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The Curious Case of the Doctor’s Wardrobe

I’ll be honest with you all – I am an equal opportunity appreciator. Not only do I love both the BBC’s Sherlock AND CBS’s Elementary, I also adore the movie versions with Robert Downey, Jr. In fact, if you asked me to pick a favorite of the three, I would look you squarely in the eye and declare, “Shant!” before flouncing off to rewatch all of them on my various subscription services. All the more mysterious is the fact that I have never read any of the original stories, nor have I seen any other productions of them. Ah, we live in mysterious times…

Never the less, whether you prefer your Holmes and Watson contemporary or historical, adapted, updated, original, gender-swapped, or even medically-inclined, that is not the topic of today’s discussion. No, gentle reader, today we are here to discuss the curious case of the doctor’s wardrobe – or, more specifically, the wardrobe choices being made for the character of Dr. Joan Watson in the CBS series Elementary.

Let’s start with what we know about Dr. Joan Watson. She was a well-respected surgeon for an unknown number of years before becoming a sober companion. I think it is safe to assume that her career as a surgeon provided her with significantly more income than she would receive as a sober companion. And, in fact, there are several instances through which we are provided insight into her current financial status – most notably when she is approached for money in “Solve for X.” So, it would be reasonable to assume that the vast majority of her wardrobe, especially any pricier pieces, are from her time as a surgeon. So, they should be several years out of date, yes?

Accordingly, one might also safely assume that her wardrobe would be one befitting a well-respected surgeon at a New York City hospital. While I am certainly no arbiter of fashion, and definitely not conversant with styles in major metropolitan areas, there are certain ‘inconsistencies’ that catch my attention. May I present exhibit A?

Elementary: CBS
 

In such a small picture, you may not be immediately aware that it is snowing. Certainly, though, you can tell from the presence of hats, scarves, and gloves that it is cold? Yes, I thought so too, until I realized that Dr. Watson is wearing leather shorts. With tights. And what look to be 3 to 4 inch platform heels. Or whatever you call those shoes. As a sober companion, would she have had the income necessary to purchase those shoes? As a surgeon, would she have worn them? Although her top half does seem to be dressed for the weather, which is more than we can say for exhibit B:

Elementary: CBS
 

Let’s examine the evidence. You’ll notice that, although they are inside, Detective Bell is wearing a warm winter coat over his suit and tie. From this, we can safely assume that it is cold outside. At least autumn in New York, if not winter (no scarf, hat, or gloves being present.) And yet, Dr. Watson, who lives in a run-down, barely furnished, presumably drafty New York Brownstone, is wearing a leather mini-skirt with tights and a thin, cap-sleeved t-shirt. Understandably, she is crossing her arms for warmth. Less understandably, she is neither shivering nor a lovely shade of blue.

I’ll admit that the wardrobe choices being made for Dr. Watson’s character didn’t initially bother me. I thought her clothes were very stylish and very youthful.  Also, some of the choices are consistent with the character’s canon – Dr. Watson being interested in dating and finding a romantic relationship partner would fit with an effort to dress in a youthful and attractive style.But, as time has gone on I find myself increasingly confused by the wardrobe decisions made for her character. What are they really trying to say? I’m not even sure.

On Loving Two Different Sherlocks, a guest post by Rachelia

I’m relatively new to the various Sherlock fandoms, having first watched series 1 – 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock around this time last year, and all of Elementary this fall. What I lack in history with these shows I like to think I make up in passion, haha!

From what I’ve garnered from browsing Tumblr tags and seeing various internet discussions is that there seems to be some kind of rule that you must choose between the BBC or Elementary version of Sherlock. There is some kind of feud between fans, often with BBC purists dismissing criticisms of the shows (particularly in regards to issues pertaining to gender and race), and insisting that is the far superior show and interpretation of Sherlock (example).

I don’t necessarily understand this either/or line that seems to have been drawn in the sand, as I have come to love both these modern TV adaptations of Sherlock. I’m going to talk a little about what keeps me coming back for more from these shows, and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers along the way!


