In Doyle’s original Watson is described as being a middle-class man. As Toadvine puts it, he is far from a buffoon but rather bright and proof that a middle-class man can achieve greatness. One interesting thing to note is that his professional title of doctor is used more often to refer to him than his actual name. Plus, the title itself indicates that he is an educated man with something between his ears. On top of this, he has served in the army, and the occupation of serviceman proves quite so helpful when helping Holmes in stressful situations.
Watson also has a keen interest in science and progress, and this specific field of interest makes Dr Watson able to appreciate Holmes’ expertise. Watson is far from a genius, but he is of average intellect and acts as the moral compass of the duo. Combining all these qualities makes Watson a superb representative of the everyman of Victorian England. Watson may not be a medical specialist but a general practitioner of medicine, whereas Holmes does not fit into the norm of what a professional should be.
(Toadvine 2012, 52)
In short, Watson is the perfect good cop to Homes’ bad one. He may have been through his fair share of hardships, but that does not mean that he cannot be as capable as Holmes. Instead of being Holmes’ equal, he is shown to be a depiction of the ideal person of his time. In BBC’s version, Watson has the same traits as in the original but with slight twists, for instance, Toadvine notes that the two characters have the same line of work, he is very ordinary, so much so that he is a ‘blend-into-the-woodwork average.
’ (Toadvine 2012, 55) In the 2010 adaptation Watson has just returned home from his deployment in Afghanistan and he not only wishes to find lodgings but start practicing medicine in a less stressful environment. In both situations he struggles greatly but then he stumbles across the curious creature of Holmes whom not only offers him lodgings but a job. On top of his financial struggles he also fights with the emotional wounds that comes with being a former serviceman and these downsides to life makes him very relatable. Furthermore, Watson seems to be more successful than Holmes as far as social interactions are concerned, and he is not afraid of voicing his observations when it comes to Holmes taking too much of a delight in make a mockery of the chief investigator within Scotland Yard’s police force. On another note, Martin Freeman, who plays the role of Watson in latest adaption has done extensive on the character and as Toadvine remarks:
Martin Freeman’s quite delivery makes John seem almost monotone when compared to the varying degrees of emotion exhibited by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. The juxtaposition of this monotone with John’s moments of frustration, which seem to be the only time he becomes louder and more animated, allows the audience to see his attempt to keep his emotions in check. John’s calmness could either be seen as self-discipline or the loss of emotional-range as a result of trauma. (Toadvine 2012, 55)
The notion that Watson may have lost his ability to feel because of past trauma is intriguing. And, it is very likely that certain emotion may be linked to past traumatic events or simply the notion of ‘manning up.’ These two characters may have much in common, but they are also very different. For instance, if this quote is anything to go by Freeman’s Watson seem to internalise his frustrations whereas Cumberbatch’s Holmes tend to externalise his. Building upon this, one may argue that Watson may be an introvert while Holmes is more of an extrovert. Furthermore, this is interesting to point since many argue that men tend to internalise their feelings, much like Watson, whereas women bare their emotions on their sleeves, much like Holmes. On the contrary, Holmes is often depicted as an eccentric character with a questionable mental state. For instance, in Moffat and Gatiss’ adaptation when the police choose to investigate Holmes’ flat on suspicion of drugs, instead of asking about the murder case, more specifically the pink suitcase Holmes have recovered earlier.
Anderson: Never mind that, we found the case. According to someone, the murderer has the case, and we found it in the hands of our favourite psychopath. Sherlock: Not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research. (A Study in Pink, 57:21)
Here, the audience witness Holmes diagnose himself as a sociopath as opposed to a psychopath . If this is to be true, not only the modern interpretation of Holmes has some serious issues one may also suppose that his Victorian counterpart is troubled as well. Many scholars, including Toadvine, contest that an individual who was declared mentally unstable in the 19th century could only get this diagnosis based on something referred to as “moral insanity.” (Toadvine 2012, 51) Many of these suffers were not intellectually challenged when compared to their fellow man. The Holmes, readers encounter in Doyle’s original could easily be diagnosed with such an illness but since he may have been part of the gentry his behaviour would have gone largely unnoticed. (Toadvine 2012, 51) In Doyle’s original tales Watson, as mentioned previously, is portrayed as an upright, honest, meddle-class gentleman whereas in Moffat and Gatiss’ interpretation of the character he follows in Holmes’ footsteps. On a final note, one personality trait, Holmes and Watson seem to share in Moffat and Gatiss’ adaptation is that of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD or APD). This specific trait is put centre-stage in A Study in Pink especially when Watson shoots Jeff Hope, the cap driver and murderer, in order to save Holmes’ life. In order to truly understand these two men’s relationship, it is important to point out not only their differences but their similarities as well.
What makes their friendship able to stand the test of time is the fact that they have both differences and similarities. Alternatively, as Victor Saidler so beautifully remarks, male friendship may include a healthy competition and therefore, a fear of trusting, but Holmes and Watson choose to overcome those feelings. (Seidler 1992) Seidler goes on to observe that Holmes is on his best behaviour when first encountering Watson based on the fact that Holmes seems polite. (Seidler 1992) In Doyle’s novel, he even tells Watson about his habits and interrogates Watson about his faults before agreeing to share rooms with him. Holmes’ interrogation of Watson shins through in the following quote: ‘It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.’ (Doyle. A Study in Scarlet. 2016, 26) As mentioned previously, these men develop a loving friendship shortly after meeting, and with this security, they may end up being lonely. However, what gets this friendship rolling is the fact that Dr Watson does not have a place to stay in London. So, one may even claim that their friendship is a case of being in the right place at the right time.