Since the first announcement of Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gattis (League Of Gentlemen) putting together a take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes there has been a lot of buzz.
The earliest pilot however did not go to plan and the one hour episode, set in the modern world was retooled to be a 90 minute series of TV movies, rather than the shorter but more episode format.
The series has become an unmitigated success, with each 3 episode we have seen it's stars become bigger players. To put this in perspective, David Tennant was still in the running to play Bilbo Baggins when the first episode aired in 2010 and since Martin Freeman has gone from Brit flick actor to a major Hollywood star, while Benedict Cumberbatch has become bona fide A-List and the go-to guy for roles as diverse as Alan Turning, Doctor Strange and Smaug.
The BBC has had a good run of shows where they haven't so much "discovered" stars but given them the role that propels them onwards. Idris Elba was known for The Wire, but it was Luther that gave him the acclaim that saw him become a leading man in his own right along with being a sought after character actor. It's not just the leads, Andrew Scott and Ruth Wilson's chilling turn as Moriarty and Alice Morgan in Sherlock & Luther respectively have seen them become hot property too.
The downside is that as Hollywood beckons, the opportunity to work on said shows decreases and their runs become more spread out. In Luther's case this led to a very disappointing 2 episode season recently airing, that many fans felt ruined things.
There were similar apprehensions over Sherlock's "Christmas Special", designed to tide the fans over potentially another year or two until Freeman and Cumberbatch are free of Marvel commitments long enough to film Season Four. The gimmick this time is that we were to see Sherlock Holmes as written by Doyle (or Watson as it is for the story) in Victorian London, with ghosts, the supernatural and plenty of murder and intrigue. On paper it could either work fantastically well or be a ham and cheese fest.
Before we go into the specifics, minor spoilers do follow - I'm not gonna tell you everything, but there are some aspects that need to be mentioned. If you don't want to know - then just re-read the title and the score and wait till you've watched... that should tell you enough.
If you're not concerned... then the game is on!
We're introduced to the episode with a flashback sequence of all 3 seasons to date before we re-see the origins of Holmes and Watson's friendship for the period. Yes you've seen it before but the clever part is that the dialouge and actors are all the same. Mike Stanford, whipping corpses, Sherlock's quick observations on Watson, just as in Episode one with different costumes/settings.
This could be a conceit, but it actually works to dispel any nerves that this is gonna be a hammy version. The characters are essentially the same we know and love, with a few twists. Mrs Hudson is more vocal and exasperated at her role in Watson's writings. LeStrade is less competent than his modern counterpart and more in awe of Holmes while the coroner situation is brilliantly handled to say the least.
We're quickly introduced to the case at hand, a bride who goes ballistic (litterally) on her wedding anniversary, commits suicide, yet murders her husband just hours later from beyond the grave.
If there's a criticism, it could be that we saw a similar plot in the Guy Richie/Downey iteration and for the most part it's not that dissimilar, replace Lord Blackwood with Emilia Ricolleti and you get the idea. Mass hysteria, more murders being attributed over months and a general fear.
If the episode drags, it's when Holmes and Watson are engaged at Mycroft's (again a brilliant twist on the character to fit the times) insistance to investigate threats made to a Lord (Blackadder's Tim McInnery in an unusual straight role) by the Ghost Bride.
As the episode goes on we're introduced to more and more of the classic Holmes. His mind palace exists, just in a different format but so does his drug addiction, shown here in full for the first time.
Final warning for spoilers....
It is then that things begin to go a bit "white rabbit"...
A visit from Moriarty shows what we'd already begun to suspect. There are similarities to The Bride and what happened on that rooftop, that we might be seeing the modern world sooner than we thought....
The episode does go a little trippy but introduces some very interesting new wrinkles on the characters. Mycroft's demands for "a list" put into stark view the issues that Sherlock is dealing with. We saw in The Sign Of Three how far he would go for a case, here he goes even further and for the first time, Mycroft seems genuinely afraid for his younger brother. It's easily the best moment Mark Gatiss has had in the series to date.
Things come to a form of climax with a clever if unsatisfying payoff to the crime that you saw coming and the piece de resistance. We finally get to see the Reichenbach Falls...or rather a version of it. By then it's clear to all involved what is actually happening is in Sherlock's head, but it's one final showdown with a neat resolution that had me chuckling and smiling and shows the real strength of the show is Cumberbatch and Freeman's chemistry.
They do pretty much put the idea of Moriarty being alive to bed, so this was perhaps more about giving Andrew Scott a well-deserved send off than setting up for the next season with him being heavily involved. After all, he might now be getting more work in Hollywood, but like with Ruth Wilson and Luther, it's more likely a US TV show will pick him up rather than movies, that's the shame for many of the supporting cast, that many will have to take other work rather than wait around for Ben & Martin. However with the final scenes the genius of the episode's writing is revealed.
Going forward the series could exist in EITHER time period, either could be the true stories with the other an imaginative version concocted by Holmes and Watson for their blog/The Strand. It's entirely possible we could see episodes in the past and modern world in future, when of course the cast can actually do them.
Of course it does give hope for that one other thing we'd all love to see. A crossover with Doctor Who. Something that couldn't work in the modern Sherlock world could entirely work in this new Victorian one. If they were ever going to do a movie, that would be a perfect way to do it with H & W chasing the mysterious police box that keeps appearing at Ripper style murders.
All told this was among the better episodes. It told a clever if not wholly original story, included character development and found a role for characters like Molly, Mary & Anderson who all were important but didn't always get their due.
This won't win Sherlock many NEW fans... if the 3 prior series haven't convinced you nothing will. But those already converted will enjoy the new possibilities and fun this special brings to the table...and will be climbing the walls waiting for Season 4. That's the best compliment that can be given.