Sherlock: For Holmes and Watson, the game is afoot

Friday 23 July 2010, 11:50

Mark Gatiss Mark Gatiss

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I still have the first Sherlock Holmes book I ever owned. It had a purple spine (the purple of one of Holmes' dressing gown, I liked to imagine), a Sidney Paget illustration on the front and a wonderful introduction which ended with the magical words, "I wish I were reading these stories for the first time."

I can remember the frisson I felt then. I was reading them for the first time!

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Now, more than 30 years later it's sheer delight to bring a modern-day Sherlock to BBC One. It came about as a result of very pleasant chats with Steven Moffat as both of us travelled to and from Cardiff for various Doctor Who duties.

It seems nicely fitting that it all started on a train. We're both huge fans of the original stories and the absolute copper-bottomed genius of Arthur Conan Doyle's writing.

It didn't take long, though, for us both to shyly admit that our favourite versions of the oft-told tales were the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films of the 1930s and 1940s. Particularly the ones where they brought them up to date.

This may sound like heresy but really it isn't. Although Steven and I are second to none in loving the flaring gas-lit atmosphere of a lovely old London, it felt as though Sherlock Holmes had become all about the trappings and not the characters.

Also, the original stories are models of their kind. Incredibly modern, dialogue-driven, fast paced and short! What better way to get back to the roots of these fantastic creations than to make Holmes and Watson living, breathing, modern men just as they had been originally?

Happily for us, the BBC were immediately excited at the idea of modern Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, peers through a window

Some might think that's a depressing indicator of our major broadcaster falling back on the most familiar of fictional archetypes, but it isn't. Sherlock Holmes may be the most filmed character in all fiction but to reinvent him for a new audience - as well as fans - is not just thrilling and exciting, it's an honour.

From the very outset, what excited us was the very rare chance to go right back to the beginning. To get to the heart of the characters.

In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, Dr John Watson, an army surgeon, is invalided home from war in Afghanistan. Well, sad but true, we're pretty much in the same war now.

A chance meeting with an old friend leads to him sharing rooms with a mysterious man called Sherlock Holmes. For 'sharing rooms', read 'flat-share'! Again, you don't have to strain for the modern parallels. If anything, the idea of two bachelors living together is more common now than in the 19th Century.

And then there's the immortal first meeting between the two men destined to become the best, but least likely of friends. It's still in Bart's Hospital, we still have young Stamford. What's thrilling, though, is that this legendary moment has hardly ever been dramatised.

And so a new audience gets to meet Sherlock Holmes through John Watson's eyes and ask the question: who are you?

After that, it was all fun with perplexing decisions! What are the immutable aspects of the characters and the stories? They'd call themselves Sherlock and John now, of course. Who calls their best friend by their surname?

Dr John Watson, played by Martin Freeman, leans on his walking stick

They still live in Baker Street, but next door to a sandwich shop, and they get a good deal on the rent because Sherlock did Mrs Hudson a favour. And the lady herself! Landlady not housekeeper.

Doyle wrote of Holmes having a "certain quiet primness of dress" so we've made Sherlock a neat, almost conservative dresser. Yet he needs to feel different. Special. So the Byronic Benedict in his big winter coat can't possibly wear a paper forensic suit or it's all too CSI.

And what about that? Doyle virtually invented forensic detection. How can Sherlock exist in a world where the police do all the finger-printing, criminal profiling and analysis that were once his unique attribute?

The answer, in our version anyway, is that Sherlock Holmes is still, and always, the best and wisest man there is. The police may be able to put clues together, but only Sherlock has the vast brain power and imagination that can make the huge leaps of deduction.

As for Watson's stories for The Strand magazine, he now writes up their adventures in a blog. It is online for all to see, including references to the cases we'll never know about!

Addressing the heresy once more, I can only say again that Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are immortal. It's been a privilege and a thrill to put our new version of Doyle's blessed and wonderful creations onto the screen. We hope you enjoy. The game is on!

Mark Gatiss is the co-creator of Sherlock and writer of episode three.

Sherlock starts on Sunday, 25 July at 9pm on BBC One and BBC HD. To find out times of all future episodes, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

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    Comment number 181.

    Dr Whatson, I think you've hit the hammer right on the nail with that bit of protracted jacket-hating Holmes deduction. And here's why:

    Throughout this short series, Holmes' wardrobe has always been muted and understated (if a bit Emo). Up to this point (the pool-showdown) our great detective hero had only been communicating with the bomb-jacketed victims via phone. However, it would have been clear to an uber-noggin like Sherlock that the bomb-coats would most likely have been a little on the gaudy, possibly even tacky side of fashion.

