‘Sherlock’ Christmas Special – Less Nods And Winks, More Plot And Storytelling Please | TV Review
In 2010 reinventing Sherlock Holmes into modern times was considered a big risk. So it’s testament to the huge success of Sherlock that 5 years later returning the detective to his Victorian roots now feels like a leap. This special was the most anticipated drama of the festive period also being shown in cinemas. I think the cinema audiences would of produced a collective groan on a number of occasions. I would warn you of spoilers but I am not sure that there is a plot to spoil amongst the nods, winks and re-used tricks.
The special starts with a reminder of where we last saw Sherlock, at the end of His Last Vow, on the verge of being banished for murdering the repulsive Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), but recalled at the last moment when his arch-enemy Moriarty (Andrew Scott) seemingly returned from the dead, taking over every screen in the UK cackling, “Did you miss me?”. Starting with this reminder immediately suggests the Victorian-set episode is not going to be a stand-alone episode as the creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss suggested.
The initial set-up of the 90-minute episode follows Victorian Holmes and Watson as they combat what appears to be the ghost of a young bride stalking the streets of London in 1895. It quickly makes parallels with Watson’s first meeting with Holmes and the start of their friendship previously seen in the modern era. This is to establish their relationship to the same point as in His Last Vow, including the addition of Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington). These early encounters are rushed, any aspect of time is misplaced with and the whole pacing of the episode seems unnecessarily “zippy”. As twitter quickly began to recognise, was the episode just a set-up to reveal how Moriarty survived?
The Victorian production design and costume confidently nails the classic Sherlock Holmes appeal, drawing on the Basil Rathbone film series of the ’40s. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are again at the top of their game, as expected. Their Victorian versions share a lovely intimate moment discussing sexuality that would be great if the camera would just keep still enough to appreciate the acting.
I didn’t enjoy the Victorian element, as I really like the defining modern setting of the series. I was initially happy to be returned to the modern age, but the mind palace reveal then back to the mind palace of an overdosing man essentially becoming psychotic was not enjoyable. I commended Moffat’s use of the mind palace idea in the penultimate episode of the recent Doctor Who series and he clearly likes this idea as he keeps on running with it. I appreciate the drug use is a reference to the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories but I think this episode handles drug-use very poorly. Sherlock exclaims that he is “not an addict but a user” that makes him brilliant and able to quickly recovery from an overdose.
Now to the rest of the confusing plot that includes some militant suffragettes, great mutton-chops from Rupert Graves‘ Lestrande, a lovely tash from Molly and Watson, a supersize Mycroft and modern day snippets including grave-digging still have moments of enjoyment. Any excuse to have more of Andrew Scott‘s Moriarty on screen is only a good thing. The episode finishes by wryly suggesting that actually the whole series is Victorian Sherlock’s mind palace, which left me wondering whether I was watching Sherlock or Doctor Who?
If a new-comer, or even just a less than avid fan, like my wife watched this, they would happily not watch it again and take themselves to bed halfway through it. Clearly I was disappointed, it did pass the time, I probably need to re-watch it but I don’t want to. As the voices of discontent rise over Moffat’s tenure of Doctor Who they could become harmonious with the fans of Sherlock. Lets hope the new series has far fewer nods and winks and concentrates on plot and storytelling less reliant on drug overdose.
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