BBC

Sherlock (BBC)

Brief description: Set in London, England the famous Sherlock and his doctor partner John Watson solve cases using both the sleuth’s power of deduction and the conveniences of modern technology.  

Cinematography & Setting

I absolutely love the aesthetics of the BBC version of Sherlock. Sleek, modern, and fast-paced, it’s very cinematic in style. The dark tones reflect the criminals they are in pursuit of, and the mysteries they are solving.

The city itself also sort of becomes a character of its own, as it lends so much to this interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. From the skyline with the London Eye in the opening credits to Sherlock and Watson called to Buckingham Palace there is no escaping that this is a BBC show through and through. My inner anglophile wholeheartedly approves, and I get immense homesickness for my study abroad days in the UK while watching the show!


John!Lock Pairing

I can’t deny that I ship Sherlock and John. They have such chemistry on screen! But honestly, even without the John!Lock fic that I can’t seem to put down, I love their friendship. They both ground each other: John is Sherlock’s connection to the outside world, the world that exists outside of his brain; and Sherlock is John’s stabilizer, helping him through their friendship manage his PTSD and finding a new purpose in life. 
 
CBS

Elementary (CBS)

Brief description: Sherlock has relocated to New York City, where he acts as a consulting detective to the NYPD, along with his sober companion Joan Watson.

Creative interpretation

While Elementary pays homage to the BBC’s Sherlock in the way he wears his ever-present scarf, that is where most of the similarities end. Elementary is quite a different show than Sherlock, as the writers have adapted the story and made it their own.

Most obviously: 1) Sherlock is now living in New York, after fleeing London due to his addiction, and 2) the fact that Watson is a woman. These two simple changes give a lot of new life and material to the adaptation!


Sherlock’s addiction is also front and center in this adaptation, which helps humanize him as he struggles with sober-living.

I also love how they changed the Moriarty character and storyline – I actually prefer it.


More diversity in gender and race

It’s a pretty well known criticism that Moffatt has a bad track record with writing complex, fully imagined female characters, whether it be on Sherlock or Dr. Who. So, I really really appreciate the work of the producers and writers on Elementary, who have introduced more diversity to the case, and address issues of sexism and racism in the show.
First of all, I love the reimagining of Watson as Joan, a woman, instead of John. More so — I love how she’s not just another Asian sidekick but a capable and independent woman who evolves from Sherlock’s sober companion to his partner as a detective-in-training. I mean, look at that poster — you often don’t see women standing behind a man in a movie or TV poster. Usually the woman is objectified and the man, domineering. Here, Joan is standing right behind Sherlock at the focal point of the poster. She appears to be the backbone of Sherlock here, and I think you could make the argument that, at it’s heart, the show is really about her and her journey.


Further, on numerous occasions Joan has called Sherlock out on sexism, racism, and his lack of sensitivity in dealing with victims. Sherlock treats Joan with respect, and listens, making adjustments to his anti-social behaviour to accommodate their working relationship. Speaking of relationships, theirs’ is completely platonic… and I love it that way. Yes, grown men and women can “just” be  friends!

Lastly, there is diversity in Elementarys’ cast of characters. Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson is Asian-American, and both Jon Michael Hill (Detective Bell) and Ato Essandoh (Alfredo, Sherlock’s sober sponsor) are African-American. Three characters of colour, give them a cookie, right?! However, I think it’s also important to note that all three characters are very important to Sherlock, and don’t exist solely to tell his story. They also don’t put up with his crap.


While the show isn’t entirely unproblematic, it is refreshing to see a female Asian lead, a diverse cast of secondary (but important) characters, and a show that calls out it’s main male character on his attitudes and behaviours.

Finally, These two shows both have value in what they bring to the Sherlock fandom and canon. After all there is no ONE Sherlock – he has been imagined over 80 times! All in all, I can confidently say that there is space in my heart to love two modern versions of the same classic detective.

Rachelia
Find out more about Rachelia and visit her blog Bookish Comforts