There’s a joke in John Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson go camping. They pitch their tent and go to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson and says: “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson replies, “I see millions and millions of stars.” Holmes asks, “And what do you deduce from that?” “Well, if there are millions of stars,” Watson says, “there must be some with planets, and some of those planets must be like Earth. And if there are planets like Earth, there might be planets with life.” And Holmes says, “Watson, you idiot, it means someone stole our tent.”

Lieautenant Cloud – The Ghost Brigades, among others

I doubt Scalzi came up with the joke, but his book is where I came across it. It does, however, present a recurring problem with the way things present Watson and similar characters. Dr. Watson is an actual doctor, a very smart person, just not the supreme intelligence of Sherlock Holmes and the other characters of his ilk. It’s very hard to write or portray a super-smart character, so the easiest thing to do is to make everyone around them dumb. But that’s also really unsatisfying as a reader.

To be clear, I don’t necessarily have a solution for how to do this as a writer, which is why I don’t write the supernaturally intelligent characters. I always appreciate it, when writers or shows manage to strike that balance well. Of the many Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I like Elementary the most. Just like Elementary, the mindship Watson (The Shadow’s Child) in Aliette de Bodard’s Tea Master series is intelligent and compassionate. They are both skilled in ways that Sherlock nor Long Chau are not. In BBC’s Luther, the titular character has great instincts, and the intelligence to match. Enough to make it worth to return him to service after some highly questionable activity. But he is also surrounded by people who are, all in different, unique ways better than him.

To me, those are the best types of stories. I love my competence porn. And the fact is that the more competent people per story, the more I tend to love it.