Based on the Sherlock Holmes story "Charles Augustus Middleton", THE MASTER BLACKMAILER is an atypical Holmes tale. The great detective does little or no deducting; he knows exactly who the master blackmailer is and how he is doing his blackmailing. It is not Holmes's brain that leads him into attempting to trap Charles Augustus Middleton, but rather his sense of decency and honor. It is a more human Holmes we see in this story than we have seen in most others. He even (shocker!) kisses a woman in the line of duty!
Several full-length episodes were made during the latter half of the ongoing Sherlock Holmes series that ran on and off from 1984 to 1994. starring Jeremy Brett, all of various qualities. Although slow-moving, THE MASTER BLACKMAILER ranks alongside THE SIGN OF FOUR as one of the best of the bunch. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke do their usual outstanding jobs as Holmes and Watson, and they are matched by Robert Hardy as the unctuous and thoroughly evil Charles Augustus Middleton. With all due respect to Eric Porter who played Professor Moriarty in two earlier episodes, Hardy is arguably the best villain of the entire series. (Many younger viewers would recognize him instantly as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter films). Doyle's original story begins near the end of the adventure, with Holmes filling in details through dialogue. The writers have skillfully used that dialogue to build more into the story to make it feature length. Unlike the occasional episode of the series that employs the same technique, it does not feel like padding here. Instead, it serves to build up the extent of Middleton's debauchery, so that his eventual comeuppance is that much more satisfying. - JB