    Now, confronted with the full horror of the strange open circuit-board chic of his "friend & colleague" in Moriarty's Bomber-Jacket bling and the addition of bright flashy red light-dots the whole ensemble would have been next-door to unbearable forr someone with Holmes's delicate aesthetic temperament.

    Certain similarities here can be drawn with Moriarty (you remember, that wet behind the ears infant they drafted in to play the super-evil-helium-swallowing-villain). If you recall, when Watson grabs wee "M" roughly from behind, Moriarty exclaims "Westwood!" either alluding to the mental fashion designer or to the Rap-cap-happy DJ Timothy. Either way, it suggests something to do with his strong feelings about his clothes.

    I think that Moriarty and Holmes are locked in a battle of wits. Each wants to destroy the jacket - but how to do it without ruffling their own immaculately creased suits? Isn't it a little bit of a giveaway that their initials are H & M?

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    Comment number 182.

    If I'm right, it could all be part of a clever marketing campaign by the fashion conscious "M" - the explosive launch of next season's must have look! And the Zoolander-esque slogan? "Bomb-jackets by Moriarty: they're so hot right now!"

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    Comment number 183.

    I am troubled now, mostly for fear that my five pounds shall never see the sort of return from the betting shop that I was anticipating. I must confess that this latest volley of posts has distributed in my mind more questions than answers.

    Firstly, to oddsocks - you're absolutely right, a female Moriarty would be perfectly acceptable in this type of show. Especially since the inclusion of a female Watson in Scottish Television's groundbreaking "Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century".

    jack wills fan is absolutely right. It could definitely be Molly Hooper with the laser pens and not Mrs Hudson. I had discounted it at first on the grounds of age, believing Molly would never have had the time to train for seven years in Pakistan AND qualify for a celebrity cook-off, but a brief glance at her Wikipedia page has revealed that she is in her 30's.

    To Xon, I'm not convinced that Moriarty does want to destroy the jacket, although if he did it would give me the answer to another question that's been bugging me. Why does Moriarty walk back into a room where there are two men, both armed with handguns, and inform them he intends to kill them? If he simply wanted the two of them dead then surely he would just have told his shooters to kill them remotely (texting seems popular). It defies any reason, unless you throw the jacket back into the mix. When he re-enters the room he does so through the door closest to the jacket. Does he intend to throw himself on it while his shooters fire to protect it from blood spatter? Incidentally, where do the shooters go to between Moriarty leaving and re-entering? There are no stairs visible in the shot and yet they have an angle on Holmes's upper torso from a higher angle. A skylight seems unlikely because having a dozen snipers all crowded around one skylight would be impractical. The only solution would be if they were all hanging in mid-air wearing jackets painted with the same stuff they did Bond's car in a few years back. But if that's the case then why would they bother to untrain their rifles on Watson and Holmes or even to turn of their red dot sights?

    Finally I would like to print a clarification on my initial post. I was not trying to suggest that the show's writers are only capable of copying the endings from movies of the 1980's and 1990's. On the contrary, I'm sure that they're very able to copy endings from movies of all decades. For example, London has a perfectly serviceable Chinatown. Were Molly Hooper to meet a sticky end in there while Watson and Holmes are solving a particularly tricky case involving an abusive magnate from Thames Water, then I'm quite sure the team would be able to come up with something.

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    Comment number 184.

    This article in entitled "The game is afoot" ' yet in the TV series Holmes says "The game is on" which has quite a different meaning.

    Nevertheless, a wonderful creation and Una Stubbs is brilliant as the landlady, not the housekeeper, the landlady.

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    Comment number 185.

    My 14 year old daughter and I both watched the entire series and loved the actors that had been chosen and the stories. Modern day Sherlock Holmes is a very good idea and having watched the final episode with my husband again, we want more !!

    Please BBC make more series of Sherlock Holmes,it's what Sunday night's were meant for, or any night of the week. Thanks.

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    Comment number 186.

    Sherlock is my favourite tv series ever.
    I am so shock that there are just three episodes for it.
    Please do make more series.
    I am really really really looking forward.....

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    Comment number 187.

    Hit the nail on the head for me!....what a great series and brilliant writing!
    Didn,t know what to expect from a modern day Holmes , as i am a massive fan of the Jeremy Brett portrayal and series.........................but I think that the move to modern times has worked very well and the two main characters as well as the brilliantly portrayed Moriarty were perfect. Well done BBC.

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    Comment number 188.

    An absolutely fantastic adaptation.. great writing, beautiful photography, perfect casting, excellent acting and outstanding directing. Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation as Holmes and Martin Freeman further endears himself with his portrayal of Dr Watson.

    After reading a lot of self-congratulation by the cast and crew I was thoroughly prepared to hate this programme, but it won me over within minutes. The only disappointment is that there were only three episodes.

