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John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)

John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)

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John H. Watson, M.D. (born 7 July 1852), known as Dr. Watson, is a character in the Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The fantastic London-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to take almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve...

 stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Watson is Sherlock Holmes's friend, assistant and sometime flatmate, and is the first person narrator of all but four stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Name


Doctor Watson's first name is mentioned on only three occasions. Part one of the very first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introducing his new character of Sherlock Holmes, who later became one of the most famous literary detective characters. He wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the next year...

, is subtitled 'Being a reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department'. In 'The Problem of Thor Bridge
The Problem of Thor Bridge
"The Problem of Thor Bridge" is a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle, which appears in the collection The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes...

', Watson says that his dispatch box is labeled 'John H. Watson, M.D'. Watson's wife calls him 'James' in The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Man with the Twisted Lip
"The Man with the Twisted Lip", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the sixth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine in December 1891...

; according to Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages...

, she is referring to his middle name Hamish
Hamish
Hamish is a masculine given name in English. It is the Anglicised form, of the vocative case, of the Scottish Gaelic Seumas: Sheumais. The Scottish Gaelic Seumas is the equivalent to the English James.-List of people with the given name:...

(which means James in Scots). In every other instance, he is called either Doctor or Watson, or both together, and his first name is never used again.

Meeting Holmes


In the debut Holmes story A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introducing his new character of Sherlock Holmes, who later became one of the most famous literary detective characters. He wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the next year...

, Watson, as the narrator, tells us that he had received his medical degree from the University of London in 1878, and had subsequently gone on to train as an Army surgeon. He then joined British forces in India, saw service in Afghanistan, was wounded at the Battle of Maiwand
Battle of Maiwand
The Battle of Maiwand in 1880 was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Under the leadership of Malalai Anaa, the legendary woman of Afghanistan, the Afghan followers of Ayub Khan defeated the British Army in one of the rare nineteenth-century victories of an Asian force...

 (27 July 1880), and after months of recovery, was sent back to England on the troopship HMS Orontes
HMS Orontes (1862)
HMS Orontes was a 19th century troopship of the Royal Navy, intended for carrying troops to southern Africa and the West Indies .-Design:...

. In England the action of the story begins, presumably in late 1880 or early 1881. He describes meeting Holmes, their subsequent sharing of rooms at 221B Baker Street
221B Baker Street
221B Baker Street is the London address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the United Kingdom, postal addresses with a number followed by a letter may indicate a separate address within a larger, often residential building...

, his attempts to discover the profession of his taciturn companion, Holmes's eventual acceptance of Watson, and the events surrounding their first case together. Watson describes Holmes and his methods in detail, but in too romantic and sentimental a manner for Holmes's taste. In time, they become close friends. In The Sign of the Four, John Watson meets Mary Morstan, who becomes his wife. In "The Adventure of the Empty House
The Adventure of the Empty House
"The Adventure of the Empty House", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Public pressure forced Conan Doyle to bring the sleuth back to life, and explain his...

", the first story after Holmes's return (after he had been thought dead for three years), Watson states that "Holmes had while away learned of my own sad bereavement and his sympathy was shown through his manner rather than in his words." This indicates that Watson has lost someone significant to death, almost certainly his wife; that fact is confirmed when he moves back to Baker Street to share lodgings with Holmes, as he had done as a bachelor. Conan Doyle made mention of a second wife in "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
The Adventure of the Illustrious Client
"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.-Plot summary:...

" and "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes...

", but this wife was never named, described, or explained.

Dr. Watson is a physician of some experience (as was Conan Doyle). He had served as an Assistant Surgeon of the Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 Medical Department (attached to the Berkshires
66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot
The 66th Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1758 and amalgamated into The Princess Charlotte of Wales's in 1881....

) in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

, but he was discharged following an injury received in the line of duty during the Battle of Maiwand
Battle of Maiwand
The Battle of Maiwand in 1880 was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Under the leadership of Malalai Anaa, the legendary woman of Afghanistan, the Afghan followers of Ayub Khan defeated the British Army in one of the rare nineteenth-century victories of an Asian force...

. (Watson gives two separate locations for Jezail
Jezail
The jezail was a simple, cost-efficient and often hand-made muzzle-loading long arm commonly used in British India, Central Asia and parts of the Middle East in the past.-Features:...

 bullet wound he received while serving in the British Army. In A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introducing his new character of Sherlock Holmes, who later became one of the most famous literary detective characters. He wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the next year...

, he states, "I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery
Subclavian artery
In human anatomy, the subclavian arteries are two major arteries of the upper thorax , below the clavicle . They receive blood from the top of the aorta...

." In The Sign of the Four, Watson informs us that he "sat nursing my wounded leg. I had had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent me from walking it ached wearily at every change of the weather." "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the tenth of the twelve stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...

" contains the only other reference to the injury, "the Jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence." Many scholars suggest that Watson was wounded twice, with the shoulder wound more immediately threatening his life and the wound in his leg not so serious at the time but later becoming a source of persistent discomfort.) Watson had been in danger of being captured by the enemy after the battle, but was saved by his orderly
Orderly
A medical orderly , is a hospital attendant whose job consists of assisting medical and/or nursing staff with various nursing and/or medical interventions. These duties are classified as routine tasks involving no risk for the patient.- Job details :Orderlies are often utilized in various hospital...

, Murray, who threw the doctor on a pack-horse and thus helped to ensure his escape from the field. Watson's character may have been based upon the 66th regiment's Medical Officer, Surgeon Major A F Preston, who also was wounded in the Battle of Maiwand. It is possible that Conan Doyle was inspired by the survival of another physician in Afghanistan, Dr. William Brydon, although that event occurred in 1842 during the First Anglo-Afghan War
First Anglo-Afghan War
The First Anglo-Afghan War was fought between British India and Afghanistan from 1839 to 1842. It was one of the first major conflicts during the Great Game, the 19th century competition for power and influence in Central Asia between the United Kingdom and Russia, and also marked one of the worst...

.

