The Best Sherlock Holmes Parody Ever: Firesign Theatre’s The Giant Rat of Sumatra

Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.
“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” (1924)

There have been several attempts to retell the story for which the world wasn’t prepared. Nigel Bruce as Watson told the story in the movie “Pursuit to Algiers.” Fred Saberhagen connected the rat to Dracula as part of a plot to infect London with the plague in “The Holmes-Dracula File.” Doctor Who apparently battled the rat twice, once in a 1977 episode and again in a 1994 novel “All-Consuming Fire.”

cover album from Firesign Theatre's Giant Rat of Sumatra

The album cover from the Firesign Theatre’s “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” (1974).

As straight stories they have their merits and deficiencies, but as parody, the best version for me is The Firesign Theatre’s “The Giant Rat of Sumatra,” an album released in 1974 in which “The Great Defective” Hemlock Stones, with Dr. John Flotsom by his side with pen in hand fights industrialists, gangsters, shady seaside characters, a bomb-bearing dog to defeat “The Electrician” (and nobody’s sweetheart!) to recover an energy source that will keep the lights burning from Singapore to Sinatra!

This 40-minute radio play is fast-moving, filled with bad puns (such as the club Mobious Dick, where “they whale all night!”), some risque drug and sex humor (Stones: “I’ll have coke please, I understand it comes in bottles in this country.”)

Liquid Coke! Now with caffeine!

Liquid Coke! Now with caffeine!

But what sets the Firesign Theatre’s effort apart from the rest is the combination of parody, humor, character and plot. There’s an actual story going on, and the jokes play off of the combination. This is not just a Holmes parody that pokes fun at Doyle’s tropes. It strikes out at everything. They’re equal-opportunity offenders.

And, like “Airplane!” the jokes come thick and fast. Don’t like one? Wait a few seconds for the next one.

In addition, mystery fans might approve of their hard-boiled parody “Nick Danger: Third Eye,” featuring a cameo by President Roosevelt!