As I was disappointed by the direction taken in series three, I didn’t hold out much hope for the return of BBC Sherlock. After a three year wait for the series to return and endless hype, Hollywood-style trailers, speculation and intense marketing (even announcing the birth of John and Mary’s baby in the Daily Telegraph), I was fearing the worst. It all seemed to point towards more of the over-indulgent, pretentious cleverness which, in my opinion, spoilt series three.
The first episode of series four, The Six Thatchers, aired on the BBC last night and I loved it, I really loved it. Finally, we see a return to the magic of the first two series, a terrifically good plot which was gripping, exciting, made sense (just about!) and contained brilliant deductions staying true to the science of deduction central to Holmes’ unique character. I also think the canon was treated far better here, sticking much more closely to the essence of the original stories which shaped this new narrative.
The episode was an amalgamation of two stories from the canon, The Six Napoleons and The Sign of Four. Both were cleverly worked into this new tale while containing lots of recognisable elements, from AGRA to the Borgia pearls, the smashing of plaster busts of Margaret Thatcher (described in the episode as the ‘new Napoleon’) – even the detail of the busts being smashed under a porch-light so that the burglar could look for their hidden contents. I loved the reference to the Wigmore Street post office too. Much thought and care went into maintaining the integrity of those two original stories, updating them to our modern world and using them as a device to further their own plot. I applaud this heartily, and know how difficult it is to do.
I loved watching Sherlock being a detective again, Lestrade bringing him a case and he deducing the hell out of it. The dialogue was, at times, hilarious, the pace remained high-octane, the editing slick and highly stylised, and the acting by Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman et al was superb. Even Husband stayed awake all the way through, he nodded off during every episode of series three and after about three minutes of The Bride.
I even started to like Mary more, and it was very appropriate to bring in Sign of Four references – this was the story in which we first encountered Mary Morstan. Here, I think we truly encountered this new Mary for the first time, seeing a more fleshed-out and believable character than the one we met in series three (who always felt a bit too extreme and hurriedly thrown in for my liking.)
Series three felt so over the top, not exactly less is more – rather just more, more, more. But here they managed to get the balance right overall, there was that lightness of touch, that little bit of restraint. Not too much, but enough to make it creditable without losing that very distinctive style Moffat and Gatiss have.
For the sake of balance, there were some things I didn’t really think worked but none of them were deal-breakers. Poor Sherlock has ended up in a state about breaking his vow and failing to protect Mary, but what about John? What about the vow he made when he got married to forsake all others? There he is texting some girl he met on a bus just after his wife has given birth to their first child. For me, this did detract from John’s grief as he cradled his dying wife. As the makers said, in this series Sherlock becomes less of a dick and John more of a dick – I see what they mean now.
What was the point of Mary fleeing abroad when finding out her ex-agent buddy wanted her dead? Surely, if you are an elite, highly trained agent, you would simply stay in London, track him down and neutralise the threat? Not hop off to umpteen different countries, with lots of new identities? This felt like pointless filler to me, needing something to make up the ninety minutes. It was too extreme, a moment where the balance was lost.
Would a new mother really take a bullet and die for her husband’s best friend? Would she really leave her child motherless and her husband widowed however much she cared for Sherlock? And if there was time for her to get in front of that bullet, couldn’t he have simply moved out of the way himself?
But these minor niggles don’t really matter, they just make for some interesting post-episode discussion.
I loved The Six Thatchers, I felt like fist-pumping the air. And I was beginning to fear I would never feel like that about Sherlock again. Will this really be the last ever series as some are speculating? Have they saved the best till last? Let’s see what they do with Culverton Smith in the next episode before rushing to judgement, but it’s safe to say that the signs are looking very good. Signs, Sign of Four, get it? No, fair enough – I’ll leave the humour to Moffat and Gatiss.
Agree with my thoughts? Post your views below.
I really enjoyed it, too. It’s interesting seeing fan reaction, and realising what a difference it makes when you’ve read the source material and know that this ending was bound to come along at some point. The lines that came afterwards, and were straight from Conan Doyle, didn’t jar one bit.
I absolutely agree about Mary’s characterisation here. This was the first time I think it really worked. Of course, I think it owes something to a character in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but to say more would be to spoil both works equally… I also thought Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft was more like Christopher Lee than ever, and I was very happy about that!
Knowing the canon certainly suggested that Mary would die so I wasn’t surprised, though I did think it might be the big finish at the end of the series, not the start. And they haven’t exactly been reliable with their use/interpretation of the canon in previous series, so it was never a given that Mary would die. Use of canon in this episode, I feel was particularly strong. Taking just two original stories and maintaining their essence was clever, weaving them not only into each other, into modern-day and your own on-going narrative takes some doing. Will the Dying Detective be so closely followed in the next episode? The trailer showing Sherlock saying ‘I love you’, suggests it might. One of the most memorable things about the original, is when Holmes is hurriedly asking Watson to conceal himself before Culverton Smith enters the room. He says, ‘if you love me’, when urging him to hide. Really interesting to see what they do with this one, hopefully better than Milverton and his mind-palace! Hopefully they’ve put the mind-palace to bed now!
I thought exactly as you did about why Holmes just didn’t move out of the way of the bullet. Why would marry care more about Holmes than her husband and child? I will be perfectly happy if this series is the last one. I enjoyed the Canonical references and Lestrade’s complaints about being given credit for solving the crimes until John blogs the truth. I will get the DVD and look at the series again, but someone should whisper Norbury to Gatis and Moffat.
Ha ha, love the Norbury comment – might use that in my next blog! In some ways it will be sad if this series is the last one, especially as they now seem to be getting back on form and finding a balance between being a detective/mystery drama and being a ‘drama about a detective’. But I’m not sure where it can go after this series ends if they tie up all the loose threads – Moriarty, Mary, Sherlock learning to care for others, learning that he can be reckless and this has consequences. I do think it might be coming to the end of it’s natural life. The gaps between each series are so great because of how busy the stars have become, that I think it might be time to set them free now and bring it to a close.