Making a House a Holmes

I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes – to my mind, he’s one of the greatest fictional characters ever created, even if Conan Doyle wouldn’t have agreed with me. Holmes is, in essence, a timeless character – and that’s why we have so many different adaptations of the character. There’s Jeremy Brett’s iconic Granada films, to the BBC’s international hit Sherlock; we’ve got an American adaptation in Elementary, a Russian iteration of Шерлок Холмс, and of course the fantastic cartoon mouse version that is Basil of Baker Street.

There’s also House.

House is another show that I’m quite fond of – I’ve written about it before, and suggested that the first season finale Three Stories is one of the best hours of television ever. Hugh Laurie is fantastic in the title role, of course, and I found that the medical riff on the procedural style brought something really fresh to a familiar format.

Of course, though, House is also a riff on Sherlock Holmes. Consider his impressive deductive powers; where Holmes applies this skill to catching criminals, House applies it to diagnosing diseases. House’s entire process of a differential diagnoses is quite similar to Holmes’ famous method of deduction – once you have ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.

More immediately, it’s obvious in the names – House and Holmes? Or perhaps Wilson and Watson? Wilson acts for House in much the same way Watson does for Holmes; the loyal Boswell, always at our hero’s side as best friend, confidant, and at times even house mate.

There’s plenty of other little links and references dotted throughout the series, though; our good doctor in House also lives at 221B, after all – the infamous address of the world’s most famous consulting detective. Further, when House is shot at the end of the second series, the shooter is named in the credits as “Moriarty”; the Napoleon of crime who was involved in the almost death of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, now immortalised forever as Holmes’ greatest enemy. Even Irene Adler gets a namecheck in the fourth season’s Christmas episode, and in another yuletide special, we see Wilson gift House a “first edition Conan Doyle” book.

A more substantial link, perhaps, is that both of these characters have a predilection for drug use. In The Sign of Four, Conan Doyle established that Sherlock was a regular user of both cocaine and morphine – stimulants he would fall back on when not engaged on a case. House’s battle with Vicodin addiction was a common theme across House, and he was often depicted to be addicted to his cases just as much, if not more, than his drugs. For both House and Holmes, the real challenge – that which they lived for – were the puzzles they encountered in their work.

Death, too, was something that both experienced in a similar way. While I’d be averse to spoiling the ending of House – it was rather fantastic – it bears more than a few similarities to the quite infamous death of Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem.

Finally, then – one quite entertaining link. Both Holmes and House are infamous for their deductive skills; it’s this that sets Holmes apart as one of the greatest fictional detectives ever to have been created. But Conan Doyle had based this attribute on someone he knew; Dr. Joseph Bell, who was able to diagnose a patient’s illness just by looking at them.

Sound familiar…?

Related:

Is House MD ‘Three Stories’ the greatest hour of teelvision ever?

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