Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman return to PBS and the 1890s in The Abominable Bride.A couple weeks ago, I was excited to learn that a Sherlock special The Abominable Bride was scheduled to air on PBS. [The repeat is scheduled for Jan. 10 on PBS.]
It got me thinking about what I find so enjoyable about this incarnation of Conan Doyle's immortal character.
Listening to an interview with Sherlock's co-creator Mark Gatiss on Masterpiece Studio gave me some clues.
The idea for the series came to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat during a conversation on a train to Cardiff to shoot Dr. Who.
5. Gatiss: Isn't it odd that the first story "A Study in Scarlet" Dr. Watson is invalided home from war service in Afghanistan, and we were currently in the middle of another Afghan war. It's the same war, isn't it?
History repeating itself. The original Sherlock Holmes stories weren't period pieces. Over the years most adaptations have been. The updating keeps the shows fresh. Watson returns from "the same war," but instead of chronicling Sherlock's adventures in The Strand, he does so on a popular blog. Instead of the incriminating evidence in "The Scandal in Bohemia" being stored in a safe, it's stored in a smartphone.
4. Gatiss: The reason I think that people love our show is because you can tell that we love Sherlock Holmes. There's nothing cynical about it.
Gatiss and Moffat aren't slavishly faithful to the stories: they mix and match and twist them to keep the audience guessing. They are faithful to the characters and the spirit of the stories. Though they recognize their lead character is a high-functioning sociopath, they also allow him to occasionally act like a human. They portray Holmes and Watson as real life characters and public figures (through Watson's slightly embellished stories). They couldn't get away with the liberties they take with these revered characters and stories if their hearts were not in the right place.
3. Gatiss: It's been a very interesting exercise in reverse engineering because all the things we had to do originally to make the Victorian twenty-first century we've had to retrofit now to go backwards.
What Mark Gatiss says about the Victorian-era set special The Abominable Bride holds true both for Sherlock as a series and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories. One of the lasting appeals of the Sherlock Holmes stories is that the consulting detective solved mysteries, not just crimes. Conan Doyle's job was to come up with puzzles that seemed all but impossible to solve, and then reverse engineer the clues. As Holmes famously says in "The Sign of Four," "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Gatiss and Moffat don't shy away from setting themselves impossible tasks. When they killed Sherlock Holmes at the end of a season, they hadn't thought through how they'd bring him back.
2. Gatiss: Omniscience isn't very interesting. It's the reason why Superman has Kryptonite. You need to have occasional moments of confusion or lack of intelligence really.
Gatiss was addressing the problem of the Mycroft character, Sherlock Holmes's smarter brother, whom he plays in the series. But he could have been talking about Moriarty, Holmes's nemesis in the original stories and the series. As written by Gatiss and Moffat and played by Andrew Scott (you'll find him lurking behind Cumberbatch and Freeman in the series poster), Moriarty, living or dead, can always be counted on to challenge Sherlock Holmes.
1. Oscar Wilde: The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.
Sherlock's first three seasons yielded a total of nine episodes. The first three seasons aired two years apart. It's been two years since series three and The Abominable Bride special is all fans will have to tide them over until season four is due in 2017.
This glacial production schedule allows the creators much more time than Conan Doyle had to write high-quality scripts and leave the audience wanting more.
Catch the encore of The Abominable Bride Sunday January 10 on PBS.
You can catch up on other Sherlock episodes via Amazon or Netflix.
Left the Nine Bridges Writers Group with a real cliff hanger on Wednesday night. I watched the Netflix documentary Mitt, and re-watched the documentary The War Room about Bill Clinton's first campaign for some political background color.
Last Heartthrob The Complete Noir Mystery Serial is available on Kindle.