Within eleven days, the third season of BBC’s Sherlock had come and gone. As interesting as the cases were, after waiting two years to see The Reichenbach Fall resolved, for the third season to happen as such a flash in the pan is just so unsatisfying. Of course, there are many reasons for the season to be delayed and so short. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are both busy with their respective film careers. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have other shows and other scripts to work on. Possibly, however, that simply indicates that the wrong people are in charge of this show.
That isn’t to say I’m not a fan of those involved. Cumberbatch can expertly capture the more annoying, unpopular aspects of Sherlock Holmes, such as withholding information for his own benefit or seducing a woman in order to gain access to suspect’s office. Holmes was never meant to be a nice person. He was a man with a drug problem and an unquenchable thirst for solving problems. Were he not so invested in answering puzzles, he could be anything; a point that is highlighted by his brother Mycroft who is as much of a genius as Sherlock, perhaps even more so, but is content to work for the government.
As emotionally detached as Holmes is, Watson was always his foil. He was sensitive to the needs of others but also fairly capable. Martin Freeman is excellent at portraying Watson’s emotional reactions to Sherlock and the cases, sometimes with just a simple facial expression. While I think Cumberbatch could be recast with some difficulty, I doubt you could find another actor like Freeman who could express so much exasperation with just his mouth. If there was one criticism to be made of the series, it would be that Watson’s hand to hand combat skills aren’t shown often enough. It was enjoyable to see him bring down the junkie doorman in the most recent His Last Vow but there needs to be more.
In fact, hand to hand action doesn’t get enough love from this series in general. Doyle’s Sherlock was a trained bare knuckle boxer, practiced fencing and had knowledge of some forms of martial arts. Yet, Moffat and Gatiss have denied us much event for Cumberbatch to physically confront his enemies. Perhaps they are keen to distance themselves from Robert Downey Jr.’s cinematic portrayal but nonetheless it is a visual aspect of the character that would be interesting to see. Especially as the typography is becoming rather redundant.
The floating words were an interesting way of presenting information but on the whole it only benefited the viewer. Sherlock still had to present his deductions to Watson and explain his findings, so often there was a doubling up of information. At times, it allowed the writers do some fun things, such as when Sherlock became drunk at Watson’s bachelor party and the words began to blur and became malformed. But it was still just a visual gimmick that rarely adds anything to the case at hand. Doing so in a novel or literature might help to vary the presentation or highlight something for the reader’s attention but as a more visual narrative, it does relatively little for plot or character in a television series.
The most predominant reason for the typography’s degradation is that, for the most part, it mainly highlights deductions. The deductions usually hover around whatever clue has lead to that crucial finding but in the brief moment the viewer is given to see the scene it can be difficult to spot exactly what Sherlock is seeing. Not surprising really, since Sherlock should be more deft at noticing such things than the average person. But it still necessitates Sherlock’s explanation all the more, although recently he has foregone even that. In the third season premiere, The Empty Hearse, the character announces to a restaurant host that his wife has just gone into labour, at which point the character picks up his phone and rushes out, presumably to ring his wife. While it is odd that this random character would simply believe a man who wandered in out of the street, and let’s not forget that Sherlock was still thought to be dead at this moment, it is more striking that neither the typography nor Sherlock himself explain how he deduced this crucial piece of information. More recently, Sherlock is asked how he knew Charles Augustus Magnussen’s schedule, to which Sherlock replies that he just does. It becomes obvious the viewer that Sherlock’s faux relationship with Magnussen’s personal assistant is how he would have known the schedule but it is so unlike Sherlock, in any incarnation, not to flaunt the method of his deduction. As said by Sherlock Holmes in the novel The Sign of Four:
“The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.”
There are other matters with the series that I take issue with. Gatiss portrayal of Mycroft appears more diligent than novelisation. While it is an interesting take on the character, there needs to be a purpose behind it other than helping hi country and annoying his brother. The original had a great mind but was too lazy to get things done. This version is much more capable and actually does get involved a great deal. Mary Morstan gets a more radical make over however, going from a fairly unremarkable client and then Watson’s wife to Watson’s scheming wife who nearly kills a man to hide her sordid past as possibly an assassin. Her exact past hasn’t been fully revealed yet, but the character goes from being rather mundane in the novels to being almost as intelligent as Sherlock. However, this presents a problem in that Watson was traditionally never satisfied with married life and appeared to enjoy the company of Sherlock and the cases more. If Mary becomes more like Sherlock, then they have basically designed Watson’s perfect marriage. It’s not that I’m against changing characters. For the record, I’m a huge fan of Elementary’s portrayal of Watson and Moriarty but that change allows the writers to underline the closeness of the relationship between those two and Sherlock, played by Jonny Lee Millar. The change made to Mycroft and Mary in this series doesn’t feel like they have the same depth and meaning.
Despite those minor criticisms, many people will be anxious for the next season. Unfortunately, it will likely be another two years until we finally see the east wind blow in. While the wait is largely down to scheduling, Moffat appears to believe the wait is a good thing, having been quoted as saying “starvation is good – put things on less often.” I’m sure a great number of people would disagree. As good as these characters and writers are, perhaps it’s time to pull a Doctor Who and swap them out for some more available actors.