Watson often uses his service revolver in the cases. He is a crack shot, apparently a better marksman than Holmes. Oddly, in the most notable use of Watson's service revolver, the gun is never discharged; instead, in "The Problem of Thor Bridge
The Problem of Thor Bridge
"The Problem of Thor Bridge" is a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle, which appears in the collection The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes...

", Holmes uses the revolver to test his theory of how the homicide occurred and why there is a curious, unexplained gash in the stonework of the bridge.

Physical appearance


When John Watson first returns from Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

, he is "as thin as a lath
Lath
A lath is a thin, narrow strip of some straight-grained wood or other material, including metal or gypsum. A lattice, or lattice-work, is a criss-crossed or interlaced arrangement of laths, or the pattern made by such an arrangement...

 and as brown as a nut." He is usually described as strongly built, of a stature either average or slightly above average, with a thick, strong neck and a small moustache. Watson used to be an athlete, as it is mentioned in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short-stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.- Plot summary :...

" that he once played rugby for Blackheath, but he fears his physical condition has declined since that point.

Personality



Watson is described as a crack shot and an excellent doctor and surgeon. Intelligent, if lacking in Holmes's insight, he serves as a perfect foil for Holmes: the ordinary man against the brilliant, emotionally-detached analytical machine. Conan Doyle paired two characters, different in their function and yet each useful for his purposes.

Watson is well aware of both the limits of his abilities and Holmes's reliance on him:
Conan Doyle portrays Watson as a capable and brave individual, whom Holmes does not hesitate to call upon for both moral and physical assistance: "Quickly Watson, get your service revolver!" Watson sometimes attempts to solve crimes on his own, using Holmes's methods. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an...

,
Watson efficiently clears up several of the many mysteries confronting the pair, and Holmes praises him warmly for his zeal and intelligence. However, because he is not endowed with Holmes's almost-superhuman ability to focus on the essential details of the case and Holmes's extraordinary range of recondite, specialised knowledge, Watson meets with limited success in other cases. Holmes summed up the problem that Watson confronted in one memorable rebuke from "A Scandal in Bohemia
A Scandal in Bohemia
"A Scandal in Bohemia" was the first of Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories to be published in The Strand Magazine and the first Sherlock Holmes story illustrated by Sidney Paget....

": "Quite so... you see, but you do not observe." In "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

," Watson's attempts to assist Holmes's investigation prove unsuccessful because of his unimaginative approach, for example, asking a London estate agent who lives in a particular country residence. (According to Holmes, what he should have done was "gone to the nearest public house" and listened to the gossip.) Watson is too guileless to be a proper detective. And yet, as Holmes acknowledges, Watson has unexpected depths about him; for example, he has a definite strain of "pawky humour", as Holmes observes in The Valley of Fear
The Valley of Fear
The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915, and the first book edition was published in New York on 27 February 1915.- Part I: The Tragedy of Birlstone...

. On the whole, however, Watson is naturally open and straightforward, while Holmes can be secretive and devious.

Though initially their relationship was little more than one between casual acquaintances sharing a set of rooms, Holmes and Watson ultimately become the best of friends, almost like brothers. By the time they shared "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes....

", Holmes was so attached to his friend that he nearly lost his composure at the thought that Watson had been fatally shot. Watson wrote, "It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation." Holmes recovers his balance only when he is sure that Watson's wound is slight, but a trace of his alarm and worry for Watson is clear in his menacing reproof to the criminal who shot the doctor: "If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive."

Though Watson never masters Holmes's deductive methods, he can be astute enough to follow his friend's reasoning after the fact. In "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the second tale from The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in Strand Magazine in 1903 with original illustrations by Sidney...

," Holmes notes that John Hector McFarlane is "a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic". Watson comments as narrator: "Familiar as I was with my friend's methods, it was not difficult for me to follow his deductions, and to observe the untidiness of attire, the sheaf of legal papers, the watch-charm, and the breathing which had prompted them." Similar episodes occur in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow....

," "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

," and "The Adventure of the Resident Patient
The Adventure of the Resident Patient
"The Adventure of the Resident Patient", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes...

." In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The story was originally serialised in Strand Magazine in 1893. This story...

", we find a rare instance in which Watson rather than Holmes correctly deduces the motives for the torture of the crime victim.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an...

Watson shows that he has picked up some of Holmes's skills at dealing with people from whom information is desired—though, as a skilled doctor with a first-rate bedside manner, Watson naturally would have such skills. When Watson sees that his questions to Dr. Mortimer are arousing too much curiosity, he manipulates the conversation so that Mortimer soon forgets what they were discussing. (As he observes to the reader, "I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing.") Though he is on the wrong scent when seeking information from Mr. Frankland, he succeeds in egging on the contrary old man by using Holmes's trick of feigning lack of interest. And he questions Laura Lyons much as Holmes might have done.

Watson was a fully competent doctor, and his knowledge proved useful to Holmes on many occasions. In "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," for example, his identification of a certain type of surgical knife confirms Holmes's suspicions and helps him solve a crucial puzzle in the larger mystery. In "The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the fourth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.-Plot summary:Lestrade summons Holmes to a...

," Watson's notes about the injury the murder victim had sustained— a blow to the left side of the head from the back— prompted Holmes to realise that their killer was left-handed, which allowed him to narrow the list of suspects. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter
"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. The story was originally serialised in Strand Magazine in 1893. This story...

," Watson's medical skill saves the life of the client Mr. Melas, who was nearly killed by the story's villains with gas
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 poisoning. Holmes notes his respect for Watson's professional skill in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective
The Adventure of the Dying Detective
"The Adventure of the Dying Detective", in some editions simply titled "The Dying Detective", is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Together with seven other stories, it is collected as His Last Bow.-Plot summary:Dr...

" when he explains that he incorporated into his ruse of being deathly ill a claim that his illness was highly contagious, since Holmes knew that Dr. Watson never would have been deceived upon examining him closely and discovering that an ostensibly dying man had neither a high fever nor an abnormal pulse.

Watson is a ladies' man (reporting in The Sign of Four of his "experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents") and there are ample, though occasionally inconsistent, clues in the stories giving rise to speculation as to whether he was married twice or even thrice.

Watson as Holmes's biographer


At the end of the first published Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introducing his new character of Sherlock Holmes, who later became one of the most famous literary detective characters. He wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the next year...