    I have long been disparaging about the BBC, but lately they have unearthed some gems - I found Rev equally pleasing in a totally different way. Keep up the good work, more of the same please.

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    Comment number 189.

    Absolutely first class!

    I have remained an afficionado of the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre since my first taste of it in school. But, having seen many a convoluted Hamlet-as-airline-stewardess type farrago, I wasn't sure whether a modern-day Holmes would quite cut the mustard - especially as one of the major aspects of Holmes is adequately taken up by that forensics witchcraft.

    Also, given that Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle was a medical practitioner and, if we are to believe his wife's assertion, something of a consulting detective in his own right, then there were reasons to fear for the Gatiss/Moffat version. I don't, obviously, know Gatiss or Moffat personally, and neither did I have reason to delve, but it seems unlikely that either would have the same qualifications.

    Well, my reservations have been completely blown away, because this series is every bit the work of genius that the original Strand version was. Cinematographically, too, it compares well with my favourite of the previously existing Holmes series, the Jeremy Brett era.

    Will this be a millstone around the necks of Gatiss and Moffat? Famously, there were swathes of people who threatened to cancel their subscription to the Strand after the showdown at the Reichenbach Falls. Will people get rid of their televisions if, after the next, proposed, series, the Sherlock of Gatiss and Moffat stirs us no longer?

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    Comment number 190.

    As I am not an expert in the criminal underworld, I was surprised to learn criminal gangs (especially smugglers)all have an identfying tatoo on their left foot.
    Were the the Stop & Search Powers ammended to allow all law enforcement agencies inspection of said appendage ,whether at (air)ports or on the streets,I suspect many more of those pesky criminals could be banged to rights.

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    Comment number 191.

    Just please do one thing, I am aware in the books that Sherlock has a woman he admires, but I implore you not to include her character in the series, please. Of course your judgement is best, but I feel it really would spoil it for a lot of people. Just please don't, I am the last to question your flair or judgement but just, please. My God, I feel awful and can barely believe I've written this, but the characters are just so perfect and I always think the seemingly compulsory female interest can very often topple the best male characters. Thank-you.

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    Comment number 192.

    An amazing few episodes, when will there be more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Sherlock was great. I tuned in tonight to watch the next espisode and was terribly disappointed to find it was not on. I had to watch a CSI to keep me stimulated. When are they showing the next one?!!!!!! I hope they show some more episodes in november because I am off to New Zealand in December for a year and don't want to have to watch it on my small laptop.

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    Comment number 194.

    Please tell me there are going to be more of these made, this is the best thing the BBC have shown for a long time...

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    I absolutly ADORE this program! It caught my attention instantly when I walked into the room. Please please please make more!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    At the risk of repeating everything everyone else has said, more Sherlock please. Brilliantly executed programme with a script that has more wit in an episode than most have in a series. Delicious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    I can't believe this programme has only had three episodes made! It is one of the most enjoyable and well made programmes I have seen in years. If there isn't a case for making more of them - well, the people who hold the purse strings need their heads testing. Hopefully the cast, writers and producers can all be kept on side to make many more. I for one will be watching...

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    Comment number 198.

    This is the greatest programme ive seen in years!
    Please continue the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    The programme is great!! I watched all three episodes repeatedly: first to understand the plot and then to observe the acting of the actors and actresses. The interaction between Sherlock, John and Mrs. Hudson were excellent. I am looking forward for more episodes.
    Only one minor thing. I happen to notice in the second episode, when Sherlock and John were checking the antique auction on line, the "Chinese Painting" John pointed looked quite like a "Japanese" painting. It was really a small thing but it bothers me whenever I saw that. So if I was not incorrect, please please do not ignore detail like this in the future. The enjoyment of watching the show would be reduced when it was spotted.

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    Comment number 200.

    Hi there from Germany,

    watched the show on the net and became a fan instantly, when is the DVD coming out, would love to order it. I hear there are rumours that there will be a season 2 ?

    Besides Rubicon on AMC, this is by far the best new TV series in the Uk and the US at the moment, actually one of the best ones in a long while, except the brillant Misfits (!!!) of course.
    Kudos to Rev and Beeing Human as well.

    Congrats !

    Can we see more of Sherlock please, I love him shooting his living room wall when he is bored, thats just brillant. What a great character.

    Spreading the word on my facebook page as I have a lot of people asking me, which tv show to watch and which DVD´s to buy since I am known as the tv series nerd :-)))

    So please keep up the good work and keep them Sherlock episodes coming.

    Cheers from Berlin


    PS. Please when you sell this series to a tv chanel in Germany, make sure that they do proper synchs, as nearly all synchs over here suck big time, they are just horrible. Thats why me and all of my friends over here buy dvd´s and have stopped watching german tv some already years ago...


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