Without a Clue opens with an attempted burglary, which is foiled by a mere silhouette, a familiar figure holding and lighting a Calabash pipe, instantly identified by the malefactors as "Sherlock Holmes!". As the ruffians turn to flee, Dr Watson and the police appear on the scene. There is a brief scuffle, and the culprits, including one John Clay, whom Holmes describes as "one of London's least notorious thieves", are bundled away by the constabulary. The officers are led by Inspector Lestrade, who pauses to offer an encomium on the great detective's paranormal perspicacity, as Holmes declares the case closed.
Once the door closes behind the departing officers, however, the scene undergoes a sea change, with Watson threatening to strike Holmes with his cane, and Holmes protesting that he merely followed Watson's 'direction'.
The press, including a photographer, await the duo in Baker Street, and Holmes proceeds to puff his own role whilst making side-swipes at the police. A reporter who challenges his assertion that "I see and observe" is humiliated, but Watson, once inside, proves that Holmes couldn't answer his own question. When Holmes is unhappy that Watson has written, in the latest story that he (Holmes) admitted to a mistake, Watson avers that "a writer must write of which he knows". Whilst marshalling counter-arguments, Holmes tampers with Watson's chemical experiments, causing an explosion which lays waste to sections of the living-room. Watson loses his temper, and once again remind his 'colleague' of the true nature of their relationship - as employer (Watson) and performer (Kincaid/Holmes). He feels he 'plucked [Reginald Kincaid] from obscurity', whereas Holmes quotes from his own reviews as an actor, mainly praising his swordsmanship, rather than his dramatic performance.
Holmes claims that he has improved as a detective, and offers as proof a prediction on the client currently approaching the door. Since the visitors in fact prove to be the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes 'middle-aged woman' is about as far from the mark as possible. Watson deploys his 'troops' to find out what really happened with the John Clay robbery, and Wiggins, the Irrregulars' leader, tells him not to worry, as they (the boys) will provie him with "real help". Holmes tries to assert his professionalism, but is constantly undermined by Watson's endless examples of his incompetence. The situation for Holmes worsens when Mrs. Hudson joins in, bringing evidence of his latest drinking binge. Since Holmes feels that he has outgrown his author, and says so unequivocally, Watson is moved to fury - and to fire him. Watson and Mrs. Hudson celebrate once they have literally thrown Holmes' luggage out in the street, along with the man himself.
Watson, however, runs into a roadblock in the form of his publisher, Norman Greenhough, who explains that "The Strand" magazine has invested heavily in Holmes, whatever his private flaws (such as not being real, and being a gambler and womaniser), and "you're stuck with him, I'm afraid". Watson tries to declare his independence and literary rights, but Greenhough insists "It's Sherlock Holmes, or we'll sue you for everything you're worth. And I mean everything!".
"Without a Clue" posits the notion that Watson was the genius detective, but, in order to preserve his reputation as a medical man, he fabricated this analytical acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes. When the public clamoured to meet him, Watson hired an actor, Reginald Kincaid, to play the role. Unfortunately for Watson, "he was also a drunkard, a womaniser and a gambler". Watson becomes embroiled in a plot concocted by his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, but finds himself in need of Holmes also.
- Michael Caine – Sherlock Holmes / Reginald Kincaid
- Ben Kingsley – Dr John Watson
- Jeffrey Jones – Inspector George Lestrade
- Lysette Anthony – Lesley Giles (Imposter)
- Paul Freeman – Professor James Moriarty
- Pat Keen – Mrs Hudson
- Matthew Savage – Wiggins
- Nigel Davenport – Lord Smithwick
- Tim Killick – Sebastian Moran
- Peter Cook – Norman Greenhough
- John Warner – Peter Giles
- Matthew Sim – Lesley Giles (Real)
- Fredrick Fox – Priest
- Harold Innocent – Lord Mayor Gerald Fitzwalter Johnson
- George Sweeney – John Clay
- Murray Ewan – Archie
- Jennifer Guy – Lord Mayor's daughter
- Clive Mantle – Thug No. 1
- Without a Clue on Wikipedia.