, Watson is so impressed by Holmes's elegant handling of the case and so incensed by Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...

's claiming full credit for its solution that he exclaims: "Your merits should be publicly recognised. You should publish an account of the case. If you won't, I will for you." Holmes suavely responds: "You may do what you like, Doctor." Hence Watson did write the story, presented as "a reprint from the reminiscences of John H. Watson".

In the first chapter of the second story that Watson records, The Sign of Four, Holmes comments on Watson's first effort as a biographer—but with a distinct lack of enthusiasm: "I glanced over it. Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism… The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it."

Watson in his narrative admits, "I was annoyed at this criticism of a work which had been specially designed to please him. I confess, too, that I was irritated by the egotism which seemed to demand that every line of my pamphlet should be devoted to his own special doings. More than once during the years that I had lived with him in Baker Street I had observed that a small vanity underlay my companion's quiet and didactic manner."

As these lines suggest, in his later stories Watson stopped trying to please Holmes and felt free to write about his friend with astonishing frankness, sometimes commenting on his flaws and his arrogance as well as describing his successes. Holmes apparently did not care, and also remained unimpressed by Watson's "sketches" of his cases. In "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" is one of the fifty-six Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. One of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow, it is a lengthy, two-part story consisting of "The Singular Experience of Mr...

," the detective acidly refers to "those narratives with which you have afflicted a long-suffering public". In "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes...

," one of only two stories supposedly written by Holmes himself, the detective remarks about Watson: "I have often had occasion to point out to him how superficial are his accounts and to accuse him of pandering
Pandering (politics)
Pandering is the act of expressing one's views in accordance with the likes of a group to which one is attempting to appeal. The term is most notably associated with politics...

 to popular taste instead of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures." Yet, when Holmes confronts the need to be his own chronicler, he realises just how difficult it is to write a narrative that will hold the reader's attention, and then he confesses that Watson would have been the better choice to write the story. In any case, Holmes regularly referred to Watson as my "faithful friend and biographer," and at least once exclaims, "I am lost without my Boswell
James Boswell
James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson....

."

Outside the fiction, Holmes's deprecating remarks on Watson's narratives resonate with Conan Doyle’s self-ironic view of his own authorship. Although for decades he continued to write new Holmes stories to satisfy an indulgent public, he saw himself "pandering to popular taste", because the Holmes character “may perhaps have stood a little in the way of the recognition of my more serious literary work” (preface to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes). Ultimately, Conan Doyle felt frustration that he would be remembered most likely for Holmes and Watson rather than for his historical novels of chivalry, his defence of British conduct in the Boer War
Boer War
The Boer Wars were two wars fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Oranje Vrijstaat and the Republiek van Transvaal ....

 and the First World War (for which he was knighted), and his many writings on spiritualism
Spiritualism
Spiritualism is a belief system or religion, postulating the belief that spirits of the dead residing in the spirit world have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living...

.

In "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
"The Adventure of the Abbey Grange", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

," Holmes concedes to Watson that "you have some power of selection, which atones for much which I deplore in your narratives." Otherwise he maintained his criticism: "Your fatal habit of looking at everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader."

Watson, on the other hand, claimed that "in choosing a few typical cases which illustrate the remarkable mental qualities of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to select those which presented the minimum of sensationalism, while offering a fair field for his talents." He found, though, that it was "unfortunately impossible entirely to separate the sensational from the criminal" ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the second of the twelve Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in most British editions of the canon, and second of the eight stories from His Last Bow in most American...

").

Holmes sometimes accuses Watson of exaggerating his abilities. In "Silver Blaze
Silver Blaze
"Silver Blaze", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was adapted in 1937 to a film starring Arthur Wontner, and an ITV drama starring Christopher Plummer which was...

", Holmes confesses: "I made a blunder, my dear Watson—which is, I am afraid, a more common occurrence than anyone would think who only knew me through your memoirs." When Holmes felt he had bungled something, he could exclaim: "Watson, Watson, if you are an honest man you will record this also and set it against my successes!" (The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an...

, chapters 5–6.) In his prologue to "The Adventure of the Yellow Face
The Adventure of the Yellow Face
"The Adventure of the Yellow Face", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the third tale from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes...

," Watson himself remarked: "In publishing these short sketches [of Holmes’ cases]...it is only natural that I should dwell rather upon his successes than upon his failures", although he notes that this is also because where Holmes failed often nobody else succeeded.

Sometimes Watson (or rather Conan Doyle) seems determined to stop publishing stories about Holmes. In "The Adventure of the Second Stain
The Adventure of the Second Stain
"The Adventure of the Second Stain", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes....

", Watson declares that he had intended the previous story (“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”) "to be the last of those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should ever communicate to the public," but later Watson decided that "this long series of episodes should culminate in the most important international case which he has ever been called upon to handle" ("The Second Stain" being that case). Of course, the "long series of episodes" did not end with this story; there were some twenty stories yet to come.

As stated at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

," Watson was able to cooperate with Holmes during seventeen of the twenty-three years the detective was in active practice, keeping "notes of his doings". Watson's published accounts are supposed to be based on these notes. In the later stories, written after Holmes's retirement (ca. 1903–04), Watson repeatedly refers to his notes about the various cases: "I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded.” He explained that after Holmes's retirement, the detective showed reluctance "to the continued publication of his experiences. So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of his successes were of some practical value to him, but since he has definitely retired…notoriety has become hateful to him" ("The Adventure of the Second Stain"). But during Holmes's active career, the publicity Watson gave to his cases was apparently good for business, however superficial Watson’s narratives may have seemed to the detective.

After Holmes's retirement, Watson often cites special permission from his friend for the publication of further stories. Yet he also received occasional unsolicited suggestions from Holmes about what stories to tell, as noted at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow....

". After receiving a telegram from Holmes, Watson promptly "hunt[ed] out the notes which give me the exact details of the case and to lay the narrative before my readers."

