Sherlock — Killer TV No 12

BBC1 Sherlock

Foggiest idea – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

BBC1, 2009-present

‘Shut up.’ – Sherlock Holmes

‘I didn’t say anyth- ‘ — Detective Inspector Lestrade

‘You were thinking. It’s annoying.’ — Sherlock Holmes

Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Mark Gatiss, Amanda Abbington

Identikit: The consulting detective updated to contemporary London.

logosWriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss who, while working on Doctor Who, often talked about their love of Conan Doyle’s creation and of Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of him, finally decided they should do their own updated version. Seeing the 60-minute pilot, the Beeb liked it so much they ordered three 90-minute films, which meant the opener had to be re-shot. Despite BBC1 then scheduling the re-shot opener in July, the middle of TV’s dead season, Sherlock was a rip-roaring success. Moffat and Gatiss updated the world’s most famous sleuth with loving care, verve and great wit, evolving some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-loved tales in modern, thrilling adventures in contemporary London. It works so well because, by stripping away the Victorian fogs, frock coats and Hansom cabs, Holmes re-emerges as the exciting contemporary character he was when the stories first appeared. They were helped by the inspired pairing of Benedict Cumberbatch as a forbidding, high-functioning sociopathic Holmes, whom he plays as ‘dangerous and perverse’. Martin Freeman as the downbeat but caustic Dr Watson immediately clicked with Cumberbatch at the script read-throughs, creating a great blend of genius and exasperation. Una Stubbs is fun as Mrs Hudson, while Andrew Scott was weird and chilling as Moriarty. This arch villain featured in the terrific Reichenbach Fall cliffhanger that concluded the second series, prompting a viral swirl online as devotees tried to work out how Sherlock was going to survive. It was typical of the twists and jolts that Moffat and Gatiss enjoyed throwing at audiences throughout. Series three got off to a messy start, obsessed with

Time shift: Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson in 2016's New Year special

Time shift: Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson in 2016’s New Year special

taunting viewers with the resolution of the Reichenbach cliffhanger, before progressing magnificently in the second and third instalments. It raised the stakes for the characters with revelations such as Sherlock getting a girlfriend, Watson getting a wife, Watson’s wife Mary Morstan being an assassin, Sherlock being shot, and Sherlock killing the evil Magnusson at the end (Sherlockian intellect for once giving way to bullets). It’s a twisting, spirited and funny joyride. And through it all, there is David Arnold and Michael Price’s distinctive music soundtrack.

Classic episode: A Scandal in Belgravia. The Reichenbach Fall got chins wagging over how Sherlock faked his spectacular death fall, but A Scandal in Belgravia was much more fun, as Holmes and Watson encounter naked dominatrix Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) in a quest for photos that compromised national security on her mobile. While Moffat’s storytelling (he wrote this one) can tie the plot in knots, this was still a fantastic blend of comedy and suspense, with plenty of cheek thrown in.

Watercooler fact: Matt Smith auditioned for the role of Watson. He was rejected for being ‘too barmy’, according to show runner Steven Moffat, who also oversees Doctor Who for the BBC. Soon after, Moffat cast Smith as the eleventh Doctor Who.

Sherlock Christmas special trailer

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH and Martin Freeman seem to have slipped into a different time zone for this Christmas’s special instalment of the BBC’s much admired drama. Its USP, of course, has been that showrunner Steven Moffat had placed Holmes and Watson in a contemporary setting. But for the special, perhaps he and co-writer Mark Gatiss had snowy Victorian Christmas scenes stuck in their heads and decided to go retro. Moffatt told the Comic-Con crowd, where this trailer was unveiled, that “It’s still the same sense of humour, it’s still very much the show you know… But it’s in the ‘correct’ era, which was unbelievably thrilling.” So, what doyou think? Comments above, please…

Sherlock: His Last Vow, BBC1, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington, Lars Mikkelsen PREVIEW

Sherlock didn’t hate Moriarty, but he hates Magnussen in His Last Vow. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 12 January, 8.30pm 

Story: A case of stolen letters leads Sherlock Holmes into a long conflict with Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, and the one man he truly hates…

‘THAT’S THE THING with Sherlock,’ says Watson in tonight’s finale. ‘There’s always the unexpected.’

It’s an easy deduction that Watson’s claim is an early entry for the understatement of 2014.

Because tonight’s dazzling climax is chock-full of jaw-dropping surprises, twists and delights. Written by Steven Moffat – Doctor Who head honcho and prime moving force behind this Sherlock update along with Mark Gatiss – it’s one of the absolute top episodes in what is already a tremendous series.

