Doctor Who writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were once on a train journey from London to the set of Doctor Who in Cardiff. Along the way they began to chat about their mutual, life-long love of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Eventually they started to talk about how well the stories would work in a contemporary setting, and that someone should really do an adaptation that was set in the modern day. And then it occurred to them: why shouldn't they be the ones to do this?! And so Sherlock was born...
To be honest I was very disappointed when I found out that the BBC were doing a modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I think I would have been a lot more optimistic about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes if I'd already seen Moffat's brilliant modern-day update of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but at the time I hadn't seen it. I only knew that I hated the thought of Sherlock Holmes texting and sending emails and using the internet to help him solve crimes! However, when I finally saw Sherlock, I realised that I'd been wrong. And not only had I been wrong about Sherlock, I had been WRONG about Sherlock! In fact this show has now become one of my favourites of all time! People, prepare for gushing in this review, a lot of gushing...
I was absolutely blown away by Sherlock. I couldn't believe how faithful it was! It's packed with subtle references and in-jokes to the Conan Doyle stories! Viewers who aren't familiar with the Conan Doyle stories will never be left feeling confused and alienated by all of these references but those viewers who are familiar with the canon will be feeling delighted! Despite the fact that Sherlock is set in the modern-day it's a far more accurate adaptation of the Conan Doyle stories than the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films. With Sherlock the writers have been able to stay true to the spirit, tone and essential details of the Conan Doyle stories whilst still being able to make everything fit into the modern-day. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson now call each other "Sherlock" and "John" instead of "Holmes" and "Watson". Sherlock sends text messages rather than telegrams. He still plays the violin. John blogs about Sherlock's adventures instead of keeping a journal. Their characters even meet in exactly the same way as their book counterparts do in A Study in Scarlet: Watson is an army doctor who comes back to London from Afghanistan after being injured in the war out there. *Hmm, some things never change!* He then meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual friend and becomes his flatmate. Their flat is on Baker Street and their landlady is Mrs Hudson. One thing that is dropped entirely though is Sherlock Holmes' drug use. In their commentary for A Study in Pink Moffat and Gatiss give their reasons for this. They didn't want their Sherlock Holmes to take drugs because Sherlock Holmes doesn't even take drugs all that much in the Conan Doyle stories. The only times in which Sherlock Holmes takes opium in the Conan Doyle stories are those times when he's feeling bored and hasn't got a case to solve. Sherlock Holmes isn't an addict. Moffat and Gatiss weren't even convinced that a modern-day Sherlock Holmes would take drugs. Times were different in Conan Doyle's day. Opium was perfectly legal back then and you could even buy it at the local chemist! They even had cocaine in Coca-Cola! So instead of taking opium, the Sherlock Holmes of this TV show has an addiction to cigarettes and wears nicotine patches. Having said that, both A Study in Pink and the unaired 60 minute pilot for Sherlock imply that Sherlock Holmes has taken drugs in the past.
Again, the writing for Sherlock is just so, so brilliant. The plots are deviously cunning and mind-blowing. Also - although there's a brilliant scene in The Blind Banker where Sherlock casually battles a murderous swordsman like it's an everyday occurrence - the writing never tries to turn Sherlock Holmes into an action hero. And each one of this series' three episodes is clever, imaginative, brilliantly-plotted, suspenseful and thrilling. It's proof that you don't necessarily need to have loads of action in a film for it to be exciting and thrilling. Also, there is so much humour in the show! The writing in this show can be absolutely hysterical. The humour in this show is amazing and it's oh so quotable.
In fact it might interest some to know that Benedict Cumberbatch actually knew Jeremy Brett personally. Brett was a close friend of Benedict Cumberbatch's parents.* The role of Sherlock Holmes has made Benedict Cumberbatch a star. Cumberbatch was hardly a complete unknown when he took on the role of course. He'd already had roles in several big films such as Amazing Grace, Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl. Having said that Cumberbatch wasn't exactly a household name either. But Sherlock has completely changed all of that and has made him a huge star. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a star-making performance in Sherlock. His Sherlock Holmes is arrogant, cold and sometimes rude and yet Cumberbatch still manages to make him extremely likeable and charming; his Sherlock has clearly got a good heart beneath the surface. His Sherlock is also mysterious, authoritative, energetic, socially awkward, brilliant, sometimes manic, fiercely intelligent, calculating, witty, intense, funny and sexy. There's even a tinge of dark menace to his Sherlock Holmes at times. And he has such a commanding screen presence and an amazing voice! And he has such an otherworldly look with those gorgeous, high cheekbones of his! And I love how he dresses in this series! Yep, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely amazing in the role and everything I'd want from a modern-day Sherlock Holmes :) He's a truly fantastic actor and - mark my words! - he will win an Oscar nomination some day. And it's a crime that he hasn't won a BAFTA for the role of Sherlock Holmes already!