Watson refers to and even describes his "notes" in some stories. Watson refers to "the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work for the year 1894," confessing that "it is very difficult for me, out of such a wealth of material, to select the cases which are most interesting" ("The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

"). In "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," Watson speaks of "a long row of year-books which fill a shelf," as well as "the dispatch-cases filled with documents, a perfect quarry for the student not only of crime but of the social and official scandals of the late Victorian era." The published sixty stories are thus only a fraction of the total number of cases handled by Holmes during his career.

Despite the extensive notes referred to, sometimes it is not quite clear where Watson gets his information from. For example, Part 2 of A Study in Scarlet describes the early life of Jefferson Hope, detailing his life in America and the events that finally resulted in him committing the crimes that Holmes has solved in Part 1. Part 1 is clearly Watson's work, describing events he himself witnessed, but it is not clear how he could be the author of Part 2. It gives the impression of being written by an omniscient author. We hear nothing of the extensive interviews with Hope that Watson must have conducted if he were to be the writer of this part of the story as well.

The Valley of Fear
The Valley of Fear
The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915, and the first book edition was published in New York on 27 February 1915.- Part I: The Tragedy of Birlstone...

is also split into two parts, Part 2 again detailing the earlier life of a protagonist in America. This time Conan Doyle inserted a minimal explanation for how Watson came to possess the relevant information: In the last chapter of Part 1, the person in question hands Watson a "bundle of paper" setting out his story, and he encourages the doctor to "tell it your own way," referring to Watson as "the historian of the bunch." Part 2 is written in novelistic format and with a remarkable amount of detail, suggesting that Watson felt free to greatly elaborate on the facts provided to him. (In particular, it seems unlikely that the original “bundle of paper” would include lengthy, verbatim transcripts of conversations that took place years earlier.)

The candid chronicler


At the beginning of "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes.-Synopsis:...

", Watson makes strong claims about "the discretion and high sense of professional honour" that govern his work as Holmes's biographer, but discretion and professional honour do not block Watson from expressing himself and quoting Holmes with remarkable candor on the characters of their antagonists and their clients.

In "The Red-Headed League
The Red-Headed League
"The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Conan Doyle ranked "The Red-Headed League" second in his list of his twelve favorite...

," for example, Watson introduces Jabez Wilson: "Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow"—wearing "a not over-clean black frock-coat." In "A Case of Identity
A Case of Identity
"A Case of Identity" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is the third story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.-Plot summary:...

," he refers to the "preposterous hat and the vacuous face" of Mary Sutherland. In "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was originally published in Strand Magazine in 1904 with illustrations by...

," Cyril Overton is said to be a man "more accustomed to using his muscles than his wits." The latter case ends with Holmes uncovering a deep personal tragedy, and a physician tells him: "I am sure that I can rely upon your discretion and that of your friend." Here, appearances cut one way and realities cut another. Though Watson wrote and published an account of the case, seemingly breaching confidence and violating discretion, Watson's account blurred many of the details that would have allowed later scholars to identify those involved in the case.

Despite Watson's frequent expressions of admiration and friendship for Holmes, the many stresses and strains of living and working with the detective make themselves evident in Watson's occasional asperity. The most controversial of these matters is Watson's candor about Holmes's drug use. Though the use of cocaine
Cocaine
Cocaine is a crystalline tropane alkaloid that is obtained from the leaves of the coca plant. The name comes from "coca" in addition to the alkaloid suffix -ine, forming cocaine. It is a stimulant of the central nervous system, an appetite suppressant, and a topical anesthetic...

 was quite legal in Holmes's era, Watson's direct criticism of Holmes's habits has a sting to it, especially in the opening chapter of The Sign of Four. Elsewhere, Watson describes Holmes as brilliant, but also untidy, eccentric, vain, and often arrogant. On the other hand, Holmes, with his passion for exact statement, would recognise Watson's descriptions of himself as accurate, preferring them to a more sanitised presentation of himself.

In "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow...

," Holmes gives Watson information about his brother Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes is a fictional character in the stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. He is the elder brother of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.- Profile :...

 that is clearly confidential: "One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state." Mycroft, Holmes reveals, serves a vital function as a walking database for the government: "The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange…his specialism is omniscience." This revelation would make Mycroft an obvious target for Britain's enemies, and his position should be kept strictly secret. Yet, given that the story was not published before 1912 and describes events set in 1895, it is likely that Mycroft had retired or even died before publication, so the bar against revealing his role in British government no longer existed.

Some have criticised Watson's revelation of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the fourth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.-Plot summary:Lestrade summons Holmes to a...

," given that, at the tale's close, Watson reveals the identity of the murderer and adds: "Old Turner lived for seven months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past." Would they be so happy were they to learn of the appearance of the case report in the Strand Magazine
Strand Magazine
The Strand Magazine was a monthly magazine composed of fictional stories and factual articles founded by George Newnes. It was first published in the United Kingdom from January 1891 to March 1950 running to 711 issues, though the first issue was on sale well before Christmas 1890.Its immediate...

? Again, Watson's care in cloaking dates and locations and identities is the deciding factor.

Sometimes, indeed, Watson talks about the need for discretion. The events related in “The Adventure of the Second Stain
The Adventure of the Second Stain
"The Adventure of the Second Stain", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes....

” are supposedly very sensitive: "If in telling the story I seem to be somewhat vague in certain details, the public will readily understand that there is an excellent reason for my reticence. It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be nameless, that upon one Tuesday morning in autumn we found two visitors of European fame within the walls of our humble room in Baker Street." Later in the same story, however, Watson twice includes substantial quotations from newspaper articles supposedly published during the days when Holmes worked on this case. Again, the failure of scholars to date this case with any kind of agreement, or even to agree on which prime minister is meant by the fictitious Lord Bellinger or which foreign secretary is personated by the Rt. Hon. Trelawney Hope, suggests that Watson has observed discretion.

After identifying the perpetrator, Holmes in some stories decides to let him off the hook instead of exposing him. The most famous examples are "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the seventh story of twelve in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...

" and "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow....

