I have loved the Sherlock Holmes stories since my youth – the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films on BBC2 on a Friday evening, the definitive television Sherlock Holmes of Jeremy Brett, the original stories themselves, the inspired by/homages/parodies (my favourite ‘new’ version being Zero Effect, by Jake Kasdan). I was a little nervous about the idea of updating the concept to the modern day, but Steve Moffat can do no wrong at the moment (his Doctor Who was fantastic), so I had faith.
I shouldn’t have worried – the update is great because it keeps everything that works about Sherlock Holmes in this version. The key to this is in the casting of Sherlock and John Watson. The marvellously named Bendict Cumberbatch is perfect as Sherlock, the rangy thinness, the aloofness, the speed of speech, the disconnect from the world, the intelligence, the oddness. But he wouldn’t be nearly as good without a good Watson, and Martin Freeman is the best he’s been and the best Watson I can remember: strong in character and heart, a man who has seen war and is almost appalled that he misses it so much, smart but not as clever as Sherlock but able to appreciate his deductive ability. Their chemistry is brilliant, and the first episode where they meet and move in together (221B Baker Street, of course, although it isn’t actually Baker Street as it exists today) works because they work as a team, even though they shouldn’t, and it’s a joy to watch.
Because this is funny stuff (Sherlock: ‘I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.’), with banter zinging and lovely touches that delight, such as the words shown on the screen for the texting and the way Sherlock’s brain works when he’s deducting. There are three episodes, 90 minutes each, with Steve Moffat writing the first, which sets everything up for the new version, followed by Stephen Thomson and then Mark Gatiss (who also co-created this series with Moffat, and also plays Mycroft Holmes with a delicious smugness, and it would have been great to see more of him) for the finale; Moffat and Gatiss, both avowed Holmes fans, do a fantastic job of updating old stories and throwing in nice bits for the fans. However, the second episode wasn’t as strong, the Chinese gang stuff seeming a bit out of place, and it’s not written by them.
Gatiss does a great job with the final episode (except for the bit about seeing stars in the sky above London – there is no way in the world you can see more than the hazy fuzz of some of the bright ones through the London orange sky), although I have to admit that I really didn’t like Moriarty – he was too Graham Norton to be a criminal mastermind (and too young) for me, and didn’t exude the necessary qualities to be Holmes’ equal. However, apart from that, this has been a wonderful series overall (if too short), and I was very happy to see that the BBC sensibly recommissioned a second series. Bring back Cumberbatch and Freeman soon, with Moffat and Gatiss in charge.