And then of course there are all the wonderful supporting characters in Sherlock and the actors who play them. Sherlock and John's housekeeper, er, I mean landlady Mrs Hudson has a much more prominent role in Sherlock than she does in the stories and is very well-acted by Una Stubbs. As Mrs Hudson she's very maternal, warm, sweet and affectionate. The character of Lestrade is played by Rupert Graves. Lestrade's character is portrayed quite inconsistently in the Sherlock Holmes stories but Moffat and Gatiss decided to go with the Lestrade that we read about in The Six Napoleons. So Lestrade is a man who is often frustrated and exasperated with Sherlock but is nevertheless deeply admiring of him, and whom Sherlock considers to the best police officer in Scotland Yard. Lestrade might not be a genius but he's intelligent in his own right and is very much like John in this respect. Graves brings a lot of gravitas to the role and his Lestrade is very likeable. Sherlock Holmes' older brother Mycroft is another character who has a more prominent role in Sherlock than he does in the stories. In Sherlock he's played by Mark Gatiss who - as I've already mentioned - is a co-executive producer and writer for the show. Apparently Gatiss hasn't even considered himself for the role until his fellow writer and friend Steve Thompson suggested it. I think Mark Gatiss is a really underrated actor and he does a superb job at playing Mycroft. He's really well-suited to the role. He plays cold and disdainful really well and his conversations and jibes with Cumberbatch's Sherlock can be very amusing. Eventually I'd love for Sherlock to do a very Mycroft-heavy episode that really shows just how intelligent Mycroft is. There's also a completely original character in Sherlock called Molly Hooper. She's played by Louise Brealey (who also works as a TV writer and journalist). I'm probably sounding like a broken record now but Brealey is excellent in Sherlock as well and her character is very sweet and likeable. I suspect that for many fans she's the most relatable character on the show as well with her massive crush on Sherlock! Other notable actors who guest-star on Sherlock - and do a brilliant job - are Phil Davis and Bertie Carvel. The 5th Doctor Peter Davison also does a brief voiceover in the Planetarium scene during The Great Game. Oh and as for the character of Moriarty, no I haven't forgotten him. I'm going to talk about him during my series two review.
Series one of Sherlock consists of three 90 minute episodes. A 60 minute pilot for the show was filmed and originally Moffat and Gatiss had intended to make six 60 minute episodes for Sherlock. However the BBC rejected this and told them that they wanted three 90 minute episodes instead. I heartily approve of this! I'm so, so glad that Sherlock doesn't consist of 45 minute length or 60 minute length episodes like the vast majority of BBC shows! Especially now that I've seen the original 60 minute pilot for Sherlock. It's not that that episode is bad but it's quite rushed. A lot of people, even fans, do moan about each series having only three episodes though and the fact that there's a long wait between each series. This long wait is because of Steven Moffat being the current showrunner on Doctor Who, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman having movie careers, and Mark Gatiss being a writer for Doctor Who and an actor himself. They all have other commitments. Anyway, I used to sympathise with this attitude from some of the fans but now I actually find it really annoying when people complain about these things. The Sherlock episodes are 90 minutes long! Every episode is a 90 minute made-for-TV movie! I honestly don't think the fans should be feeling hard done-by for having to wait every 18-24 months or so for three movies! And yes I do often wish that there were more than six Sherlock episodes but I'd take quality over quantity any day! My earnest wish is that Sherlock carries on for years and years. If the writers and actors only have to come back for a few months every two years or so then they'd be happier to carry on doing the show for longer because it would give them the opportunity to do lots of different things. And they could actually do storylines with the characters ageing just like the characters do in the books.
The three episodes of Sherlock series one are A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game. A Study in Pink is written by Steven Moffat and is directly based on the original Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. The remaining two episodes aren't directly based on Sherlock Holmes stories but instead take plot elements and inspiration from a variety of different stories. The Blind Banker is written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's friend Steve Thompson. The Great Game is written by Mark Gatiss. All of these episodes are absolutely fantastic. The Blind Banker is often considered to be the weakest of the series one episodes - and I suppose it is - but it's still brilliant and I still adore it. I'm not going to give in-depth reviews of the Sherlock episodes in this post but I'd like to do that for another post some day.
I absolutely adore Sherlock. The characters, the actors, the writing, the production values... it's a wonderful, wonderful show. Sherlock is quite simply a must-watch whether you've read Arthur Conan Doyle's stories or not. WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT! Oh, and before I wrap this review I feel I should mention that the special features for series one are excellent as well. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue (Moffat's wife and co-producer) provide a commentary on A Study in Pink; Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman provide a commentary on The Great Game. Both of these commentaries are genuinely very interesting and informative. I really wish that they'd done a commentary for The Blind Banker as well but oh well. I would also recommend watching the original 60 minute pilot as well because it makes for a very interesting comparison to A Study in Pink.