", with Holmes and Watson excusing the criminal in each case as the man had simply committed an impulsive theft in the first instance- Holmes expressing concern that he would simply turn a weak man into a hardened villain by sending him to prison- and the killer in the second instance had only acted to avenge the death and madness that his victim had inflicted upon his own siblings. At the end of "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange," Holmes uses Watson himself as a one-man jury when dealing wth a man who killed a woman's abusive husband, and Watson's verdict is that the perpetrator should be allowed to walk free. Taken at face value, such stories would seem to be self-defeating, since Watson did after all publish the identity of the perpetrator—yet again Watson's skill in cloaking identities, places, and dates preserves discretion.

In "A Case of Identity
A Case of Identity
"A Case of Identity" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is the third story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.-Plot summary:...

," Miss Mary Sutherland hires Holmes to look into the fate of her beloved fiance Hosmer Angel, who disappeared on their wedding day. Holmes determines that "Angel" is a disguised impostor who never loved her back, but he opts not to tell his client, because he is convinced that she would not believe him anyway. Did Watson's decision to publish the whole story suggest that he disagreed with Holmes? Yet again, it is impossible to decide the point, and yet again, Watson's discretion in cloaking the facts of a given case may be his means of sparing the client's feelings.

In "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger," Watson notes that he has "made a slight change of name and place" when presenting that story. Here he is direct about a method of preserving discretion and confidentiality that other scholars have inferred from the stories, with pseudonyms replacing the "real" names of clients, witnesses, and culprits alike, and altered place-names replacing the real locations.

One final point must be made—that Watson chronicled less than five percent of the cases that Holmes handled during his career. It can be supposed that Watson's choosing to recount a case is a clear indication that there either never was nor was any longer a question of discretion or confidentiality to be observed. This point is established by what may be the most famous short account of a Holmes case, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the eighth of the twelve stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It is one of four Sherlock Holmes stories that can be classified as a locked...

", in which Watson reveals why he has chosen to publish the case now: "It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth."

As archetype of the sidekick


In Conan Doyle's early rough plot outlines, he intended the role of Watson to be filled by two junior detectives, Sandifer and Phillip; he later merged these characters as "Watson". In turn, Conan Doyle's introduction of Dr. Watson into the Holmes novels and stories proved a precursor to other, similar characters. Many of the great fictional detectives have their Watson: Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections , and her successful West End plays.According to...

's Hercule Poirot
Hercule Poirot
Hercule Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Along with Miss Marple, Poirot is one of Christie's most famous and long-lived characters, appearing in 33 novels and 51 short stories published between 1920 and 1975 and set in the same era.Poirot has been portrayed on...

, for example, is accompanied by Captain Arthur Hastings
Arthur Hastings
Captain Arthur Hastings, OBE, is a fictional character, the amateur sleuthing partner and best friend of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot...

; Rex Stout
Rex Stout
Rex Todhunter Stout was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. Stout is best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives." Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the...

's Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe
Nero Wolfe is a fictional detective, created in 1934 by the American mystery writer Rex Stout. Wolfe's confidential assistant Archie Goodwin narrates the cases of the detective genius. Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories from 1934 to 1974, with most of them set in New York City. Wolfe's...

 had Archie Goodwin
Archie Goodwin (fictional detective)
Archie Goodwin is a fictional character and detective in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. The witty voice of all the stories, he recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 to 1975 . He lives in Nero Wolfe's brownstone in New York City.Archie was born on October 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio,...

. J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

 used the Hobbit
Hobbit
Hobbits are a fictional diminutive race who inhabit the lands of Middle-earth in J. R. R. Tolkien's fiction.Hobbits first appeared in the novel The Hobbit, in which the main protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, is the titular hobbit...

s in his works in a similar way, using characters such as Bilbo Baggins
Bilbo Baggins
Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist and titular character of The Hobbit and a supporting character in The Lord of the Rings, two of the most well-known of J. R. R...

 and Sam Gamgee to filter the intricate and mysterious aspects of his novels through to the audience.
  • In the words of William L. De Andrea
    William L. DeAndrea
    William L. DeAndrea was an American mystery writer and columnist. He won three Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, the first for his first novel, Killed in the Ratings. The majority of his novels made up several series. The Matt Cobb mysteries drew on DeAndrea's experience working...

    ,
"Watson also serves the important function of catalyst for Holmes's mental processes. [...] From the writer's point of view, Doyle knew the importance of having someone to whom the detective can make enigmatic remarks, a consciousness that's privy to facts in the case without being in on the conclusions drawn from them until the proper time. Any character who performs these functions in a mystery story has come to be known as a 'Watson'."

  • In 1929, English crime writer and critic Ronald Knox
    Ronald Knox
    Ronald Arbuthnott Knox was an English priest, theologian and writer.-Life:Ronald Knox was born in Kibworth, Leicestershire, England into an Anglican family and was educated at Eton College, where he took the first scholarship in 1900 and Balliol College, Oxford, where again...

     stated as one of his rules for fledgling writers of detective fiction as that
"the stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader."

  • See also: Audience surrogate
    Audience surrogate
    In the study of literature, an audience surrogate is a fictional character with whom the audience can identify, or who expresses the questions and confusion of the audience...


Adaptations


In a number of film adaptations, in particular those featuring the comic skills of the actor Nigel Bruce
Nigel Bruce
William Nigel Ernle Bruce , best known as Nigel Bruce, was a British character actor on stage and screen. He was best known for his portrayal of Doctor Watson in a series of films and in the radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...

, Watson became more of a caricature than a character. Far from being the able assistant as presented by Conan Doyle, the Rathbone
Basil Rathbone
Sir Basil Rathbone, KBE, MC, Kt was an English actor. He rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films...

-Bruce films portrayed Watson as an incompetent bumbler. This was a popular trend during the 1930s and 40s, so as to make films have large elements of drama, suspense and comedy, to attract larger audiences. Modern treatments have returned to the roots of Conan Doyle stories and have portrayed a more sympathetic and competent Watson. The most famous examples of this restored image of Watson are the portrayals of Watson by David Burke and later by Edward Hardwicke
Edward Hardwicke
Edward Hardwicke , sometimes credited as Edward Hardwick, was an English actor.-Early life and career:...

 in the 1980s television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett
Jeremy Brett
Jeremy Brett , born Peter Jeremy William Huggins, was an English actor, most famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in four Granada TV series.-Early life:...

 as Holmes. At the end of the episode "The Empty House," Watson, as played by Hardwicke, even speaks the lines (given to Holmes in the story) about the criminal's motives, and receives Holmes's warm praise for his acumen.
Another well-liked depiction was actor André Morell
André Morell
André Morell was a British actor. He appeared frequently in theatre, film and on television from the 1930s to the 1970s...

