With an average of 9 million viewers per episode aired (not even including I-player catcher- uppers or the vast ‘Cumberbabe’ army that rests outside of these hallowed shores) it’s safe to say that the BBC’s latest Sherlock series was a smashing success. This modern adaptation of the life and times of the World’s ‘Almost’ Greatest Detective (Batman is no 1, apparently) has garnered a huge number of followers – many of them produce fan fiction and worship the show’s star to an idolatrous level – and the BBC have ramped up production values accordingly. This review shall briefly cover each episode in the third series, which is a Baker’s (street) dozen times better than the first two… so that’s thirteen times better, just to clarify. BBC I-Player content usually gets a limited run, staying up on the site for just 7 days, but luckily they’ve decided that they don’t mind if Sherlock sticks around a little longer. Head over there after you’ve finished this and catch all three for free.
Episode 1: The Empty Hearse – 4/5
Plot: Having jumped to his theatrical doom two years ago, Sherlock’s friends and associates are still bumbling around in the wake of his passing. The supposed suicide wasn’t all that it appeared, however, and a major terror threat may be just enough to bring Sherlock back to the land of the living.
In a post-Sherlock world, John Watson (Martin Freeman) is adjusting, somewhat to his chagrin, to the prospect of married life with the pleasant, straight laced Mary (Amanda Abbington). In due course his domesticity is rudely shattered by the apparition of an old friend… Chaos reigns again as Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) prances around the city, John in tow, in a desperate bid to prevent an unspeakable terrorist attack – unspeakable by definition, because nobody knows what it will be or who’s going to do it. Said terrorist may just get away with it, provided no meddling, genius-polymath detectives get on the case.
Kudos goes to writers Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who doubles up as Mycroft ‘brother-mine’ Holmes) for acknowledging the show’s devotees and their impassioned outcry over last season’s shock ending; large segments of The Empty Hearse see cast members hypothesising on the methods behind Sherlock’s spectacular faked death, as did millions of dumbstruck viewers. Praise must go to the BBC, who’ve finally splashed the cash in a big way; the effects are impressive, (there’s a money shot to rival HBO’s Wildfire explosion from GOT) the editing is slick and the direction has a previously unknown fluidity. There are no clunky, 10 o’ Clock news style montages here. Instead, London’s landmarks get the sophisticated treatment that a show about Sherlock Holmes warrants, and the action has just the right level of edge to make it believable. There may even be some cheeky camera shake in there too… The Bourne Elementary?
Episode 2: The Sign of Three – 5/5
Plot: John and Mary are getting married, and best man Sherlock gives the speechiest speech that was ever spoken.
The Sign of Three is the BBC’s finest hour. Well, hour and a half. The wedding of John Watson was a source of great hilarity and no small incident in Guy Ritchie’s film A Game of Shadows, and so it proves to be again here. Non-linear as you like, the whole episode revolves around a best man’s speech, with Sherlock relating a series of amusing anecdotes which he feels best sum up his relationship with the groom, Dr John Watson. Anyone who holds dear ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ is in for a treat. The criss-crossing narratives provide great insight into their (sadly fictional) lives, and for the very first time it can be irreproachably said that a perfect on screen adaptation of the books has been achieved. Seeing the pals from 221B Baker Street going on a pub crawl is as unexpected as it is joyful; Watson gets so smashed he spikes his own drink, while the sloshed sleuth couldn’t even hold his own against a six year old in a game of ‘Cluedo’.
As Sherlock’s multi-case narrative unfolds, he begins to realise that his stories aren’t as inconsequential as he may have first thought. Worse still, he begins to suspect that not everyone at the wedding wishes well. The Sign of Three is compelling viewing and proves that Sherlock doesn’t need to defuse an international terror plot to have a good time.
Episode 3: His Last Vow – 4/5
Plot: Leveson inquiry, Sherlock style. The conniving head of a newspaper conglomerate (what papers? ‘Ones I don’t read’, says Dr Watson) has taken privacy invasion one step too far, and Sherlock decides to intervene.
Inspired by the News of The World Scandals, His Last Vow tackles the evils of privacy invasion and is quite possibly the intrepid investigator’s most successful 21st century translation. Opium dens, a very familiar haunt of the book-bound Sherlock (and reputedly of Conan Doyle’s, too) get a modern revamp as well.
His Last Vow’s villain-at-large is media-mogul Charles Magnussen, and he’s as dangerous and foreign as his surnames suggests. His monstrous machinations are carried out with lip quivering relish by Lars Mikkelsen, brother of Mads (Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising, The Hunt). Sherlock’s show runners probably tried to hire Mads since he’s by far the more famous of the two, but simply couldn’t afford it after blowing the budget on the excessive amount of biscuits that Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) always puts out with the tea. Danish thespians to one side, and despite some terribly neat plot contrivances, this episode serves as a fitting finale to the series, going deeper and darker than anyone thought the BBC could. Excellent story telling is utilised to explore Sherlock’s damaged inner-psyche while the gripping overall narrative twists and turns like a life and death game of ‘Bop-It’.
Sherlock– Series 3 is well produced, fantastically written television, made even more special thanks to the bromantic antics of Freeman and Cumberbatch. They have a profound understanding of their respective characters, and combine to form a great on screen pairing. Now that the show is on hiatus once more, Freemanicas and Cumberbitches the world over will have to look elsewhere for their fix – if Conan Doyle were here, he might suggest a nice chew on the leaf of the coca. He loved him some edible cocaine!
Here’s the link to watch the first episode, folks: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01dmfz6/Sherlock_Series_3_The_Empty_Hearse/
Sorry Americans, it won’t work over there; I-Player TV catch up is for British eyes only!