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 221.

    This is a fantastic Tv series, very well cast and written. It really does set you mind working on how they would adapt the books. The more you think about it the more obvious it becomes that they could do a very good job of almost all if not all of them.

    I have been lucky enough to have seen them while out here in Afghanistan on BFBS and it really is a nice reminder of home. I did think that current operations here ( in terms of Dr Watson) did fit rather neatly with the origonal stories, just goes to show some things never change!

    I can only hope the BBC invest in a full series, just goes to show the BBC can still make good quality TV.

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    Comment number 222.

    I just bought and viewed the DVD collection and do enjoy your efforts to update Sherlock Holmes.

    Query: do you and Steven Moffat need a technical advisor to help you with the rules of traditional English grammar? I believe you do. Otherwise, how could Sherlock Holmes stickle at an about-to-be-hanged convict’s grammar during the opening scene of “The Great Game” but soon thereafter utter: “It’s not important to me who’s prime minister or who’s sleeping with who.”? Mr Holmes should have said: “. . . who’s sleeping with whom.” Also, at the end of “A Study in Pink,” Sherlock chafes at his brother: “It wasn’t me that upset her, Mycroft.” He should have said: “It wasn’t I who upset her, Mycroft.” You need to script proper English for this very pedantic Mr. Holmes.

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    Comment number 223.

    Loved the show and can't wait for series 2. But just one point - if Sherlock is so pedantic about grammar, why did he use "who" in place of "whom" at least twice in episode 3?

    James

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    Comment number 224.

    James, your point is well taken, indeed.
    My wife wondered why I would worry even slightly about Sherlock's grammar until she heard him, in "The Great Game," brutally correcting grammar in a prison in Minsk. "Were" and "hung" were words uttered by the ill-educated prisoner, but Sherlock grammatically changed them to "was" and "hanged." Shortly afterwards, we hear Sherlock incorrectly using "with who" instead of "with whom," as he spoke to Dr Watson.

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    Comment number 225.

    Please, more "Sherlock." After only two episodes, I want more. And I can only speculate there are many more people who agree.

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    Comment number 226.

    Yes, definitely; I agree.

    I hope the creators can continue with creative scripts and interesting personalities.

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    Comment number 227.

    Absolutely genius my dear fellows! This is my kind of show! Sherlock is the best show besides Dr.Who of course! Those to shows are both the kind of stuff that makes people want to think things out and have fun with life again. Not to mention.. I love crime solving shows and love being a own home made crime sleuth even when it comes to helping law enforcement with a real unsolved crime, of course if the clue helps though!. Did you ever think about taking crime ideas from people like us and producing a show from that?Maybe take a Small story and produce a show form just a few lines. Do a contest once a year and then make a sherlock mystery from those few words.You guys really know how to get things rolling at BBC...Thank you so very much for all your show!I also love your BB C's Radio "On Point" and As It Happens too!COOL STUFF!

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    Comment number 228.

    LOVED it! EXCEPT-One thing; why all the emphasis on sexuality? More specific-homosexuality? What? Who cares who is what or even about sex, marriage, living together, etc in such a show? It felt like one long commercial for a product plug. Instead of seeing him hold a can of Coke or wearing a Nike swoop strategically in every shot homosexuals were mentioned all over the place. Just plain weird. It was almost as if the whole show wasn't about Sherlock Holmes redone- Holmes was just an elaborate, flashy back drop. Bummer. I'll still watch it because I'm not offended or affected by such things and I really did enjoy it. But it just seems odd and I think people should stay aware-no matter the product.

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    Comment number 229.

    This was really great! Seemed to have some unnecessary mentionings though. Irrelevance brought in sideways that suggests Holmes redone is just a backdrop. Will continue to watch and wait for more. Doesn't matter to me just seems odd.

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    Comment number 230.

    I was determined to hate this modern incarnation, but was proved wrong and am hungry for more! I feel very sad, however, that Jeremy Brett and the Granada series get such short shrift. I loved the Rathbone/Bruce films as a child, but hated that they had been brought into the 1940's. Within the first two minutes of seeing Granada's version of the canon, however, I knew that someone had finally 'gotten it right.' It's a shame that the creators of the current incarnation only see clothing and gaslight in the Granada series (they don't even seem to want to mention it), rather than the quality of the acting, and the reverence shown by Brett and the writers for the original stories, esp. in the first two seasons.

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    Comment number 231.

    I saw all 3 episodes on public tv here in the U.S. I was reading Sherlock Holmes in the 1960's and have followed almost all the iterations since - this one is a FABULOUS. More, PLEASE, more.

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    Comment number 232.

    Dear Mr Gatiss and Mr Moffet,

    your 'Sherlock' is just incredible.

    Trust me! :) I've been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes more then 20 years by now, but as for movies - I could enjoy the only one, Russian version with Vassiliy Livanov.

    But, gentelman, you've caught me. Obviously! :-)

    To be honest, I don't really understand why they (John and Sherlock) so attractive but they are really charming and - somewhat like 'I know them all my life'.

    Lestrade is awesome!

    Jim is - ha-ha :) - he is brilliant. Sort of :D

    Mrs Hadson and others - everything seems to be a labor of love. And such details like thier blogs and comments - oh dear, I love it :)

    Thank you, guys. Just don't stop, please! :)

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    Comment number 233.

    I thought this was an excellent adaptation with a fantastic cast, when will the next series start?

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    Comment number 234.

    Dear Mr Gatiss and Mr Moffat:

    Thank you for a sensational series with the sleuth that I love! SHERLOCK is the best and I am looking forward to seeing the next series!!!

    There are some wonderful storylines that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be proud of and the scenes of using 21st Century London is the best idea you have ever thought of.

    Thanks again for an entertaining look at the sleuth! You guys are amazing!

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    Comment number 235.

    May these words never pass my lips again... but STOP WORKING ON DOCTOR WHO! I am a hardcore Whovian, but to be perfectly honest? Sherlock was such an absolutely breathtaking show that I will probably never see Benedict Cumberbatch as anyone other than the great detective. High five for casting him! And to be perfectly honest, only giving us three episodes was a horrible tease. It's almost cruel. And that ending! Even Pirates of the Carribean 2 was more satisfying! I'm not saying that as a negative thing (it's a work of genius!) but it would be on the Dalek's level of evil to leave it there forever.

    Oh, and since I'm a Canadian fan, and everyone I know who has seen this has loved it just as much, I would like to point out that this show is obviously a very good way to cash in. Provided it continues. ;)

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    Comment number 236.

    Get writing a new series PLEASE.!!!!!!!! Words dont describe how wonderful Sherlock is, A real breath of fresh air... Ive never been so excited about a second series since David Tennat replaced Chris Eccleston...More power to your elboe, Mark...loved A short History of Horror........

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    Comment number 237.

    This is wonderful! I have long loved Conan Doyle, and find myself picky about what's on screen. This up to date version is fast, edgy and engaging! I love the new duo, they are a perfect match. Thank you for bringing Sherlock elegantly into the 21st century!
    PLEASE MAKE MORE SOON!!!!!

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    Comment number 238.

    I love what you have done to the series, Mark. I can't seem to stop watching it because there is always something new to see. I enjoy watching it and I'm looking forward to the next series to see what other weird mysteries come up.

    Mark, you and Steven have made me a happy viewer and I am so glad that you have made this series for everyone. I am really enjoying the series on DVD and I hope you will make more in the coming year.

    Linda

 

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