's portrayal of Watson in the 1959 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959 film)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1959 British detective film produced by Hammer Films and directed by Terence Fisher.The film is the first adaptation from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name to be filmed in colour and stars Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, Sir Christopher Lee as...

. Morell was particularly keen that his version of Watson should be closer to that originally depicted in Conan Doyle's stories, and away from the bumbling stereotype established by Nigel Bruce's interpretation of the role. Other depictions include Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall
Robert Selden Duvall is an American actor and director. He has won an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and a BAFTA over the course of his career....

 opposite Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson
Nicol Williamson is a Scottish-born English actor who was described by English playwright John Osborne as "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando".-Early life:...

's Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (film)
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a 1976 Universal Studios Sherlock Holmes film, directed by Herbert Ross and written by Nicholas Meyer. It is based on Meyer's 1974 novel of the same name. The film stars Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, and Laurence Olivier.-Plot synopsis:When Dr...

(1978), Donald Houston
Donald Houston
Donald Daniel Houston was a Welsh actor whose first two films – The Blue Lagoon with Jean Simmons, and A Run for Your Money with Sir Alec Guinness – were highly successful...

, who played Watson to John Neville's Holmes in A Study in Terror
A Study in Terror
A Study in Terror is a 1965 British thriller film directed by James Hill and starring John Neville as Sherlock Holmes and Donald Houston as Dr. Watson...

(1965); a rather belligerent, acerbic Watson portrayed by Colin Blakely
Colin Blakely
Colin George Blakely was a Northern Irish character actor. He was considered an actor of great range.-Early life:...

 in Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age...

's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a 1970 film directed and produced by Billy Wilder; he also shared writing credit with his longtime collaborator I. A. L. Diamond. It starred Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson...

(1970), in which Holmes was played by Robert Stephens
Robert Stephens
Sir Robert Stephens was a leading English actor in the early years of England's Royal National Theatre.-Early life and career:...

 (who starts the rumour that they are homosexual lovers so women will not chase after him); and James Mason
James Mason
James Neville Mason was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry throughout his career and was nominated for three Academy Awards as well as three Golden Globes .- Early life :Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the...

's portrayal in Murder by Decree
Murder by Decree
Murder by Decree is an Anglo-Canadian thriller film involving Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in the case of the serial murderer Jack the Ripper...

(1978), with Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer
Arthur Christopher Orne Plummer, CC is a Canadian theatre, film and television actor. He made his film debut in 1957's Stage Struck, and notable early film performances include Night of the Generals, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Man Who Would Be King.In a career that spans over five...

 as Holmes. Ian Hart
Ian Hart
Ian Hart is an English stage, television and film actor.-Early life:Hart, the grandson of Irish immigrants, was born in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. He is one of three siblings and was brought up in a Roman Catholic family...

 portrayed a young, capable and fit Watson twice for BBC Television
BBC Television
BBC Television is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation, which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927, has produced television programmes from its own studios since 1932, although the start of its regular service of television...

, once opposite Richard Roxburgh
Richard Roxburgh
Richard Roxburgh is an Australian actor who has starred in many Australian films and has appeared in supporting roles in a number of Hollywood productions, usually as villains.-Early life:...

 as Holmes (in a 2002 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002 film)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 2002 television adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name.-Production:Produced by Tiger Aspect Productions for the BBC, it was shown on BBC One on Boxing Day, 2002. It was directed by David Attwood, and adapted by Allan Cubitt. The film stars...

) and for a second time opposite Rupert Everett
Rupert Everett
Rupert James Hector Everett is an English actor. He first came to public attention in 1981, when he was cast in Julian Mitchell's play and subsequent film Another Country as an openly gay student at an English public school, set in the 1930s...

 as the Great Detective in the new story Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking is a British television movie originally broadcast on BBC One in the UK on December 26, 2004. Produced by Tiger Aspect Productions, it was written by Alan Cubitt and was a sequel to the same company's adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles,...

(2004).

Stephen King
Stephen King
Stephen Edwin King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and have been adapted into a number of feature films, television movies and comic books...

, the American horror novelist, wrote a short story called "The Doctor's Case
The Doctor's Case
The Doctor's Case is a short story by Stephen King, originally published in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a 1987 centennial collection, and reprinted in his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes...

" in the collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a short story collection by Stephen King published in 1993.-Stories:-Adaptations:"The Night Flier" and "Dolan's Cadillac" were both adapted to films of the same respective names. "Chattery Teeth"' was adapted into a segment of the film Quicksilver Highway...

, where Watson actually solves the case instead of Holmes.

In the Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

/Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n Sherlock Holmes film series directed by Igor Maslennikov
Igor Maslennikov
Igor Fyodorovich Maslennikov is a Russian film director.He was born in Gorky. In 1954 Maslennikov completed his education in the department of journalism of the Leningrad University and worked as an editor, script writer, and cameraman on Leningrad television...

 Dr. Watson was played by Vitaly Solomin
Vitaly Solomin
Vitaly Mefodievich Solomin was a Soviet and Russian actor, director and screenwriter. He was the younger brother of Yury Solomin....

. He is portrayed in the book as a brave and intelligent man, but not especially physically strong.

In the 1988 parody
Parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 film Without a Clue
Without a Clue
Without a Clue is a 1988 British comedy film directed by Thom Eberhardt and starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley and Lysette Anthony.-Plot:...

, the roles of a bumbling Watson and an extremely competent Holmes are reversed. In the film, Holmes (Michael Caine
Michael Caine
Sir Michael Caine, CBE is an English actor. He won Academy Awards for best supporting actor in both Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules ....

) is an invention of Watson (Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley
Sir Ben Kingsley, CBE is a British actor. He has won an Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards in his career. He is known for starring as Mohandas Gandhi in the film Gandhi in 1982, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor...

