The preview disc from the BBC that dropped through my door today carried a polite request:
“Sherlock ep1 – So as to not spoil the enjoyment of the drama, please do not reveal (insert name)’s character or the part that (insert name) plays.”
As much as I understand Auntie’s reasons for saying this – it did initially frustrate me for two reasons:
One, it made me feel like I couldn’t be trusted to review a crime drama without giving the whole plot away … and two, it has made my job much more difficult, because it’s prevented me from just telling you what happens and giving the whole plot away.
Anyway, I’ve just got over the shock of having to use my brain, so I will begin.
Sherlock is set in the modern day, a rather disturbing modernity in fact – a 21st Century where apparent serial suicides take place in London, and even more worryingly, no one has heard of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes is, well, I’ll leave it to him to explain:
“I’m a consulting detective, the only one in the world … I invented the job … it means when the police are out of their depth, which is always, they consult me.”
Before we meet Holmes, we’re first introduced to Afghanistan war veteran Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) who’s got a psychosomatic leg ailment and a lot of bad memories.
His therapist, in an attempt to help conquer his recurring nightmares tells him:
“John, you’re a soldier, it’s going to take you a while to adjust to civilian life, and writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help you.”
Watson replies, “Nothing happens to me.” … but all that is about to change.
When a mutual friend introduces Watson to Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), not only is Watson bamboozled by the amount of personal information Holmes can glean from such apparently insignificant clues (an excellent exposition device for the writer), but immediately he finds a new lodgings in central London … you know where, yep, at 221b Baker Street.
And so it begins – Holmes, a detective genius with a website takes Watson under his wing, and although Watson is warned against an association with the “psychopathic” Holmes by both the police and a mysterious man (of whom we cannot speak), he cannot resist being drawn into Sherlock’s London, an exciting and dangerous place to live.
Written by Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat, there are definite shades of Whovian drama, intrigue and humour interwoven into this glossy crime adventure.
Beautiful direction at every turn draws you into a dark world. The cameras glide around the characters picking up flares, effortlessly catching reactions, clues and expression. Scenes melt into one another with delightful eases as the viewer is gently pushed along, never too fast, but without having time to think about becoming bored.
The use of on-screen text to represent both Sherlock’s clues as he finds them and mobile phone messages as they appear is at first a little off-putting, but even this, after an hour an a half (yes, that’s how long episode one is) seem to blend into the overall ‘feel’ of the show.
Cumberbatch plays Holmes with passion and vigour. He’s a petulant child, a mysterious stranger and an adrenalin junkie all rolled into one. His nervous energy explodes onto the screen helping you buy into his ‘tortured genius’ persona, but never fully convincing the viewer that he may not be hiding more sinister motives beneath his crooked veil.
At times, you can almost see Matt Smith appear from nowhere as Moffat gives him a line that he can’t resist but ‘Who-up’: “We’ve got ourselves a serial killer, love those, there’s always something to look forward to …” he excitedly shouts as he runs down the stairs like the ghost of The Doctor, much to the dismay of the ever-worrying (and rather inept) Detective Inspector Lestrade (played by Rupert Graves).
Martin Freeman is the ying to Cumberbatch’s yang – happy in his dead-pan role as the jaded former-soldier, he is the conscience of the operation, asking questions, not getting answers but continuing to bumble along – you get the feeling he has nothing else to live for.
Freeman does not light up the screen with his character, but he is very much the supporting role here. He is strong and steady and does what is required to temper the insanity of Holmes whilst retaining his own and continuing to bridge the gap between Sherlock’s world and the real world in which they live.
This show will undoubtedly be a success, and deservedly so. Moffat has run with classic characters and dumped them in the 21st Century – but what he hasn’t done is lose the magic of the original idea. There will be the critics that say it’s too far from Conan Doyle’s stories – well balls to them – this isn’t about recreating books word for word on the screen, it’s about entertaining people …
… and what Sherlock does is certainly entertain.