People who watch ‘Sherlock’ fall into two categories, those who have never heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and those who have read every word, often multiple times and are phenomenally quick at picking up original allusions. It was delicious in the early seasons to see how adroitly the production left tantalising clues, hints and half-sentences to the original stories, like a screened version of ‘Where’s Wally’.
Not living in the UK, I had to resort to a pirated version of Season 4:01 the day after its New Year’s Day screening to over eight million, and was looking forward immensely to the experience. But, the game is afoot no longer. It’s time to reboot the drive, look again at the source material and stop making the modern incarnation of the famous detective into a rather scrawny James Bond who is expected to punch well above his weight and who clearly suffers from adult ADHD. It has all become too incestuously pleased with itself, and Steven Moffett and Mark Gatiss are spreading themselves, perhaps smugly, rather too thinly. After three brilliant seasons, the supply of jam has run dangerously low and the white, tastelessly bland bread is becoming visible underneath. Watson’s bouffant hairstyle and a raggedly aging Mary have begun to look a touch threadbare about the edges. Holmes has moments of sheer irritating adolescence and the quick-fire lines look a lot more wooden and scripted – perhaps Benedict C is himself finding the role tedious. Turning a Shakespearean heavyweight loose for an extended period on material having a hard time holding itself together must be tiresome. Mary’s role was most probably enlarged to fulfil some feminist agenda, and as most of us know, ideology is the death of art – herein lies the spoiler, in case you haven’t seen it.
I’ve been an admirer of ACD and his brilliant creation since scraped knees and short trousers – we dressed strangely in the 1960s. The angular Basil Rathbone’s early determination and later the incomparable Jeremy Brett with those brilliant violinist’s hand gestures made me want to actually wear a black frock-coat. The movies were swashbucklingly bearable; I hated the American reincarnation with a female Watson and the first seasons of the current embodiment tingled every nerve of verisimilitude. ‘The Six Thatchers’ just didn’t, not for me. Not least because the original ‘Six Napoleons’ concealed a much more romantic secret than a flash drive – the black pearl of the Borgias – and it took quite an elastic stretch to compare Thatcher’s legacy with that of Napoleon.
There were, however, quite a number of real and imaginary hat tips to the originals – one on Mycroft’s fridge, of all places. He grabs a takeout menu which comes from a restaurant called “Reigate Square”, a nod to the name of a short story that appears in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – ‘the Adventures of the Reigate Squire’. Don’t blink. You’ll miss it. Question to scriptwriter, can you really ever envisage MH actually ordering a takeaway?
Not all is lost. There were enough loose ends to provide an interesting patchwork for the newer Holmes with a little more depth to his emotional repertoire to weave into something interesting.