"There it was, a sign above a shop that said 221B BAKER STREET. My mouth hung open. I looked around at the ordinary street and the white-painted buildings, looking clean in the morning rain. Where were the fog, the streetlights, the gray atmosphere? The horses pulling carriages, bringing troubled clients to Watson and Holmes? I had to admit I had been impressed with Big Ben and all, but for a kid who had devoured the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this was really something. I was on Baker Street, driving by the rooms of Holmes and Watson! I sort of wished it were all in black and white and gray, like in the movies." (“Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery,” James R. Benn)
As most of you are probably aware, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ran two Sherlock Holmes-themed episodes—“Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle”—which featured the android Lieutenant Commander Data, and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge, as Holmes and Watson, respectively. Both episodes pit the pair against a computer replication of Professor Moriarty (played by Daniel Davis), while in a “holodeck” simulation of Victorian London and the world of Sherlock Holmes.
To be perfectly clear, it’s not that I imagine myself sitting in 221B across from Holmes and Watson, engaged in some kind of clever conversation, as if I could manage it. Heaven forbid. Those who know me, and are familiar with my tendency to babble when intimidated, would find the notion both amusing and horrifying. It’s more to the point that there is something satisfying about a place that does not change, no matter how much time passes. Of course, it's comforting, but it's also beyond that—it’s about knowledge, a sense of time and place, and a sense of purpose. It’s like having your own private joke, or well-kept secret, knowing how to get someplace that most other people do not.
Baker Street creates an anchor point for the reader—a beacon in the turbulent harbor of crime and mystery. In a manner of speaking, people in trouble flock to Baker Street “like birds to a light-house (TWIS).” Not every story may start there, or end there, but eventually all roads will lead to Baker Street, and when they do, the effect is almost immediately equalizing.
For instance, in the passage above, when Billy Boyle arrives in London, fresh from the United States and officers’ training school, to assist his “Uncle Ike” in the war effort, he is lost and confused, and a little bit heartsick, even if the Boston detective won’t admit it to himself. But he sees Baker Street, and he is instantly grounded. He knows this place. He knows how it has been and how it should be, and most importantly, what it represents, and that is reassuring. It’s a crucial moment for Lieutenant Boyle, and you can also hear the sound of Billy practically anchoring himself to 221B. He knows nothing else about London—the city itself is barely recognizable due to the Blitz—but he knows Baker Street.
Ask any Sherlockian, and they will be able to tell you where Holmes keeps his unread mail (under the jackknife, attached to the mantelpiece), where he hides his tobacco (in the Persian slipper), which chair is his (the one to the right of the fireplace), along with countless other details about the architecture of Baker Street. Detailed replicas of this famous address can be found at the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the Sherlock Holmes Pub, in London.
And it’s those details that fascinate, right? Basil Rathbone’s wartime-era Baker Street remains Victorian in its interior details, even as the world around him changes violently (as one perceptive reader pointed out a few weeks back). And Benedict Cumberbatch’s 21st century living room has some distinctly turn-of-the-century touches (the wallpaper and carpets, for instance), while the furniture is most definitely ‘80s (though in this instance I mean more 1980s, than 1880s). Even Basil, the Great Mouse Detective, had his own personal 221 (and one half) Baker Street (a residence in the cellar of 221B).
Need a little mood music? May I make a suggestion?