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New Directions in Sherlock Conference

New Directions in Sherlock UCL

The "New Directions in Sherlock" conference at UCL on 11th March drew a diverse range of academics and fans to discuss the third series of the BBCs contemporary Sherlock Holmes adaptation, and other modern directions of Holmes.

The panels covered a wide range of areas topics and Holmeses (Yes it's a word, I said so) Because it seems that even if you try and discuss just one Sherlock, in this case  the BBC version, the others always creep in. Sherlock or Holmes or whatever you call him (personally I call him Sherly, but only when we're alone) doesn't come without baggage, without over 100 years of legacy. So while we debated where the BBC had taken him, and where he might go next the older Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle's canonical texts, though Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett up to Robert Downey jnr and as far as the recent Norwegian Sherlock parody. What we saw is Sherlock cannot be boiled down easily to just the study of one tv phenomena.

Close readings of Sherlock were found in panels on Narrative adaptation and theory with analysis from Ann McKellan on Barthesian approaches to adaptation and Sherlock. other panellists looked at writing Sherlock or filmic adaptations with close readings on screenwriting from Bonnie MacBird or character analysis from Rakshita Patel. Fascinating comparisons with Medieval Quest narratives were Amdrea Williams, who showed that production of Sherlock and even fan responses are much older than we may think. Canonical Holmes and his previous adaptations were also featured prominently  Tom Ue considered Holmes' journey from magazine pages, while Joanna Kurcharska looked in detail at Irene Adler's recent journey in adaptations. 

The panels were diverse covering a range of aspects of Sherlock the series and the wider Holmes canon. I got to talk about filming Sherlock and the series 3 "Setlock" movement in which fans followed filming online and I person gathering information about the series, speculating and sharing. This was followed by a paper from Chai Buchmann on tourism and Sherlock alongside Richard Burnip's analysis of Sherlock and other Holmes adaptations, in London. All three generated interesting questions about how we as fans and as human beings want to engage beyond the screen with location and our favourite literary or television characters. Why do we want to follow in the footsteps of Holmes? Why do certain landmarks take on more resonance when associated with fiction? How in the digital age is the relationship between fans filming and location canning? All interesting points to be discussed at length for many more papers.

Fans and engagement were a topic of an afternoon panel as well. With three insights chaired by Bertha Chin,  a part of the team behind the Fan Studies Network(  In this panel Chiara Codeca explored the world of Sherlock  fan fiction while Elizabeth. Minkel explored what it meant to be a fan girl. The discussions that followed showed the voice of fans at this conference, as did the response to Matt Hills' paper on 'Sherlock series three. Fan service and the subtext of Mystery' the fan voice, particularly when discussing the fan response was a fantastic addition to the conference. Hearing from voices outside academia particularly in this field is vital to keep research and thinking fresh. In hearing from fans and having the engagement of so many passionate fans in the conference was a real strength of the day. I think this and similar conferences and networks are beginning to build bridges and strengthen discussions between fans, academics and those of us who find ourselves I the curious position of being something of both.   

At lunchtimes there was a screening of "His last vow" a great way to focus the audience and remind us in the midst of all the thinking, analysis and maybe arguing, why we were all here. Having a chance to view without commentary or analysis And immerse themselves I the source material actually really enhanced the experience. In watching Sherlock over lunch I felt my kind refocus on what this was about to some extent.

The keynote speech from Ben Poore drew the day to a close in great style. In a lecture entitled "Fighting Paper Dragons? The emergence of Political Ideology in Sherlock series 3" Ben Poore explored the use of Charles Maugnussen I series three as a purveyor or newspapers and evil simultaneously. Asking what the inclusion of a newspaper mogul does the political bias of Sherlock via its use of newspaper headlines, Poore then moved on to some real life headlines and press engagement with Sherlock and its creators. Asking questions about where as a whole, but I particular in political terms Sherlock or its creators were headed which nodded to previous incarnations of Holmes and their political bias as erased do at the time and retrospectively. Drawing, by way of Malcolm Tucker, questions of where things may go next. In a lively Q&A discussion covered everything from politics to Sherlock's character development, morality and the reception of the series in America versus Britain. The keynote by Ben Poore was not only hugely enlightening and interesting but also entertaining and accessible. In short it was the kind of keynote every young academic aspires to someday (I must point out here I'm not implying Ben is an old academic, I do value my life. He is however a talented one and incredibly an engaging speaker as the keynote attested). Poore's interesting subject matter, enthusiastic delivery and engagement with discussion were perfect in tone and topic to close the day.

As discussions carried on over dinner for many of us (and even online once safely back at my hotel) showed that Sherlock and whatever new directions he is heading in leaves us a lot to discuss.  This conference was the tip of the iceberg in terms of analysing Sherlock and his predecessors (and successors?) the balance of fans and academics (and those in between) and the passion with which Holmes is held gives these discussions a life all of their own. Much like Holmes, Sherlock and all his incarnations.

With thanks to Tom Ue for his organisation, Ben Poore for his keynote (and overall support) and the staff at UCL. 

Those interested in the Fan Studies side of this conference may also be interested in the Fan Studies Network conference and call for papers here:

As a little treat, as its Sunday and Im in post-conference hangover mode, heres the Norwegian Sherlock parody mentioned above, to prove we dont take ourselves too seriously. 


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