There are SPOILERS below for the Sherlock one-off special The Abominable Bride.
After a hiatus of almost a year, the BBC's Sherlock returned to screens in the UK, US and cinemas at the same time on new years day. But this was not the modern day, gadgets-and-technology Sherlock Holmes we've come to know since the updated series arrived in 2010. For this one off special, Holmes and Watson return to their usual stomping ground of Victorian London to solve the case of "The Abominable Bride".
The feature length episode's opening moments take us through a "greatest hits" of the three seasons so far before the title card reads "Alternatively..." and we're shot back to the 1800's. Clearly the episode is presenting itself as non-canonical, an alternative timeline, rather than the past of the episodes we watch now.
Echoing the pilot episode, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) returns from a conflict in Afghanistan (The Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878-80) with an injury and in need of an affordable place to live (easier said than done in London, no matter what time period!). A mutual friend introduces him to the brilliant but eccentric consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), who himself is in need of a flatmate.
Soon enough, the duo are solving cases - with the occasional help of Watson's wife Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) at the behest of Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) or Sherlock's corpulent brother Mycroft (Sherlock co-writer Mark Gatiss). Watson develops a second career for himself, recounting Holmes' exploits for London magazine The Strand.
The case of "the abominable bride" begins when a breathless Lestrade enters 221B Baker Street to tell Holmes and Watson an unbelievable tale of a bride who shoots random passers-by in London while shouting "you!", before putting a pistol in her mouth and taking her own life. Holmes, naturally, scoffs at Scotland Yard's need to find the culprit for a suicide, but Lestrade explains there's more to it: just hours later, the same bride returns from the grave to kill again, this time her husband. As months pass, more murders occur. Holmes dismisses these as nothing but copycat killings.
Holmes' interest in the case is aroused when he witnesses a murder - allegedly the work of the abominable bride, and Watson himself is adamant he saw the dead woman. Holmes initially insists the case is "simple", but as ever, all is not what it seems...
As with many Sherlock episodes, what's interesting here is no so much the crime and the investigation, but what's happening around it. Though presented as a non-canonical one-off special, it actually serves as bridge between season 3 and the upcoming new season. You may remember how the last one ended. In "His Last Vow", Sherlock shot the blackmailing villain Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen) in the head and was exiled by Mycroft. He exited stage left in a private jet but was soon called back following the revelation that Holmes' nemesis, Moriarty (Andrew Scott) was inexplicably back from the dead.
Moriarty makes a comeback in "The Abominable Bride", too, when Victorian-era Sherlock spends some time in his "mind palace" (by, er, taking lots of cocaine). He interrogates his imagined nemises about how the bride could have come back from the dead. It's then that we discover this is an episode-within-an-episode as Sherlock time-twists its way back to the present day. Sherlock is on the jet after the events in "His Last Vow", in his "mind palace", casting himself back to the Victorian era to solve the unsolved abominable bride case. He's hoping the solution to that will somehow explain how Moriarty has returned.
From that point, the episode flits between the past and present. The Victorian crime resolves itself with an over-the-top climax involving a secret society of avenging women - an ending that is acknowledged in the episode itself as being inherently ridiculous, as it's entirely the work of (modern day) Holmes' over-active mind.
We end with the modern day Holmes assuring Watson that Moriaty is dead ("he shot himself in the head. No one survives that") but that he is "back" and that he knows exactly what he is going to do next. Just before they speed off to series 4, we cut back to Victorian Baker Street, in a scene that seemingly casts the present day series as a flight of fancy by Holmes, rather than the other way around!
So, overall, what did I think of the episode? Well, genuinely didn't expect that we would see any of the modern day Holmes and Watson, so it was a nice surprise to see Cumberbatch's curly mop of hair and iconic coat make an appearance. That said, I was looking forward to seeing Holmes and Watson truly in their element, solving a baffling case in their original home of Victorian-era London. To find that the case - and even the Victorian setting - were nothing but red herrings was a bit of a disappointment. It's hard to shake the idea that this was little more than a teaser trailer for the new season, stretched out to feature length with a bit of window dressing. But, that said, it certainly does whet the appetite for season 4. I can't wait to see what Moriarty - or whoever is using his image to bait Sherlock - has up his sleeve!
What did you think of Sherlock's holiday special? Let me know in the comments below.