“The name is Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker street,” Benedict Cumberbatch tells Doctor Watson as he gives a cheeky wink and so begins the adventure of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes.
It was a brave but a good idea to cast Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in a world familiar to our own. For most Holmesian fans the world of Holmes and Doctor Watson is a Victorian one of London fog and Hanson cabs as they dash through the streets in London. Nevertheless the idea of Sherlock in the 21st century was an anathema to some staunch fans and indeed it was a question of whether it would be style ove substance as well as whether the stories would transfer over well to a modern era.
If Gatiss and Moffat had decided to stay with the Victorian era then it would have instantly been compared to Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes respectively. Both of these are classic adaption’s and there always would have been the feeling that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock would be the ‘Robin,’ to Rathbone and Brett’s ‘Batman.’ Added to which there was a feeling of something new and exciting in just what Sherlock would look like in the here and now.
With a cast that boasted the likes of Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Una Stubbs to name but a few they pulled it off. It felt like something new and unique with the early episodes strongly related to Doyle’s stories such as a ‘study in Scarlett,’ with the episode titled ‘a study in pink.’
For Holmes it is about solving the problem through using his brain and deducting probabilities until in the words of Sherlock he is left with the answer no matter how implausible it may seem. Emotions, relationships, even in some respects getting justice were immaterial. To Sherlock it was the high adrenalin rush of trying to solve a difficult puzzle against the clock. Brains not brawn was normally the order of the day.
Cumberbatch was excellent in deducing information about people in that know it all matter of fact way . He also perfected that know all smirk at the amazement of everyone when he explained the giveaways about their character or solving a case.
The chemistry between Cumberbatch and Freeman is caught perfectly as Watson is equally exasperated and a the same time reveres Holmes. When Sherlock fires a gun because he is bored or does something abnormal Freeman’s Watson shows the frustration as he tries to tell him that his behaviour is out-of-order. Not that Holmes is bothered and Cumberbatch captures the selfishness and smug amusement that Watson is capturing his cases on his blog. In Sherlock’s words he ‘is a functioning sociopath.’
Some may have wondered whether the modern technology would hinder the series but instead Holmes who embraces new technology adapts to it like a duck to water. Mobile phones, laptops as an annoyed Holmes instructs a bewildered Watson on a webcam it still captures the spirit of Conan Doyle’s Holmes who let it be said embraced science like a friend.
There are still some of the interests and habits of the Victorian Holmes as Cumberbatch’s Sherlock knocks out a mean old tune on his violin. He too has a nicotine addiction although unlike the old Holmes who contentedly puffs on his pipe he is trying to kick what is now deemed a filthy habit with nicotine patches.
Although Mycroft might be a slimmer version of Conan Doyle (granted he still worries about his weight) Lestrade is still the bumbling inspector who relies on Sherlock’s assistance and like Watson is amazed at how he solves the cases. There is a bit more flesh to Mrs Hudson who has a bit of a colourful history whilst Molly the pathologist has a not so secret crush on Sherlock. These characters though all work as they act and react as you would expect in the modern era. Sherlock is still a man who doesn’t do emotions and sees his fellow-man as an interesting study.
Moriarty is probably the weakest of the well-known Sherlock Holmes characters in Sherlock. For starters he seems to be younger than what is expected of Sherlock’s nemesis. Added to which Andrew Scott hams it up just a bit too much for him to be taken serious. Rather than coming across as one of the most dangerous criminals he comes across as the unhinged lunatic who gets on the bus with people getting their heads down hoping not to make eye contact. It is hard to see him as a major crime lord as there isn’t a sense of seriousness or danger of someone who doesn’t take prisoners when crossed. Nevertheless there is a tension between the pair as they pit their wits in what they seem to see as a game between each other.
The early episodes certainly work with the modern twist of the Hound and the Baskervilles and scandal in Belgravia. Lara Pulver plays Irene Adler magnificently and even steals the show. It could be argued that Conan Doyle’s Adler was portrayed as a stronger woman. After all Irene Adler in scandal of Bohemia is one the very few people to get the better of Holmes whereas the modern Adler gets rescued by Sherlock dressed up like an extra from the 1970s Turkish delight advert.
Nevertheless it was an enjoyable show as Sherlock enjoyed the thrill of the chase with the game afoot. However the series was about to lose its direction and verge away from what Sherlock Holmes is about. There were a couple of reasons for this and that was the decision to try to delve into what makes Sherlock tick and the introduction of John Watson’s new bride Mary. Aside from the secret SAS type agent on the run Sherlock for some reason started to become more of an action hero rather than solving crimes.
For starters would Sherlock Holmes really feel that the only option that he had was to shoot and kill Charles Augustus Magnussen? Apart from Holmes priding himself on using his intelligence and finding out his weakness would he really cross the line? After all that is meant to be the big difference between Sherlock and Moriarty in the sense that he believes in justice and has a more moral sense that his arch-enemy.
The abominable bride was quite frankly abominable but was quickly forgiven as being more of a teaser for what was to come as well as giving the cast an opportunity to don Victorian garb. However the last and what is rumoured to be the last series went completely off kilter. Again it was all focused on Mary being an action hero that it detracted from what we expect from a Sherlock Holmes story.
It seemed as though the show was back on course with the lying detective a take on the dying detective story only for it to all go a bit Pete Tong at the end when John Watson’s therapist turns out to be Sherlock’s secret evil sister Eurus.
Rather than the final episode being a fitting finale it was aptly titled the final problem which was quite ironic as there were a lot of problems and holes with this episode. Critics pointed out that Sherlock was morphing more into James Bond with all the explosions and action hero scenes. To be fair they had a point with the promo of Sherlock in a smart suit whilst fixing his sleeve more 007 than 221B Baker street.
Sherlock more 007 than 221B Baker Street
From the drone with the bomb blowing up the front room of Sherlock’s flat to hijacking a fishing boat to break into the secure prison that was holding Sherlock and Mycroft’s sister there were more holes than Mycroft’s Captain Fishy’s net. Aside from the ease of breaking in why did Mycroft need to don a disguise when he had access to the institution anyway? Why would a young Eurus be locked up in such a prison at a young age? Plus the bit with Moriarty being allowed to visit Eurus with both being considered criminal masterminds and being left alone was ridiculous.
The games and the girl on the plane full of dead passengers which turned out to be how Eurus mind was feeling was self-indulgent that you were beyond the point of caring and wanted it to end.
It seemed as though Moffat and Gatiss wanted to explore on what made Sherlock the way he was with the ‘Redbeard,’ murder of his friend (he thought it was the family dog) and strange behaviour of his sister meant to being going some way to explain his psyche. The whole episode was quite frankly a mess and without the Sherlock Holmes moniker would probably not have been made. All of it seemed conceited rather than producing a series to merit the early episodes.
Mark Gatiss responded to criticism in the same vein that Arthur Conan Doyle did to a critic by writing a poem. No doubt it was tongue in cheek but would have been better if he had been influenced by one of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories rather than a panda cola version of the real thing for the final series.
The early Sherlock was an excellent show and despite some cynicism of portraying a modern-day Holmes it worked whilst also looking fresh. Despite the last few episodes Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will still be remembered as one of the best Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson especially when the game was afoot.