BBC Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – opinions as messy as the plot (contains spoilers)

fe817b86-1ba2-472b-b9ff-f1c473bcf4f8-bestSizeAvailableBBC’s Sherlock New Year’s Day special, The Abominable Bride, drew in 8.4 million viewers and the internet is now alive with reviews and discussion about this polarising trip (‘Trip’ being the operative word) back to the Victorian London of the original Sherlock Holmes cannon.

The Telegraph has gone with ‘sleuths, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Sherlock combined period drama, feminism and a fiendish whodunit into a feature length comeback that got 2016 off to a flying start.’

Then at the other end of the scale we have the Daily Mail with – ‘A farce – a self-indulgent, ill-conceived mess that threatens to ruin the show’s reputation as one of the best programmes on British television.’

Sherlock Holmes for Dummies echoes my personal feelings particularly well – ‘So much potential, so much pandering, a few moments of brilliance, so many more moments of self-conscious B.S.’

I was really looking forward to this – I wanted to love it, wanted to rediscover the passion I had for Sherlock Series One and Two but utterly lost in series three. But they really let me down – again.

I still haven’t recovered from Sherlock faking his death with a squash ball and a big blue inflatable. Now they’ve done it again, lazy plot devices enabling them to go back in time with all their mates and have jolly japes together in funny costumes – what a hoot.

Turns out it was all a drug-infused, mind palace trick. Basically it was just a dream – like Booby coming back from the dead in Dallas. Well, that must have taken all of five seconds to come up with. A child could have done it.

We were presented with two different stories here, the Victorian murder mystery of a bride appearing to rise from the dead and walk the streets of London committing murders. Then we jump to where the last episode of Series Three left off with Sherlock on a private jet (can’t remember why, too confusing) suddenly coming back because it would appear that arch villain Moriarty has returned from the dead. Oh-my-gosh, anyone else want to come back from the dead? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle maybe?

Taking the period bits in isolation, they were pretty good. The sets and costumes were beautiful and accurate, the atmosphere of foggy London at Christmas with snow and Hansom cabs was a treat – the cosy sitting room at 221b with a fire roaring in the grate was wonderful. The quick-fire, fast-paced dialogue was a little out-of-place for the period but witty and enjoyable all the same. The quirky editing also uncharacteristic for a period piece but true to the Moffat and Gatiss style and worked fairly well in the main – though breaking with naturalism did pull the viewer away from the suspense of the drama. Holmes didn’t do much in the way of deducting either, which I though was the whole point of a detective drama.

But then everything suddenly turned a bit ‘Doctor Who’ and we’re back in present day. Then we go back and forth, we’re at the Reichenbach Falls, Victorian London, then back to the plane. I was lost; it was a mess and turned into silly, self-indulgent twaddle. Why do they have to do this? Are they so in love with their characters, so powerful that they can just do whatever they want? All I wanted was a cracking piece of crime drama with a really clever plot, lots of brilliant deduction from Holmes, all in the Victorian period – no explanations needed, no ‘it’s a dream/mind-palace (bloody mind-palace I’m sick of it now)/drug high,’ just a loving tribute to the canon without which they wouldn’t have their TV show in the first place.

This could have been so much better; it was a missed opportunity in my opinion. I know my opinion doesn’t matter; in fact no one’s opinion really matters when you can pull in 8.4 million viewers. I think perhaps that’s the problem here – the creative team don’t need to please anyone but themselves because loyalty, fascination, Benedict’s cheekbones, all the Benedict/Freeman fans, all the Sherlock Holmes fans will tune in no matter what. They will put up with lots of mind palace, dream sequences, people coming back from the dead, surviving a fall by landing on an inflatable etc. in the same way football fans will follow their team for life even if they do badly. We’ve got you now, say Moffat and Gatiss, and you’re bloody-well going to like whatever we tell you. Well, I didn’t like it – but yes, I will watch series four, they’ve still got me, I’m under the spell and it will always draw me back. More fool me.

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
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9 Responses to BBC Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – opinions as messy as the plot (contains spoilers)

  1. Kieran McMullen says:

    Spot on!

  2. Martin Shone says:

    I rather enjoyed it 🙂

    • There were certainly things to enjoy, like the evocative portrait of Victorian London, the canon refs, the costumes. But the nonsense just spoilt it for me.

      • Martin Shone says:

        It’s not nonsense it’s fiction, 21st Century fiction but having said that I do prefer the Victorian over the modern Sherlock even though this BBC Sherlock series is carrying the canon and us along a new direction which works surprisingly well and I look forward to the next three episodes.

  3. tripleransom says:

    (ahem) Here’s one Sherlock Holmes fan who won’t watch it no matter what. It takes more than a few random nods to canon to make me believe that these two guys are what ACD had in mind as Holmes and Watson.

  4. Patrick Kincaid says:

    I was like a nodding dog through this. You sum up my own feelings perfectly.

    I did enjoy much of the episode, not least the nods to the Granada series and to my favourite film, Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The design was wonderful, the set up with Baker Street opening out was superbly done, and the locations led me to start planning a day trip to Bristol.

    But then the problems kicked in. To my mind, these have more to do with maintaining narrative tension than with cohesion. I really don’t have a problem complex plotting. But when Sherlock cries ‘It’s Mary! She’s in danger!’ and you’re tempted to shout back ‘No, she isn’t, because you’ve just established that none of this is happening’, then something’s gone seriously wrong.

    Of course TV drama should try out new things. It should play with chronology and explore the interplay between reality and the imagination. But if you’re sacrificing dramatic tension to do that in a thriller, then you’ve quite literally lost the plot.

    I’m going to shy away here from commenting on how much the substance of the story annoyed me. But I will say that if Moffat and Gatiss can be accused of being over-sophisticated when it comes to plotting, then they’re pretty naive when it comes to gender politics.

    Anyway, I think that’s it for me. I won’t be watching it again.

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