Audio review: Big Finish’s ‘The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes’

With this four-disc set, Big Finish brings to a close a sequence of stories beginning with the 2012 release The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner.

Over 13 discs (a single release and three box sets), writer Jonathan Barnes has woven a tale grand in concept yet readily accessible. Newcomers to Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range needs only to know Nick Briggs as Sherlock and Richard Earl as Watson are as compelling a pairing as any other in the long history of the characters.

Although part of an arc, this box set is very much self-contained and has moved forward substantially.

Watson is now married for the third time (Elizabeth Rider is a well-nuanced Eleanor Watson), and Holmes is older, much older. On some level, although this set is ostensibly about the ongoing battle with the Society (as exemplified by the return of Mrs Curbishley (Tracey Childs), post-Great War angst and the battle to protect London, there is a more implacable foe: time in the guise of age.

This is a Holmes approaching the end of his powers, his intellect still firing on all cylinders yet not where it once was. His knowledge of London is not current and while still the brightest man in the room, Nick Briggs portrays well the tension of a man much nearer his final curtain than he wants to be. This isn’t overdone, but like age itself is always present.

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The cast of heroes and villains is well-realised and there is plenty of ambiguity through the first few stories, and unlike previous sets the action flows almost continuously from disc to disc. Stakes are high and the Council of Priam may be called into action, but will they make the right decision?

The Society’s plans are driven by Agamemnon (Alan Cox), and Alan Cox almost upstages Briggs and Earl with the power of his performance. There is plenty to enjoy in this set and Jonathan Barnes keeps the mood dark while still holding out hope.

The story has strong occult elements in places, and this is very much in keeping with Conan Doyle, even if in places the storytelling feels modernised. As a conclusion to the set of stories, The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes is more than welcome.

The ending may not quite work for all fans as the plot balances the traditional with the new, and it is difficult to please all of the audience all of the time. The general threat to London also feels under-delivered; there is plenty of horror and threat to individuals, the terror London is enduring has more than a shade of the future blitz about it, and it might have been nice to experience some of it through the eyes of some of those most affected by it.

A minor complaint about a great set of stories.

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Released in August 2016 by Big Finish.

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