Mark Gatiss gave us an episode of Sherlock in the original, Victorian setting, but only a fool would not have expected him to weave it into the end of the last episode of the modern adaptation.
After a selection of scenes from previous episodes, the story is introduced by John Watson, in his army uniform, being showered by debris from an exploding shell in the Second Afghan War. This is straight off page 1 of the original version of Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study In Scarlet’. (If you have never read this, then do so, as soon as possible.)
Everybody wants to know the resolution to the apparent suicide of Moriarty at the end of the last mini-series. The programme started by giving us a story which apparently had nothing to do with Moriarty, and then it did have something to do with Moriarty, but not in the way we were expecting, and then we did get some development of the story in the previous episode, but not a resolution, and then we got another cliff-hanger.
It is a testament to Gatiss’s skill as a story-teller and constructor of plot that he manages to dazzle the audience in this way, and maintain the tension, without ever degenerating into “one damned thing after another” (as happens in ‘24’, for example).
All the characters were rigorously played by the same actors as their modern counterpart, right down to the chap who says, “He is always like that” (Dr Stamford).
Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the pathologist who never appears in the Conan Doyle original, looks great in a moustache. I wish I could say the same for John Watson. It was obvious how a masculine disguise would have been necessary for a woman to be a pathologist in Victorian times, but even I did not supsect that this would turn out to be a key part of the plot. The same goes for John Watson’s petulant exchange with the housemaid over his breakfast.
When Gatiss is not inventing new characters, he is setting up relationships and axes of tension between existing ones, chiefly between Mary Morstan (spy) and Mycroft (spymaster), between Holmes & Watson (subjects) and Mary Morstan (investigator). Not only is Watson his own man (as all modern Watsons have to be), but Molly Hooper, Mary Morstan, and Mrs Hudson are their own women. The subtle and unintentional homo-eroticism of the original stories has been replaced by deliberate and blatant homo-eroticism between Sherlock and Moriarty. Under the layers of physical and psychological evidence and plot, under the raising of social and philosophical questions, against the settings and characters and the subtext-laden dialogue, we always get back to the same issue: the never-ending struggle of Sherlock and Moriarty to alleviate their own boredom. Sherlock and Mycroft are both fellow-sufferers from hyperlexia. Moriarty’s condidtion may resemble hyperlexia, but I suspect him of being merely a vulgar adrenaline-addict, rather than being addicted to the assimilation and analysis of coherent data.
The wait for this was too long. “So that Martin Freeman could portray Bilbo Baggins” is, in my opinion, one of the worst imaginable reasons for the delay, but it can’t be helped. I cannot wait for the next one. In ‘The Abominable Bride’, Mark Gatiss has succeeded in writing an ultra-promiscuous adaptation of a set of Victorian stories, and producing something which is better-thought-out, more plausible, and more gripping than the original. He has even managed to create a story which ends with “and then it was all a dream” without it seeming to be a cliche. Good writers avoid cliches. Great writers use cliches in new ways.
Finally, I come to the awards section.
Coolest Man On The Planet: Benedict Cumberbatch, for the way he delivers the line, ‘The name is Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B, Baker Street.’
Most Unlikely Person: Jane (Stephanie Hyam – ?) the housemaid, who just wins it ahead of Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) in men’s clothes.
Best Editorial Decision: making Mycroft fat again, but making him the subject of a tontine with Sherlock, and addicted to plum pudding.
Best Line Other Than Sherlock’s: ‘He didn’t want a drink: he needed one’, or ‘You’re Sherlock Holmes – wear the damned hat.’ (both John Watson). The latter is narrowly the winner.
Best sideburns: Lestrade (Rupert Graves).