Lady Smallwood (LINDSAY DUNCAN), Magnussen ( LARS MIKKELSEN) Sherlock BBC
Lady Smallwood (LINDSAY DUNCAN) and Magnussen ( LARS MIKKELSEN)

Lars Mikkelsen as the loathsome Magnussen

Like a magician, Moffat diverts and stuns us with a series of revelations and intrigues that make the 90-
minute film fly by.

Lars Mikkelsen, of The Killing and Borgen fame, joins in the fun as one of the nastiest and most disconcerting villains Sherlock has encountered. He is media mogul Charles Augustus Magnussen, a world-class hoarder of personal secrets that he can use to blackmail whomever he chooses.

And Sherlock, not a chap normally ruled by his emotions, loathes Magnussen (he calls him ‘the worst man in London’ in the original story). When the slimeball turns up at Baker Street, he makes himself at home in a particularly offensive way.

Dr John Watson (MARTIN FREEMAN) Sherlock BBC
Watson again finds Sherlock anything but elementary

Tension, laughs and tears

Anyway, it is not possible to reveal more of what’s in store. In the first place, it would be mean and sad to spoil things for anyone tuning in, and secondly, the security around the series is now so tight that you almost suspect Mycroft Holmes is organising it.

The Beeb sent me a email outlining what was verboten for this post. Here’s a redacted version:

  •          Anything related to the revelation of XXXXXXX.
  •          The lengths Sherlock goes to to XXXXXXXX
  •          The truth about Magnussen’s XXXXXXXXX
  •          Sherlock’s XXXXXX and the fact that XXXXXXX
  •          Sherlock’s XXXXXXX in the episode
  •          The fact that Sherlock XXXXXXX
  •          The appearance of XXXXXX
  •          The ending

Only someone with the evil impulses of a Moriarty would want to divulge all this anyway. But what can be revealed is that the production values are lavish, the soundtrack is again superb, there’s a wonderful ‘mind palace’ sequence, plus tension, laughs and tears.

Amanda Abbington as Mary

Moffat and co-writer/star Mark Gatiss have pushed the characters hard in this latest series. Where so

Mary Morstan (AMANDA ABBINGTON) Sherlock BBC
Mary has been a brilliant addition to the series

many TV dramas are about preserving characters in aspic, Moffat and Gatiss are so in the groove with the Sherlockian world that they’ve shown new angles and depths to Holmes and Watson throughout the series.

Any caveats? Sherlock acts in what seems an out-of-character fashion at the final confrontation, though that could have ramifications in the next series.

But bringing Amanda Abbington in as Mary has been a masterstroke. Her performance is hugely enjoyable and the character has helped to bring out Holmes in all his ridiculousness and brilliance.

Now the poor chaps have set the bar extremely high for series four. Apparently, a fourth and fifth series are planned, and will follow ‘quickly’.

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes, Martin Freeman John Watson, Mark Gatiss Mycroft, Rupert Graves Inspector Lestrade, Una Stubbs Mrs Hudson, Amanda Abbington Mary Morstan, Louise Brealey Molly Hooper, Lars Mikkelsen Charles Augustus Magnussen, Lindsay Duncan Lady Smallwood

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Sherlock – preview of series 3

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson in Sherlock series 3
Sherlock looks almost ghostly as he hovers over Watson in this scene from series 3. Pic: BBC

Here’s a glimpse from the third series of Sherlock, which should hit BBC1 screens in January (some time before the US broadcast on 19 January). At last we’ll find out how the sleuth cheated death in that rooftop plunge – and get to see Watson’s response to having been duped by his chum. And what will Holmes say when Watson falls for a certain Mary Morstan? New arrivals will include The Killing‘s Lars Mikkelsen, who is apparently ‘terrifying’ as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s king of blackmailers Charles Augustus Milverton. The first episode will be The Empty House, written by Mark Gatiss. There are more production pics here.

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Creating Sherlock – Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Mark Gatiss at Crimefest

Sherlock creators Sue Vertue, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat at Crimefest 2013. Pic R Jarossi
Sue Vertue, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. (Pic: R Jarossi)

‘HOLMES WAS a dangerous young man doing exciting stuff,’ writer/co-creator Steven Moffat told fans of BBC1’s Sherlock at Bristol Crimefest on Saturday. He was explaining how the makers wanted to reinvent the character to be as thrilling as he would have been to Victorian readers. ‘We wanted to strip out all the stuff of making it in period.’

