The most crucial role Watson plays in this production is that of the narrator and the character who creates a bridge between consumer and product. According to Kayman, if Holmes is too eccentric for his own good, Watson may function as the negotiator between the observer and the observed: But for the reader, it is, of course, a blessing to have a rigour of logic and the demands of science filtered through the informed admiration of our friendly intermediary. (Kayman. 2003, 49) Watson is, therefore, an essential ingredient in the dish that is the tale, so integral in fact, if he was not there, the souffl would collapse immediately.
More specifically, readers need Watson to comment on Holmes methods in order for the reader to understand or readers need this logical mind to interpret Holmes elaborate descriptions or deductions. In continuation of this, Stephen Knight insists that Doyle’s misnaming of Holmes method as deduction is far from incidental. (Knight 1980, 86) While this may be true, the audience should not neglect Holmes obvious delight when proving other assumptions wrong and steering the investigators in the right direction.
Much like Watson, the reader, can only stand to side and marvel at Holmes way of reporting how he came to his conclusion and pointing out the different clues which made him come to his final conclusion. The average reader’s attempt to follow Holmes line of reasoning gives them a rare opportunity to get a peek into a world they rarely visit.
But this opportunity also puts Homes in a somewhat protected position which does not demand anything particular from him.
If one should draw a comparison, it would be that of an idol and their fan, but without the responsibility of being a role model. In short, Watson is there to provide some contrast to the cleverness of Holmes by both challenging him and providing constructive criticism while he also appreciates and admires him for his intelligence. One may argue that Watson is the ideal fan.
He is the piece of the puzzle needed to show Holmes humanity and thus a more rounded character. To sum up, if Watson was not there Holmes may have come off as too cold and calculating. However, in order for the audience to play along, it is of the utmost importance that the master, Holmes, tells his apprentice, Watson, what he is doing and the methods he resorts to when solving his problems. For this reason, Watson is as vital as Holmes; one may even argue that without him, the duo would not work. Moreover, April Toadvine describes Watson’s importance wonderfully by writing as follows:
Classic movie and television depictions of Holmes and Watson have focused on Holmes as the intellectual superior of a slower-witted, almost buffoonish Watson, as indelibly portrayed in a series of movies in the 1940s by Nigel Bruce. In more recent portrayals, however, Watson has changed; most notable BBC Sherlock (2010-) portrays John as similar to John, so similar in fact, that they share personality traits. (Toadvine 2012, 48-49)
The friendship of these beloved characters is akin to that of a superhero and his sidekick. Such partnerships support the notion that the hero does all the thinking and the sidekick asks questions, much like a father and his son or a master and his apprentice and act amazed when the hero finally reaches his conclusion. With the changes in crime fiction, this concept has prevailed, but the sidekick has gotten more opportunities throughout crime fiction history.
As far as depiction goes, Watson is, for the most part taking on the role of the ordinary man who may have the potential to be extraordinary. One of Watson’s most sought-after qualities is the fact that he can bring the best out the best in Holmes. In the Hound of the Baskervilles (1902): It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. (Doyle. The Hound of the Baskervilles. 2016, 9)
Some crime fiction fanatics argue that this backhanded compliment is the key to unlocking the dynamic, somewhat bizarre relationship these two gentlemen have. On the one hand, Holmes revels in mocking Watson by letting him believe that he may have solved the case while Holmes already have identified the crook. One may suspect that good old Watson is a mask, the reader can hide behind, but it also provides an opportunity for the reader to join in their little crime-solving game. Despite, the apprentice never being as excellent at crime solving as the master himself. By pointing out Watson’s flaws, one could justify that Holmes is guided towards the truth. (Doyle. The Hound of the Baskervilles. 2016, 10)
Alternatively, as Janice Shaw puts it: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader. (Shaw u.d., 39) Here, the assumption is that the sidekick must still have a good head on his shoulders yet should not rival the genius that is the detective. Many fancies that this dynamic between the detective and his associate has its roots in theatre, where this slight difference in quick-wittedness was played for laughs. According to June Thomason, when discussing this exact quote, she observes:
As a personality, Watson may Indeed not glitter as brightly as Holmes, but there is a warm, steady glow about him which was to illuminate their friendship as such as Holmes more pyrotechnic brilliance. Without it, it is doubtful if their relationship would have survived intact for all those years. (Thomson. 1995, 29)
The quote above falls within the same vein as Shaw saying that Watson’s slightly lower intelligence makes him fit perfectly into the sidekick trope. Many may put forth the argument that an individual who is as upfront, enthusiastic and slightly self-important as Holmes can quickly drain one’s energy, despite this Watson chooses to befriend him. Watson’s choice to stick by Holmes side, suddenly gives Holmes purpose in life besides his work, but it also makes the eccentric Holmes less like a loner. Due to Holmes being a lonely wanderer by nature, it surprises not only Watson but the audience as well that the two gentlemen end up forming a close bond. According to Aristotle, friendship is not only necessary but also noble; for we praise those love their friends (Aristotle 2016, 378)
Watson offer of friendship along with his function as Holmes guiding light is what makes their friendship so enduring. Some may even argue that Watson is the stone on which Holmes waves can strike. Despite Holmes’ various addictions and demons, Watson is willing to stand by Holmes’ side, through thick and thin. Eventually, both men realise that neither of them is perfect, nor this may be the reason why they work so well together. This realisation does not only return to the notion that Watson makes the best aspects of Holmes come out from their respective hiding places but also that Holmes himself allows Watson to excel. The elegant, delicate China that is Watson is constructed by admirable qualities such as honesty, reliability and patience. These particular aspects of Watson’s identity shine extra bright when Holmes is having one of his impatient, childish strikes with a sprinkle of arrogance for good measure.