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 61.

    well done BBC,great show.

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    Comment number 62.

    Well done, this was a thoroughly watchable, enjoyable piece of television and I eagerly await future episodes.
    Just one piece of feedback (as it irritated me constantly throughout the episode): Watson held his stick in the wrong hand and back to front. It's a stupid little thing but Watson is supposed to have been injured during active service, he would have received excellent Physiotherapy input during rehabilitation and would know how to use a stick!!! If you make future episodes and I hope you will then please could you get it right.

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    Comment number 63.

    I thoroughly enjoy the show, great performances by all, and great witty script. Lovely to see Una back on our screens.
    While I thought that Sherlock and Watson works extremely well set in the 21st century, I felt a little jolt of unease when after Watson had shot the cab driver, they walked away making light of the fact. Due to the original stories and past adaptations being set in a era with different sensibilities, those elements of the stories seemed 'acceptable'. For me that is the only part I feel has not travelled well. A gun toting ex service man taking the law into his own hands! Maybe I'm being too sensitive? I'd be interested to see what others think.
    Its not put me off though, I'll be there next Sunday for more of the wonderful Sherlock.

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    Comment number 64.

    Oh yes, yes, yes, yes Auntie ! Have never posted a comment before- may never again. But this was a spectacular tour de force- I throughly enjoyed every minute- plse commission more....
    Don't thing I've enjoyed a drama as much since 'Edge of Darkness' which says it all really

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    Comment number 65.

    Really enjoyed the show, great stuff if a little telegraphed in places. Mark was obviously Mycroft. Also didn't quite understand how Sherlock would jump to the conclusion that rache was a password, most sites these days wont let you create a password that simple and Holmes would take that into account surely (although the bbc's just did which doesn't say much for their security or my theory!) I just put it down to the writers trying a bit too hard to give that bit of scarlet a clever twist. Also completely agree with the comment above about the levity with which they treated the death of the killer, very odd.
    Can't wait for next week though, bring it on!

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    Comment number 66.

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVED IT. BRITISH TV AT ITS BEST. CANT BELIEVE YOUR ONLY GOING TO GIVE US 3 EPS. DO MORE QUICKLY.......

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    Comment number 67.

    Mark you are a great villain!

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    Comment number 68.

    Just watched the first episode (recorded). First class. Jeremy Brett was always the best Sherlock. He now has a very strong contender for the first spot. Well done the BBC, at last you are back on track.

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    Comment number 69.

    Wow. This makes me think TV can actually be enjoyable, and not just something you do when you can't think of anything else! After this I want to actually get a TV. I don't have a set, since I didn't see the point; everything around seems to be aimed at someone with a mental age of three.. I felt like I was living in a different universe, where my idea of what's fun, exciting and interesting isn't shared. At all. And then this is made, and it's so awesome! Characters that are Likeable, that say things you would actually chuckle to hear someone say, that have a non-generic sense of life; Also, this show captures London like no other. These characters, this show, makes London, I would say, even better than Doylean: it's much more personal, the silhouettes in the dark, and illumination of the store fronts, the cabs, the view from the restaurants around the centre. I think it's wonderful to see a show that captures imagination in all respects. I also think there'd be much more comments like this if only people knew to come here to leave comments (I only found this blog after going through pretty much everything on the Sherlock page, it was so good). Thank you everyone involved, it's the best show in years and years!

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    Comment number 70.

    Spot a goof - 48 minute - when they are walking towards the restaurant - can see that Sherlock and Dr Watson was walking on different stretch of a street depending on whether they were filmed from their back or in their face. Must be tough to film in London busy streets!!

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    Comment number 71.

    Totally brilliant. With this magnificent programme the Beeb has shown the way to overcome the economic crisis and post world cup depression at a stroke. This investment in quality is clearly going to make a pile of money.

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    Comment number 72.

    All i can say is... absolutely brilliant. Hadn't commented on any BBC programme before but felt compelled to say how enjoyable this was and sincerely hope that they make many more of these

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    Comment number 73.

    As soon as I saw it I thought..Oh dear,here we go again.Another hash at making a Sherlock Holmes series.I have to admit that I am what I consider a purist in the fact that I don't like to see Sherlock messed with.My favourites of all time are the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films with the only exception being Jeremy Brett.Apart from those every attempt has been terrible to watch and quite frankly hardly a vehicle for such wonderful books.
    Anyway,I digress,
    I loved it :-)
    Benedict Cumberbatch is great.I thought he was brilliant in Amazing Grace anyway but he did the role justice indeed and I was very surprised by Martin Freeman who,in my humble opinion maybe,argueably, the best portrayed(and acted) Dr Watson. The only thing I am disappointed about now is that I have just seen it will only be on for three episodes!!!!.Typical,the BBC actually get something right then limit it's time on the TV.

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    Comment number 74.

    P.S The woman who played Anthea is hot. Though I guess I will have as good as chance as DrWatson,though at least he tried :-)

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    Comment number 75.

    Very good indeed. Looking forward to the rest :)

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    Comment number 76.

    What a fantastic new series we cant wait to see the next episode. We were like most a little worried that it wouldnt work. We were also concerned as we had read in one of the news papers that sherlock had a similar attitude to Matt Smiths doctor who. Thankfully not Sherlock is much better!

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    Comment number 77.

    I really really enjoyed 'Sherlock Holmes' on Sunday and thought the characters well cast and way of filming with the clues written on the screen etc very good. Am looking forward to what I hope will be a long series and to see who will be cast as Moriaty. Excellent start.

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    Comment number 78.

    I was taken by surprise when I realised this was Sherlock 21st Century style, but gave it a go and really enjoyed it! We thought we'd met Moriarty, only to find it was Sherlock's brother - nice touch! Will be tuning in to the next instalments.

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    Comment number 79.

    The cinematography for dealing with Holmes' drug addiction was a masterstroke.

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    Comment number 80.

    I was a bit dubious about the updating of such a classic, but I loved this adaptation. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were both excellent and it was superbly filmed. Well done, BBC. I hope there will be more than 3 episodes to come!

 

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