He was sitting alongside his co-writer Mark Gatiss, who also plays Mycroft, and Sue Vertue, executive producer of the hit series and also his Moffat’s wife.

The organisers of Crimefest, the annual crime fiction convention held at Bristol’s Marriott hotel, have long wanted to get the trio behind Sherlock to come and talk about the series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

‘We had no idea how people were going to take it to their hearts,’ said Mark Gatiss. ‘It made Benedict Cumberbatch a star.’

Filming on the show, they revealed, has stopped for the moment, while Martin Freeman flies off to New Zealand to film more of The Hobbit. ‘Filming [of the third series] is going well,’ Sue Vertue said. ‘We’re having fun.’

While not giving away secrets about the new stories – The Empty Hearse, The Sign of Three and a so

Sherlock BBC1, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Sherlock and Watson. Pic: BBC

far secret third story – they did talk about the trial and error process of refining the modern Sherlock (they tried Benedict Cumberbatch in jeans at one point), the difficulty of coming up with brilliant in deductions for a contemporary world (Arthur Conan Doyle became slapdash here, according to Moffat) and how Sherlock’s mannerism in steepling his fingers under his chin was borrowed from Jeremy Brett’s version on ITV.

While Moffat said he would be happy to continue making Sherlock, both he and Gatiss agreed that if Cumberbatch or Freeman – ‘Two of the biggest movie stars in the world,’ said Moffat – decided to leave, they would not want to continue.

Finally, in response to a question from the floor about whether Moffat, who’s also the showrunner for Doctor Who, would consider Cumberbatch as a future Time Lord, the answer was no – ‘Benedict couldn’t do another icon.’ That, he suggested, would be too confusing.

But Gatiss added, ‘There’s nothing to stop him playing James Bond.’

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Sherlock Complete Series 1 & 2 – Blu-ray Review

Sherlock Complete Series 1 & 2 Blu-ray
Episodes ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

Even on a second and third viewing, these episodes of 21st-century Holmes still fizz with wit and invention.

Seeing them again rams home how good the cast and the adaptations are. Benedict Cumberbatch as the ‘high-functioning sociopath’ is a superb bit of casting, while Martin Freeman’s wonderful comic asides and reactions sum up perfectly the audience’s response to the consulting detective’s outrageous behaviour and capabilities.

Meanwhile, Andrew Scott is creepily off-beat as Moriarty, and it’s good to see Rupert Graves (DI Greg Lestrade) playing something other than his usual cads. As for Una Stubbs, she’s charming as Mrs Hudson.

So how did Holmes fake his death?
Co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (who’s also on-screen as Sherlock’s adversary-brother Mycroft) could so easily have got this modern reboot wrong – and it will be interesting to see how Elementary, CBS’s copycat idea in the States, fares in comparison. Instead, they have made the transition seem obvious and inspired at the same time.

My favourite episodes are the two series openers written by Moffat, ‘A Study in Pink’, which set up the whole edgy relationship between Holmes and Watson so cleverly, and ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, with Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. But all six 90-minute stories are hugely enjoyable, and included in this boxset.

And, of course, it offers the chance to forensically scrutinise series two’s cliffhanger to try to work out how Sherlock faked his own death. Did Molly provide the corpse that plunged off the roof? We never get a good look at the body whose pulse is checked by Watson, so is it Holmes? Did Holmes leap and land on the lorry? Moffat says the clues are there, but they’re not conclusive – as far as I can see, anyway.

Sherlock – series 3
The extras included here are first class, including the original pilot episode of ‘A Study in Pink’, which was redone, prompting rumours at the time that the show was a turkey (how wrong were they?). There are also films called ‘Sherlock Uncovered’ and ‘Unlocking Sherlock – The Making of’.

That will have to keep us occupied until series 3 is shown, which is unlikely to be before 2013.

Tinker Taylor Solider Spy
Episodes ★★★★
Extras ★★★
Benedict Cumberbatch also appears in the stellar British cast for another modern reboot, this time updating John Le Carré’s spy thriller, which was originally filmed by the Beeb with Alec Guinness in 1979.

Gary Oldman, who recently missed out on the Best Actor Bafta to Jean Dujardin, is superb as George Smiley, the ex-MI6 agent recalled from retirement because his bosses are in a mess – namely, that they have a highly placed Soviet mole among them.

Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy are also among the rather sad bunch trying to believe in what they are doing for Queen and country, and playing some nasty games as they go. My slight preference is for the original two series, which obviously had more time to explore and depict Smiley’s sadness and disillusion. 

