The character of Sherlock Holmes has been rehashed more times than the Liberal Democrat manifesto, but when Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss were asked to bring the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle back on to the BBC, they didn’t just reboot the franchise, they threw it into the T.A.R.D.I.S. and yanked the Batman and Robin of the detective world into the 21st century.
Despite debuting with just three episodes, an adoring fan base was instantly created and suddenly Doctor Who wasn’t the only time-traveller on BBC1 commanding our respect. Yet as the second miniseries approaches, the question on everyone’s mind at last week’s pre-screening was could this magic be repeated a second time round? I’m happy to confirm that the answer, as the Churchill dog would say, is ohhhhh yessssss!
The writers, directors and producers of Sherlock have not only waved their magic wands for a second time – they’ve attached the show to a rocket and raised the bar for television drama to the very upper limits.
Spectacularly continuing on from the cliff-hanger at the end of season one, ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ is a reviewer’s nightmare: almost faultless and awfully difficult to write about without gushing. It’s beautifully scripted and genuinely hilarious throughout, so much so that I laughed so hard in places that by the end of this 90-minute opener my belly was feeling like I’d had an argument with an abdomiser.
It’s delightfully hard to predict too, with a story full of twists, turns and dead-ends that will entertain both young and old alike. This series starts with a very bored Holmes pacing his flat trying to find a case worthy of his intellect, which as per usual, is proving rather challenging. A dead body found in the boot of a car is child’s play to Sherlock, whilst the mystery death of a hiker standing in a field by himself is even more elementary.
Former Spook Lara Pulver joins the intrepid duo in this first episode – wearing very little, (and often nothing) to my joy throughout. She plays the character of a dominatrix that’s obtained a rather embarrassing secret about a member of the royal family, and everyone’s favourite detective is soon on the case to get the evidence back. But what starts out as a rather simple case soon spirals into a desperate struggle to protect other information that the dominatrix has in her possession, made more complicated by the fact that Sherlock becomes infatuated with her.
Fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that the detective’s nemesis Moriarty is heavily involved in this series, whilst Mrs. Hudson (played by Una Stubbs) also features several times in this first episode. Interestingly, after the screening Cumberbatch revealed that he has known Stubbs since he was a little boy, and this close relationship is easy to see on-screen with Hudson coming across very much the mother figure to Sherlock
However, if I were to add a slight criticism, it would be on the subject of smoking, of which Sherlock Holmes is traditionally famous for. It’s interesting to note that in the first series the writers carefully worked around this, in one scene covering the actor with nicotine patches instead of getting him to light up. Yet in this second series, it appears that cigarettes are back on the menu at the Beeb, and whilst not being particularly glorified, both Holmes and his brother smoke cigarettes during stressful situations in this first episode. With many young children watching the series, I do wonder whether this is a message that Auntie really should give out.
Yet despite these quibbles, to many fans Moffat and Gatiss’s TV series wipes the floor with Guy Ritchie’s latest film. At a special pre-screening last week, dedicated fans queued from the early morning desperate to get a ticket, and the lucky few who got inside screamed, whistled and cackled as hysteria ensued throughout the episode. During the question and answer session at the end, a young boy rather poignantly asked a blonde haired Cumberbach how he could grow up to be a detective, showing how real and genuine the actor’s on screen persona has obviously become, despite the series still being in relative infancy. Also, Moffat also revealed at the screening that Stephen Spielberg has called the series ‘the greatest screen incarnation of Sherlock Holmes yet’- how’s that for a glowing stamp of approval?!
When the next person asks me what my New Year’s resolution is, I now know what to say- storming around the January sales looking for a coat that looks like the one Benedict Cumberbach wears (although in retrospect I’m sure I’ll still find time to wear my Tweed coat and bow tie).
Sherlock returns on January 1st 2012 at 8.10pm on BBC1.