Series 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock recently brought us safely into the New Year. Here, I take up the near-impossible job of reviewing it…
Written by: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Thompson
Directed by: Jeremy Lovering, Colm McCarthy, Nick Hurran
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves
Runtime: 3x 90 minutes
Well, well. The prolific and seemingly irrepressible lords of the BBC –that is to say, Messrs Steven Moffat and Mark Gattiss – have pulled it off again! When the two writers penned the first series of BBC One’s Sherlock back in 2010, I wonder if they knew what a success it would become in such a small amount of time? The answer to that is probably…yes. They always know. And we, as the viewers, never do. That, really, is the magic of the show.
Indeed, Sherlock has become so popular – especially since the Series 2 finale – that I suspect at least half of the fireworks going off on New Years’ Eve were in fact celebrating the start of a 24-hour countdown to the first episode of Series 3, not the arrival of 2014 itself!
Series 1 and 2 were almost agonizingly short with only 3 episodes each, and the most recent series followed suit. But what a series it was! Any reviewer – from the inexperienced such as myself to the uber-critics – will most likely tell you it is very difficult to review a show like Sherlock as:
- It’s very hard to find any faults.
- If you do end up criticising it in any shape or form you’ll have half the population screaming their heads off at you!
So, all in all, reviewing Sherlock Series 3 is a large but easy task. In fact, it’s probably more productive to look for explanations as to why it is so infectiously brilliant instead of rooting out it’s faults.
Nevertheless, here’s a quick breakdown of each episode and what I thought of it individually:
1: The Empty Hearse
Aired on: 1st January 2014
Written by: Mark Gatiss
This was an excellent first episode, and started right from
where we left off. Sherlock is falling to his death. Watson is watching from across the street. Everything seems lost. But no – a bungee saves the day! Obvious, really, wasn’t it? A bit of Derren Brown trickery and some dramatic rock music and all is fine and dand- Ah, but no, it wasn’t was
it? That was just a “theory”. Just after watching that tricksy first few minutes I knew that Sherlock was back, and better than ever. No question about it. And I thought the best bit was that
Moffat and Gatiss had made the most of their 2-year honeymoon (sorry, I meant holiday). All the theories that have been buzzing around the Internet were taken advantage of and strung throughout the entire episode, meaning we still don’t know – maybe we won’t ever know – how he survived. And that’s ok, because it’s Sherlock – you’re not meant to know how he does it, you’re just meant to know why.
This first episode really deals with the reunion of Sherlock and Watson, and both actors are on fine form. The reaction really is priceless and it’s excellently written and executed.
There is still a case to be cracked, however, as we learn of a terrorist plot to blow up Parliament! This plot was pushed slightly aside for a lot of the episode as we focus on Sherlock’s return, so it seems like some scenes are a bit unnecessary or disjointed, and feels like there’s a lack of an overarching plot – it’s not quite as emphasised as other episodes. I, personally, was also left a little confused at the end as the plot doesn’t quite wrap up as well as episodes 2 and 3.
These points may seem picky, but as this is a show that makes a point of making every detail important, they can’t expect the fans not to pick at the small problems, however tiny they are.
2: The Sign of Three
Aired on: 5th January 2014
Written by: Stephen Thompson, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss
This was my favourite episode of the series, and one of my all-time favourite episodes. Why? Primarily, I think, because we don’t beat about the bush. Sherlock returning – that was last week. Now, we’ve moved forward in time, and John is getting on with life: he’s getting married. The changes in John, here, force out another side of Sherlock – his more human side (see later in this review for more on that). Sherlock is tasked with his greatest challenge: to write the best man speech. And it wouldn’t be Sherlock without a murderer present, eh? This has a slight Agatha Christie slant on it. We have all these colourful characters at the wedding – it’s a crime waiting to happy, really!
This could have been a very straightforward story: Sherlock does his speech, realises the identity of the murderer and then solves the case. Problem averted. Crack out the champagne and the violin. But it’s not necessarily the story itself in this episode, it’s the way the story is told. By flicking forwards and backwards in time, and utilising Sherlock’s “mind palace” to the extremes (again, see below), this makes for brilliant viewing. It can get a little confusing at times, but everything is resolved in the end. Oh, and the end scene with Sherlock, Watson, Mary and the other one is one of the greatest scenes ever. Top quality stuff.
