Sherlock: A look back (Spoiler free)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, in space or in Antarctica (notorious for its inability to pick up BBC One), you’ve probably heard of Sherlock, the BBC’s hit adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s legendary detective. At the time of writing, the question of if there is to be a season five is as yet unanswered, but the end of season four’s series finale had a very final tone to it, so this may be a good time to look back at the seven years that Sherlock has been on the air.
As anyone who is familiar with one of Britain’s most famous fictional characters would expect, the show stars Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his sidekick Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) as they solve mysteries that no normal detective can. Written by Mark Gatiss (who also plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft) and Steven Moffat (The outgoing lead writer of Doctor Who), the series received critical and fan acclaim for its modern retelling of the Holmes mythos. Over four seasons and seven years, what was originally a mid-season replacement for Doctor Who has become something of a global sensation, and has helped rocket Cumberbatch (Dr Strange, The Penguins of Madagascar) and Freeman (The Hobbit, Captain America: Civil War) to super-stardom.
It is hard to choose a top moment form the show, with the first three seasons being some of the best television I have ever had the joy to watch. A personal favorite is the season three episode ‘The Sign of Three’, set during the wedding of John Watson and his wife Mary (Amanda Abbington), in which Sherlock solves three separate mystery during the course of his best man speech. The acting and character moments have always been wonderful, and the secondary characters, such as Rupert Graves’ D.I. Lestrade and Una Stubbs’ Mrs Hudson, are always enjoyable, although it is Cumberbatch who always steals the scene with his narcissistic, sociopathic, drug addicted take on the detective. Unless that is, he is in a scene with one of his great enemies. Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) was an excellent villain in the third season, and I found myself genuinely fearing for the characters, but the show itself is stolen by the performance of Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty. While there will be new versions of Holmes and Watson that may be as good as Cumberbatch and Freeman, this take on the ‘Napoleon of Crime’, I would argue, is the definitive version of the character. A joy to watch, and delightfully evil, Scott dominates any scene he is in, and is more than a match for the great detective. I am also a fan of mysteries and I often find myself, when watching shows with mysteries, trying to solve them, from House M.D. to Castle, and whilst I often can, the mysteries in Sherlock always had me stumped.
Others may disagree but my low point is season four. At the end of season three, we were promised a return of Scott’s Moriarty, and when we got it, it was uninspiring to say the least. The villains lack the spark of earlier seasons, consisting of an old lady, an unimpressive performance by Toby Jones as Culverton Smith, and the big finale villain who I found left a lot to be desired. In addition, the mysteries were barely there, and the only real ‘mystery’ the characters tried to solve I found myself unimpressed by. Furthermore, the twists felt unearned, and frankly ridiculous. The brief moments we got with Moriarty were not enough, and whilst the chemistry of Holmes and Watson was as fantastic as ever, and Mycroft stepped up to bat somewhat in the mystery solving department, there was just something missing from ‘the old days’ of Cumberbatch and Freeman running around London and partaking in murderous Hi jinks. One can tell Gatiss and Moffat were trying but the criticisms of Moffat’s Doctor Who can be leveled at this season, trying to be too clever for its own good.
Sherlock Holmes is like Batman, a part of the detective/pulp stories of the late 19th/early 20th Century who was able to break his original bonds and become a global hero, recognizable anywhere. Indeed, to take the comparison further, he is part of the British version of the Superman/Batman relationship, with the role of the Man of Steel being filled by the Doctor. When Sherlock began, it was just another of numerous adaptations of the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, and now, Cumberbatch and Freeman may provide the greatest portrayal of the dynamic Duo of 221B Baker street. Since 2010, there have been at least six other Holmes TV shows or Films I am aware of (a personal favorite is Sherlok Kholms, a Russian adaptation), as well as countless other appearances in other media, but it is safe to say ‘Sherlock’ stands head and shoulders above all of these, and whilst its modern setting may date it in years to come, the strength of the writing and acting will always shine through, putting it in the pantheon of great versions of the worlds greatest detective.