maybe just triggered strange memories in my mind…when Thaddeus said “My Father” sounded very similar to the beginning of the Heath Ledger line in Batman “My Father was a drinker” and when Jonathan Small said “It has been the Sign of Four with us always” sounded very similar to Obi Wan in Star Wars “The force will be with you always”… maybe it is just me.

  4. Ah, I’m a massive fan of Jenny Seagrove! I’m sure it will come out in your interview, but she was in a brilliant adaptation of Willkie Collins’s The Woman in White back in the 80s. Highly recommended for fans of Victorian sensationalist fiction.

    Regarding the generation of The Sign of Four, as an author of a Oscar Wilde-Holmes pastiche, I’m a little skeptical of “Sholto” being a reference to the Marquess of Queensbury due to the Wilde meeting. Bosie and Wilde didn’t begin their relationship until after the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it’s possible that Queensbury’s influence upon boxing caused the name to crop up in Doyle’s imagination. I’ve also always been skeptical of young Sholto being a stand-in for Wilde (other than being a chain-smoker, Wilde was not really a very fragile and sensitive man), but Wilde IMHO clearly cribbed a bit of Holmes in Dorian Gray’s violin-playing, poetry-hating chemist Alan Campbell (a moral man who is blackmailed for a sexual indiscretion by Dorian into getting rid of Basil’s body).

    I agree this episode is just okay. And frankly I place the blame squarely on Doyle, who I just don’t think was as great a novelist as he was a short story writer. There are some brilliant scenes (like the opening cocaine and watch sequence, the locked room deduction, and the bit with Toby and the chase to the creosote barrel). But the suspense is very uneven because so many major plot points are told in flashback rather than real time, which is especially deadly on film. However, because this is such a famous story, the scriptwriter couldn’t really deviate very much from its rather clunky structure. I also agree that the question of what happens to the money seems odd. I assume Mary could use at least the money from the pearls to get a start in life, yet she’s still serving as a governess, living in relative dependency? And couldn’t at least a few jewels be dragged from the Thames?

    I think the Orientalist/racism of the story is pretty obvious (I don’t want to beat the theme to death), but even from a story POV, I think it’s unsatisfying having the villain be a “savage” because there’s a real lack of a face-off between Holmes and the antagonist. Tonga (the actual criminal) is portrayed as being unable to understand what he does and gets tossed in the river. He feels more like a plot device than a human being who is an antagonist worthy of Holmes.

    I also agree that marrying off Watson was a ridiculous mistake. Even in “Scandal,” the time Watson spends hanging out with Holmes seems a bit absurd for a married man. If the novel was a stand-alone, the neat symmetry at the end of Holmes having the cocaine vial to Jones getting the credit (professional success) and Watson a wife (personal fulfillment) is very nice. But it doesn’t work as well for a continuing novel.

    And may I say “as a woman” that despite Holmes’s grudging credit for keeping the papers (why on earth wouldn’t she), I find Mary as canonical heroines rather dull. Compared with Irene Adler, Violet Hunter, Violet Smith, Mary of “The Abbey Grange,” or even Lady Hilda of “The Second Stain,” she’s fairly passive and lacks agency and is primarily defined by her relationships with men. Seagrove’s performance invests her with a great deal of quiet strength, but, I hate to say, not constantly relying upon Watson for support (like she does in the novel) makes her loneliness at the end more poignant and more interesting.

    Anyway, thank you for another though-provoking episode! Always worth the wait, however long.

  5. Thank you, Mary, for taking the time to put some vital points into writing here! I couldn’t agree more, it is much appreciated.

  6. Loved watching this episode again, the first time I have seen it in years! And loved, as always, your deep dive into the episode.

    One thing that bugged me… How is it bright when they get to Brother Bartholomew’s house in Norwood? They meet at the Theatre at 7 in October, and it’s dark out, as it should be. They go to Thaddeus’ house, hear his story, then go to Norwood and it’s bright outside. Are they meant to have stayed all night in Thaddeus’s house?

    In the book they go to Norwood at night, arriving at about 11pm, spend the early hours there investigating, and then Watson brings Mary home at about 2am, collects Toby and is back in Norwood for about 3am. It starts to get light as they are on the chase with Toby, and that’s in the early hours of the morning as it’s July in the book.

    Speaking of the Toby chase, I do think they didn’t make it clear in the episode at all. He brings them to the water’s edge, Holmes says they took a boat, then Toby runs off, they follow him, he finds the barrels of Creosote, they decide he took the wrong scent and follow him again, and find another pier where Holmes says they took a boat. Obviously if you have read the story it’s clearly explained that Toby followed a crossed scent, but in the episode it doesn’t make sense after the first scene saying “they’ve taken a boat”.

    But, let’s be honest, it’s still a great episode and classic Holmes, with many great Jeremy bits! 😊

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