) played by an alcoholic actor; when Watson initially offered suggestions on how to solve a case to some visiting policemen, he was at the time applying for a post in a reclusive medical practice, and so invented the fictional Holmes to avoid attracting attention to himself, continuing the "lie" of Holmes's existence after he failed to get the post. At the same time, the film's Watson becomes increasingly frustrated that his own talents are unrecognised, and unavailingly attempts to win celebrity for himself as "the Crime Doctor."

Likewise, Bob the Tomato in Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler
Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler
Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler is the twenty-eighth episode in the VeggieTales series. It was released in early 2006 in both DVD and VHS format. Subtitled "A Lesson in Friendship", it features two stories that illustrate what it means to be a good friend. The first is a parody of Don Quixote...

 plays a Watson that is the true brains of the pair (VeggieTales
VeggieTales
VeggieTales is an American series of children's computer animated films featuring anthropomorphic vegetables in stories conveying moral themes based on Christianity...

, 2006).

Watson was also portrayed by English-born actor Michael Williams for the BBC Radio
BBC Radio
BBC Radio is a service of the British Broadcasting Corporation which has operated in the United Kingdom under the terms of a Royal Charter since 1927. For a history of BBC radio prior to 1927 see British Broadcasting Company...

 adaptation of the complete run of the Holmes canon from November 1989 to July 1998. Williams, together with Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison is a Welsh actor of film, television, stage and radio. He trained at Rose Bruford College.- Television :...

, who played Holmes, are the only actors who have portrayed the Conan Doyle characters in all the short stories and novels of the canon. Williams's take on Watson was also close to the one depicted in the Conan Doyle stories. In this series' adaptation of the story "His Last Bow
His Last Bow
His Last Bow is a collection of seven Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as the title of the last story in that collection...

", Watson comments self-deprecatingly on the public's lasting appetite for his tales of "the great detective and his rather slow assistant," to which Holmes replies, "You never did do justice to yourself".

In January 1998, Jim French Productions received the rights from the estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle to produce new radio stories of Holmes and Watson with Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison
Clive Merrison is a Welsh actor of film, television, stage and radio. He trained at Rose Bruford College.- Television :...

 and Andrew Sachs
Andrew Sachs
Andrew Sachs is a German-born British actor. He made his name on British television and is best known for his portrayals of Manuel in Fawlty Towers, a role for which he was BAFTA-nominated, and Ramsay Clegg in Coronation Street.-Early life:Sachs was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Katharina , a...

 taking on the roles of the Baker Street duo. The first episode of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
This article is about the BBC Radio 4 series transmitted from 2002 to 2010. There is also a U.S. produced series, which began in 1998, that transmits under the same title....

debuted in March of that same year with Sachs carrying on the standard set by Michael Williams, who had died. Sachs portrays Watson as Conan Doyle set him down in the canon; in 2005 when French decided to take on producing Conan Doyle's original stories with John Patrick Lowrie
John Patrick Lowrie
John Patrick Lowrie is a voice actor who has notably performed roles in video games such as The Suffering and The Suffering: Ties That Bind, Total Annihilation, No One Lives Forever: The Operative and No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy In H.A.R.M.'s Way, and Valve games Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2:...

 as Holmes, Sachs was well able to give the listeners a true depiction of Watson.

In the 2009 Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 film Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (2009 film)
Sherlock Holmes is a 2009 action-mystery film based on the character of the same name created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. The screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon...

directed by Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie
Guy Stuart Ritchie is an English screenwriter and film maker who directed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver, RocknRolla and Sherlock Holmes.-Early life:...

, Jude Law
Jude Law
David Jude Heyworth Law , known professionally as Jude Law, is an English actor, film producer and director.He began acting with the National Youth Music Theatre in 1987, and had his first television role in 1989...

 portrays Watson as brave, intelligent, resolute, a crack shot, and a thorough medical professional, as well as a somewhat competent detective in his own right who is capable of becoming aggressive during a fight, actively helping Holmes seek out clues and making deductions. Apart from being armed with his trademark sidearm, his film incarnation was shown to be also a capable swordsman (he was hinted to have participated in the Afghan War, as noted by Holmes), as he carries with him a sword disguised as a cane wherever he goes. The film portrays Watson as having a gambling problem. William S. Baring-Gould
William S. Baring-Gould
William Stuart Baring-Gould was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar, best known as the author of the influential 1962 fictional biography, Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A life of the world's first consulting detective.-Biography:...

 had inferred Watson's gambling problem from a reference in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men
The Adventure of the Dancing Men
"The Adventure of the Dancing Men", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 13 stories in the cycle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes....

" to Holmes locking Watson's chequebook in his desk. Law in interviews reported that he had based his version of Watson on a careful and attentive reading of the original novels and stories. In this film, Holmes often praises and indicates his respect for Watson. Indeed, one reason why Sherlock Holmes, played by Robert Downey, Jr., persists with the case is that he is intent on vindicating Watson's professional competence after a man whom Watson has pronounced dead at his execution by hanging seemingly comes back to life to wreak havoc on London. Law will return in the 2011 sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is an upcoming 2011 British-American action mystery film directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey, and Dan Lin. It is a sequel to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, based on the character of the same name created by Sir Arthur...

.

Watson appears on the 2010 direct-to-DVD Asylum
The Asylum
The Asylum is an American film studio and distributor which focuses on producing low-budget, usually direct-to-video productions. The studio has produced titles that capitalize on productions by major studios; these titles have been dubbed "mockbusters" by the press.-History:The Asylum was founded...

 film Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (2010 film)
Sherlock Holmes is a 2010 direct-to-DVD mystery film directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, produced by independent American film studio The Asylum and released by British distributor Revolver Entertainment. It is based on the Sherlock Holmes characters created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...

, a science fiction reinvention in which he is portrayed by Torchwood
Torchwood
Torchwood is a British science fiction television programme created by Russell T Davies. The series is a spin-off from Davies's 2005 revival of the long-running science fiction programme Doctor Who. The show has shifted its broadcast channel each series to reflect its growing audience, moving from...

actor Gareth David-Lloyd
Gareth David-Lloyd
Gareth David-Lloyd is a Welsh actor best known for his role as Ianto Jones in the British science fiction television programme Torchwood.- Early life :...

