As far as central characters go, few are as iconic as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. Both have had huge impacts on popular culture for decades due to their fantastic characters and stories: but which of our iconic protagonists is better? While Sherlock and the Doctor both use science and logic to prevail, the two have completely different qualities to offer.
You know where our loyalty lies, but let's try to be objective here. To help us decide we’ve created four rounds: impact on popular culture, sidekicks, villains and finally, a category comparing the main men themselves. Here we go:
Impact on Popular Culture
Sherlock Holmes has influenced popular culture and literature for over 100 hundred years, and so it is no surprise that so many people consider Sherlock the epitomic detective. In fact, Sherlock is so influential that he currently holds the Guinness World Record for most portrayed character in history (with a whopping 254 times!), and some even believe he actually existed.
Due to how pervasive Sherlock is, Sir Conan Doyle’s character has inspired numerous other programmes and movies, including House and The Mentalist. He even manages to transition with ease to more modern platforms like video games. These go all the way to 1984 when Melbourne House’s Sherlock was released on the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum. Since then there have been no less than fifteen console and PC-based games, though there are numerous other games available as well. These include apps such as the iOS title Hidden Objects: Detective Sherlock Holmes and iGaming titles such as the new release Sherlock Holmes: The Hunt For Blackwood, which can be found amongst a plethora of slots at William Hill. In fact, if you wanted to give this new release a go, the online casino is currently giving newcomers £40 worth of welcome deposit bonuses.
Possibly due to the fact Doctor Who isn’t quite as old as Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps because he possesses a lot more unique qualities that are difficult to pastiche, Doctor Who’s reach appears far less influential. That isn’t to say Doctor Who hasn’t inspired anything – Star Trek, Star Wars, Bill & Ted and plenty of other sci-fi productions include elements of the Doctor’s stories and characters, but usually in quite smaller, unbranded ways. There are some games as well, but these tend to be for children or young adults rather than for a universal audience. All in all, it just doesn’t seem like our favourite time-travelling doctor has reached Holmes levels of impact yet. But we probably know the reason: Doctor Who is very much in copyright as a character, while Sherlock isn't - at least not exactly.
Winner: Sherlock Holmes
Fortunately for Doctor Who, as there is no canon source material for writers to rely on new characters and allies can be introduced at any point. This is definitely a positive, as while we love Sherlock’s companion Dr Watson there’s only so much he can offer. In Doctor Who, a new sidekick usually means at least one entirely new plot that is sure to keep viewers interested and invested in the programme. Plus, although some more recent allies have unfortunately succumbed to media tropes, they tend to balance the Doctor out and often become equally as liked as the main man himself.
There’s no denying that Sherlock’s friends are pivotal to his story, but over the years it has become clear that Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson alone cannot compete with Doctor Who’s vast array of quirky, bold and memorable companions. We can't wait to meet Pearl Mackie's new character.
Winner: Doctor Who
"Doctor Who Exhibition" (CC BY 2.0) by shining.darkness
There seems to be a similar problem when it comes to Sherlock Holmes’ villains. Sure, he has apprehended many a baddie throughout his many years of service, but Sherlock’s main nemesis will always by Moriarty. Now, we love the various portrayals of this dastardly villain as much as the next person, but there is a limit to how many times we can see this foe attempt to take Sherlock down.
Meanwhile, the Doctor Who universe is filled with more villains than you can shake striped scarf at. These baddies have threatened everything from cities to reality and come in all shapes and sizes from Cybermen to Darleks to The Master. Sure, the Master's probably the Doctor's Moriarty - and Missy's simply splendid - but there's so many more to choose from, aliens of all persuasions and criminal masterminds extraordinaire.
Each of these antagonists or groups of villains is equally if not more fleshed out than Moriarty, so again the points go to Doctor Who for sure.
Winner: Doctor Who
"Sherlock" (CC BY 2.0) by kaffeeringe
Considering Sir Conan Doyle only ever wrote four full-length Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories, it is incredible that the tale of the brilliant yet difficult detective lives on today and continues to engage with new generations. In addition to this, many believe Sherlock Holmes has Aspergers Syndrome, making him the only truly iconic cult character on the spectrum.
Doctor Who has staying power as well of course, with numerous new stories, spin offs and villains popping up regularly. The Doctor himself even changes from time to time, and with each new regeneration, our main character gets a new personality, face and style. Still, in each imagining of the Doctor he remains a borderline pacifist, loves humans and always sticks with his morals. Really, Doctor Who is almost godlike.
Sherlock Holmes is more realistic; he is flawed as well as fascinating and remains basically the same character in every reimagining.
This has its benefits, but also has shortcomings. Due to the nature of a Timelord, different Doctors will provide new opportunities for the script, new twists and turns and more surprises. Yes, the Doctor is not as consistent as Sherlock, but that's one of his (should we say her from now on?) strong points. So, apologies to Mr. Holmes, but this round will have to go to Doctor Who too.
Winner: Doctor Who
Now, we realise that it's what you expected from us. But we do respect Sherlock, and it was fun to come up with the comparison, especially considering Stephen Moffat's hand in the current-day popularity of both. Do you think we have been fair though? Let us know which of these characters is better and why in the comments below.