The plot trope of someone who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes has been employed with greater or lesser success dozens of times over the decades. One of the best such forays was They Might be Giants, reportedly the great John Bennett Shaw’s favorite movie.
My new favorite exploration of this theme is “A Study in Sherlock,” episode 4 of Season 6 of “The Murdoch Mysteries” from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. It was first broadcast on Jan. 28, 2013.
Several strengths make the episode memorable, starting with the fact that the script writer actually created a good plot, not just a gimmick. The individual who thinks he’s Holmes has a psychological reason for his delusion that fits perfectly into the mystery, which involves a hidden treasure with a Holmes connection.
The story takes place around 1900, during the period when Sherlock Holmes was believed dead at the hands of Moriarty. When David Kingsley, AKA Holmes, explains that away in the presence of a visiting Arthur Conan Doyle (not very convincingly portrayed with shaggy hair and an unDoylean beard), the British author sees away to bring Holmes back from the dead. He even steals the name of a very real Col. Sebastian Moran, who is a character in the show.
Murdoch finally breaks through the madman’s delusion by playing to it. He appeals to that old Sherlockian maxim: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The improbable truth that Kingsley is forced to believe is that he’s not Sherlock Holmes!
It’s a great episode in a first-rate series. Season 7 brings “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” – but I’m not there yet!