3: His Last Vow
Aired on: 12th January 2014
Written by Steven Moffat
This was a great finale episode. It lacked the “specialness” of the second episode, but still merits full marks in my opinion. It introduces an excellent new villain, in the form of the deranged blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen (played by Lars Mikkelson). The plot flicks about a lot again, and there are some brilliant twists along the way. Those who are familiar with the original Holmes canon and have been following the rumours will have been expecting the “Mary revelation” (to avoid direct spoilers) but I wasn’t, and it was a great surprise that turned the story, in fact the whole series, on it’s head.
The consequences of this twist are so heart-breaking, and I think this is really where Martin Freeman outdoes himself – his acting as Watson is just superb. We flick forwards (and then backwards!) in time quite a few times and watch as Mary and John’s relationship slowly begins to heal…and then there’s another twist.
The story switches very well from the relationship between John and Mary (and therefore Sherlock) and the Magnussen storyline. By the climax, I was wondering how the story could possibly be resolved. I think the beauty of Magnussen as a villain is that he is not a criminal; he’s just a sickening businessman who thrives on people’s secrets. However disgusting this may be, you can’t arrest a man for being curious. The matter is resolved in a decisive way which makes you wonder why you didn’t think of that before (Moriarty (Series 1): I’d be surprised, Sherlock. Really I would…) and the consequences leave a nice cliffhanger for the next series…
…but then it wouldn’t be Sherlock without a false call, would it? Another brilliant twist awaits, as an old villain is back in town (we all knew really, didn’t we?) and it looks we’d better wrap up warm – there’s an east wind coming! (that was a nice metaphor, wonder where I got that from…)
5 reasons why Series 3 surpassed the first two
Series 3 may have continued the trend of a very short run of episodes, but I reckon these 3 may have outdone the first two series’ altogether! Here’s why:
- New characters
The central point of Sherlock has always been it’s characters and the relationships between them. This series emphasised that more than ever. While we still have the old gang in tow, we’re introduced to several new, pivotal characters like Janine, Mary Morstan and of course Charles Augustus Magnussen (based on Charles Augustus Milverton from the books). The advantage of creating a new “headline villain” is that we get away from the expectation of Moriarty being involved in the final episode of each series (…), and Magnussen fitted the bill perfectly
2. Sherlock is actually human?
Being a best man. Going to social occasions. Getting drunk. Getting a girlfriend (ish). Maybe even having sex. Not exactly the sort of stuff you’d attribute to ‘old Sherlock’. Series 3 really saw a change in the title character, as he reacts to the changes of the people around him. He certainly become more human in a way we never thought possible, and as a result he now has an even closer relationship with John and Mary. Some may see it as a bad change, but I think it’s great.
3. Plot Arcs (or lack thereof)
This point probably sprung from the tangled mess that used to be Doctor Who, of which I am also a fan. Steven Moffat is also the executive producer of the sci-fi show, and is known for his fiendishly long and complicated plot arcs (seriously, storylines that span almost 4 years!). That got horribly ridiculous, and I’m glad to see Sherlock didn’t get caught up in that as well. It would have been very easy to continue the revelation that #SherlockLives through the entire third series but, thankfully, it only took up part of Episode 1 and was not even mentioned in the second and third episodes. Well done, Mr Moffat.
4. Even Slicker Story-telling
“Slick” has always been a word I’ve associated with Sherlock. Everything about the show is like a well-oiled machine: meticulously planned and carefully executed. In this series we took an even bigger jump up from Series 2. This is particularly evident in Episode 2 (as I mentioned above). By jumping around through time and space, we see the plot unravel through Sherlock’s eyes – we’re virtually seeing what he is thinking – and the viewers are all the more tense for it.
5. Mind Palaces
This was mentioned in one of the previous series’, and became a bit of a long-running joke throughout the years. I don’t follow all the uber-fan stuff on Tumblr etc and I didn’t realise this was a serious thing, so I was pleasantly surprised when we learnt more about the concept of a “mind palace” in Series 3. We physically see Sherlock’s mind palace on numerous occasions throughout the series – sometimes parts of the plot even take place within it – and I think it’s an inventive and extremely fun way of telling the story. This was
made even more exciting when we learn Magnussen also has a mind palace. You know, I think we’ll be seeing a new Apple product being released in the years to come: iPalace – create a world within your own mind! (copyright Steven Moffat of course)!
Ok, that just about wraps it up. Thanks for reading, and please share your views in the comments below!