. At the beginning of the film, Watson is seen as an elderly man, portrayed by David Shackleton, during the Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

 in 1940. He tells his nurse the tale of the adventure which he and Holmes vowed never to tell the public. In 1889, he is a home doctor and personal physican and biographer of Sherlock Holmes (Ben Syder), who often teases that Watson is quite a ladies-man and action hero. He helps Holmes battle a criminal genius called Spring-Heeled Jack and his robotic creatures which help him commit his crimes.

In 2010, the BBC began screening the TV series Sherlock, setting the characters of Holmes and Watson in contemporary London. John Watson, played by Martin Freeman
Martin Freeman
Martin John C. Freeman is an English actor. He is known for his roles as John in Love Actually, Tim Canterbury in the BBC's Golden Globe-winning comedy The Office, Arthur Dent in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dr. John Watson in Sherlock and Mr. Madden...

, is again portrayed as a British army doctor, but wounded in the recent conflict in Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as the armed forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Afghan United Front launched Operation Enduring Freedom...

. In order to be able to afford to live in London on an army pension, he becomes the flatmate of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, and is drawn into a case he is investigating. Here as opposed to publishing his and Sherlock's case he writes up the events on his blog on the instructions of his therapist. His wound is in his left shoulder but he has a limp for the first half of 'A Study in Pink'. His limp is in fact psychosomatic, his therapist believes that it is caused by Post Traumatic Stress, but both Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes demonstrate that in fact Watson's limp disappears in dangerous situations, suggesting he in fact misses the danger of war.

Popular cultural references


Although "Elementary, my dear Watson" is perhaps Holmes's best-known catch phrase, he never uses exactly those words in any of the books written by A. Conan Doyle.

Microsoft Corporation named the debugger
Debugger
A debugger or debugging tool is a computer program that is used to test and debug other programs . The code to be examined might alternatively be running on an instruction set simulator , a technique that allows great power in its ability to halt when specific conditions are encountered but which...

 in Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft.Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces . Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal...

 "Dr. Watson".

In the television series House
House (TV series)
House is an American television medical drama that debuted on the Fox network on November 16, 2004. The show's central character is Dr. Gregory House , an unconventional and misanthropic medical genius who heads a team of diagnosticians at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in...

, the character of Dr. James Wilson
James Wilson (House)
James Evan Wilson, M.D., is a fictional character on the Fox medical drama House. He is played by Robert Sean Leonard. The character first appears in the show's pilot episode when he introduces a medical case to Dr. Gregory House, the protagonist of the show. Wilson is Dr. House's only true friend,...

 is meant to be a direct reference to Watson (with House
Gregory House
Gregory House, M.D., or simply referred to as House, is a fictional antihero and title character of the American television series House, played by Hugh Laurie. He is the Chief of Diagnostic Medicine at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, where he leads a team of diagnosticians...

 himself being a direct reference to Holmes). In addition to the similarity of their names, Wilson serves in the show as House's only real friend and confidant, and occasionally assists him in solving particularly difficult cases. (In one episode, House also claims to live in 221B Baker Street. In an early episode, House stands outside his apartment and the house number 221 is clearly visible.)

In the TV series Sanctuary, Watson is a member of "The Five" and the actual detective in the Conan Doyle stories. The character of Holmes is created and Watson is made his sidekick at Watson's request to Conan Doyle.

In Batman
Batman
Batman is a fictional character created by the artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. A comic book superhero, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 , and since then has appeared primarily in publications by DC Comics...

 stories the character of Robin was intended to be the Batman's Watson.

However, in later stories, the character Alfred Pennyworth
Alfred Pennyworth
Alfred Pennyworth is a fictional character that appears throughout the DC Comics franchise. The character first appears in Batman #16 , and was created by writer Bob Kane and artist Jerry Robinson. Alfred serves as Batman’s tireless butler, assistant, confidant, and surrogate father figure...

 fills the role better, being the Dark Knight's doctor, friend, and confidant. He also has a British military background, having practised medicine on the battlefield.

Both Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes make a guest appearance in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is an American animated television series based in part on the DC Comics series The Brave and the Bold which features two or more super heroes coming together to solve a crime or foil a super villain...

episode "Trials of the Demon!"

In the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as part of the Star Trek franchise. Roddenberry, Rick Berman, and Michael Piller served as executive producers at different times throughout the production...

, the character Geordi La Forge
Geordi La Forge
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge is a regular character in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and its feature films, played by LeVar Burton...

 takes on the role of Dr. Watson in holodeck
Holodeck
A holodeck, in the fictional Star Trek universe, is a simulated reality facility located on starships and starbases. The first use of a "holodeck" by that name in the Star Trek universe was in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Encounter at Farpoint", although a conceptually...

 simulations with his shipmate and friend, Data
Data (Star Trek)
Lieutenant Commander Data is a character in the fictional Star Trek universe portrayed by actor Brent Spiner. He appears in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the feature films Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek...

.

In the fourth season of the American television series Heroes
Heroes (TV series)
Heroes is an American science fiction television drama series created by Tim Kring that appeared on NBC for four seasons from September 25, 2006 through February 8, 2010. The series tells the stories of ordinary people who discover superhuman abilities, and how these abilities take effect in the...

, when Hiro Nakamura
Hiro Nakamura
is a fictional character on the NBC fantasy drama Heroes who possesses the ability of space-time manipulation. This means that Hiro is able to alter the flow of time. Previously, his ability allowed him to teleport, stop time, or travel through time, but recent events in the series have prevented...

 gets some mental damage and can only speak through riddles that involve his favourite science fiction or comic book stories, he refers to Dr. Mohinder Suresh as "Dr. Watson".

American author Michael Mallory
Michael Mallory
Michael Mallory is a writer on the subjects of animation and post-war pop culture, and the author of the books Hanna-Barbera Cartoons , Marvel: The Characters and Their Universe, X-Men: The Characters and Their Universe and Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror...

 began a series of stories in the mid-1990s featuring Watson's mysterious second wife, whom he called Amelia Watson. In Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds, Watson's second wife is Violet Hunter, from "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the last of the twelve collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes...

".

External links