The extras include an interview with Le Carré and deleted scenes.

• Also out is the new Blu-ray boxset of series one of The Fades, BBC3’s gory horror about teenager Paul, who is haunted by apocalyptic dreams and the spirits of the dead. Includes some good extras, such as deleted scenes, out-takes and behind-the-scenes footage.

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Sherlock series 2 A Scandal in Belgravia PREVIEW

Meeting his match? Sherlock and Irene Adler. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★★★

BBC1 from Sunday, 1 January, 8.10pm

Story: Compromising photographs and blackmail threaten the British establishment, while Sherlock begins a duel of wits with an antagonist who will always be THE Woman.

On the evidence of this first case, one can only deduce that if there is a crime drama in 2012 that fizzes with more wit and panache than Sherlock it’s going to be one stonking show.

Series two of the Holmes modern reboot was originally due for autumn 2011 but the lengthy filming schedule pushed it back to the first day of the New Year (going out in the US in May), and it is definitely worth the wait.

Lara Pulver as The Woman

Dominating Sherlock’s thoughts – Lara Pulver as The Woman

‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ again cleverly updates the great sleuth, toys with his legend and is brilliantly entertaining. It is sharp, mysterious and sexy. The latter ingredient arrives in the shape of a thoroughly modern Irene Adler – intellectual rival for Sherlock, erotic foil and dominatrix. Phew…

She is played by Lara Pulver, recently seen in True Blood and Spooks, who makes the acquaintance of Holmes in the most eyebrow-raising scene the great man has ever been in. For once, he doesn’t know where to look or what to say.

Her trysting with Holmes via text messages, codes, Twitter (pseudonym: The Whip Hand) and in person exposes a new side of the detective. Is he in love? Is he vulnerable to her? As Watson points out, his partner is composing sad music to scratch out on his violin when he is parted from The Woman, as she must be known.

S&M and Holmes’s intellectual fetishes
But this being Holmes, snogging and candle-lit dinners are not the norm. It’s a lot more high octane and dangerous than that. And it was a clever stroke, so to speak, to have an S&M specialist crossing paths with Sherlock, a man with intellectual fetishes of his own.

Odd couple, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Once Sherlock has dealt (inconclusively) with Moriarty to resolve the poolside cliffhanger from series one, the opening episode’s McGuffin is introduced in the form of compromising photos that could bring down the government/monarchy. Rogue CIA agents and terrorists join in the fun, but it is Sherlock getting into some intellectual heavy-breathing with Irene that sweeps events along.

Is Irene, who has the photos, a damsel in distress, or is she playing a double game? You almost don’t care, so electric and fun are the scenes between Holmes, Watson and Irene.

Holmes’s cruel treatment of Molly
Robert Downey Jr’s action-Holmes is deservedly doing great box office right now, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s version is better – more arrogant, colder and intimidating.

‘Any ideas?’ Lestrade asks, confronted by a puzzling murder.

Sherlock replies, ‘Eight, so far.’

And as Martin Freeman’s Watson says to Irene, ‘He will outlive god trying to have the last word.’ Though we do see flickers of emotion for once, not just regarding Irene but also when Holmes regrets his cruel treatment of smitten Molly Hooper, who works in the laboratory.

There is so much to enjoy here – Holmes summoned to Buckingham Palace wearing only a blanket, his headbutting a CIA agent, the charged bickering with Mycroft – that huge praise must go to co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (how does Moffat manage to fit in making/writing Doctor Who with making/writing Sherlock?).

The episode also re-uses the text graphics that we saw in the first series’ opener, to economically denote what clues Holmes picks up by looking at someone (‘no gun’, ‘office worker’, ‘three dogs’), mobile messages and blog updates.

‘The Hounds of Baskerville’ and ‘The Reichenbach Fall’
Moffat and Gatiss have chosen the three major Holmes adventures for this second series, with ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’ and ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ to come (the titles are all slight adjustments on the originals).

Moffat, a Sherlock Holmes fan since childhood, explains, ‘Last time nobody knew about us and there was some scepticism about “modernising” Sherlock Holmes. And now look at Benedict and Martin, they are so famous in those roles! So far the series has sold in over 180 countries worldwide, so it’s a very big change.

‘Well this year, knowing we were a huge hit, I suppose we felt let’s do the three big things, The Woman, the Hound and the Fall. Instead of making people wait years and years, we thought – to hell with deferred pleasure, let’s just do it now, more, sooner, faster!’
Deferred pleasure? Not with Irene Adler around.

Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes, Martin Freeman John Watson, Mark Gatiss Mycroft, Rupert Graves Inspector Lestrade, Una Stubbs Mrs Hudson, Andrew Scott Moriarty, Louise Brealey Molly Hooper, Lara Pulver Irene Adler.

Best crime shows of 2010

Here’s a look at the top crime series on UK television in 2010. It was the year case files closed on The Bill, which had really lost its way, and Heartbeat, which had never been very exciting in the first place, and when some savvy new detectives made their debuts. But best of all was the retelling of the heartrending story of the victims of the Ipswich murders…

(Pics: BBC, ITV, BSkyB)

1 Five Daughters, BBC
An unusual choice, maybe, but this was the most affecting and unforgettable crime drama of last year. It was a dramatisation about the five women murdered in Ipswich in 2006. It was not about the killer, Steve Wright, or a heroic detective. These were simply young women who had the misfortune to cross the path of a murderer, ordinary people and their families who did not deserve their fate. Made with the assistance of many of the victims’ families, the police and the local drug rehabilitation centre (Iceni, which is now threatened with closure), the women’s stories were emotional and at times frustrating. In so much crime fiction, the victims – usually in a ditch in the opening scene – are just plot points. Here they were loving, caring people whose addictions made them vulnerable. When portrayed this sensitively, the truth is far more poignant and thought-provoking than fiction. Written by Stephen Butchard, starring Sarah Lancashire and Juliet Aubrey.

2 Sherlock, BBC
Updating Sherlock Holmes could have been the turkey of the year – and there were production missteps, with an un-aired pilot – but the end result was inspired, witty and a terrific series of three mysteries. Benedict Cumberbatch was haughty and charismatic as the amateur sleuth, while Martin Freeman was moving but usually exasperated with his new companion. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson wrote it, Paul McGuigan directed a couple, and David Arnold and Michael Price provided the superb music. The BBC seemed unsure of its potential and scheduled it in the viewing dead zone of July. Will there more stories this year in a better viewing slot following all the acclaim and awards? Elementary.

3 Zen, BBC
Following the success of the beautifully filmed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series, the BBC turned to the same production team to make this radiant three-part series about Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. The suits, the shades, the cigarettes, the retro music and Alfa Romeos – these three stories certainly had all the gloss. But the mysteries, and Rufus Sewell as Zen, gave the dramas their substance. The intricate plots in which the detective tiptoed through the political and everyday corruption of Italian life were enjoyable and fresh. 

4 Justified, Five USA
For sheer coolness Elmore Leonard’s deputy marshal Raylan Givens was hard to beat. Timothy Olyphant brought something of lawless Deadwood with him as the charming but no-nonsense, shoot-first lawman. Inspired by Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, the series was a weekly hour of sassy fun – with Givens’ complicated love life featuring sharp performances from Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter – and series two should be with us in the UK in the second quarter of 2011 (why do we always have to wait so long?).

5 Thorne, Sky1
Author Mark Billingham’s popular detective was stylishly adapted for the small screen by actor David Morrissey (as executive producer and star in the title role) and Sky Television. Sleepyhead was the opener and it was a pretty chilling story, about a sadist who induces a state of living paralysis in his victim, but who has killed while perfecting his technique. Aidan Gillen, a terrific Eddie Marsan and a charming Natascha McElhone gave great support. Following its version of The Take the previous year, this suggested that Sky is slowly maturing into a formidable producer of crime dramas.

Law & Order: UK, ITV
The stories are pinched from the US original, but the UK franchise still made their retelling tight and subtle. And the cast have been very good, with Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber as the detectives and Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman as the legal crusaders – all different but blending together to spark some sensitive stories to life. It’s been recommissioned, and rightly so.

7 Garrow’s Law, BBC
Intelligent and compelling glimpse into the dark legal age of the 18th century, when justice was summary, cruel and largely inflicted on those who were poor. It’s all drawn from the real historic Old Bailey proceedings that are available online, with Andrew Buchan starring as the legal pioneer William Garrow, who basically influenced the way courts worked by instigating cross-examinations and other practices. The stories involved the legal murder of slaves, homosexuality and the cruel treatment of sailors at Greenwich Hospital.

8 Spooks, BBC
A series that still delivers the thrills after eight years. The latest series divided fans owing the contorted character somersault of main heartthrob Lucas North, played by Richard Armitage. It was like discovering that James Bond was actually working for SMERSH. This was hard to swallow, and how the series replaces Armitage will be interesting to see. But as an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension, Spooks still had everyone on the edge of their armchairs.

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