Category: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Series 4 Review


Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”

The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries.  We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.

Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.

“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.

There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.

The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.

Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.

I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.

“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.

This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.

This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.

Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.

The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.

On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.

The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”

And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.

The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.

The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.

Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.

I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series,  but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes


Continuing where the previous box set left off, this box set finds Holmes overseeing the funeral of his brother Mycroft. Holmes is the only one who believes Mycroft’s death is anything other than an accident. More than a quarter of a century after he and Watson faced off against the Society in the prior box set, the anarchist evil organization returns with a vengeance with the goal of bringing down the war-weary British government and the world.

This is a  rich set. The four episodes tell one story over the course of a single day. Several themes run through them: Holmes’ retains much of his deductive powers but finds himself out of place in the 1920s. At many times, Holmes feels like John Wayne’s character in the Shootist past his prime but with one last fight in him. The Society’s strike comes right after World War I, and shows a younger generation wants to escape from war and is willing to pay any price to appease them, compared to Holmes and Watson who view them as intolerable evils.

Watson’s marriage is an interesting focus as Eleanor is cool to his adventuring ways and he feels she loves him less than his first two wives. Plus Holmes is menaced by a figure from his past.

Some elements in this story don’t quite work for me. The Extras portion of each CD references this as being, “Victorian Melodrama,” which neither of the previous box sets were. This seems to paper over a few elements that are over the top and out of place in the tone set by the previous sets. This isn’t enough to ruin the stories by any means but without them this would be a perfect four-hour, suspense-filled, action thriller with many great character moments.

As usual, Briggs and Earl are on top form as Holmes and Watson. Natalie Burt and Elizabeth Rider are superb additions as ex-spies. (Vivienne Scott and Eleanor Watson respectively.) The soundscape conveys the epic power of the script quite nicely, and despite a few minor issues, the story is compelling listening from start to finish.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

***Spoilers Ahead***

Sometimes, the simplest story is the best story. This is something that Stephen Moffat will never quite get. He’s a clever writer and loves clever twists and tricking the audience. Sometimes, the tricks are genuinely clever and delight the viewer, and sometimes they undermine everything viewers have been through and make them feel cheated.. This was true in Doctor Who Series 6, and it’s certainly true of The Abominable Bride. 

The premise of the Abominable Bride as advertised is that it’s Sherlock Holmes done properly. Sherlock set in the Victorian era. And for the first hour, that’s what we got as Sherlock Holmes investigated the case of a woman dressed as a bride who shoots herself in the head is taken to the morgue. Then she shoots her husband and goes on a killing spree across London.

It’s a bizarre story but certainly intriguing fodder for Sherlock Holmes and it goes along along nicely for an hour. We have some good moments, some great humor, and an intriguing mystery. You had all the cast dressed in fine Victorian fashion and Mark Gatiss (playing Mycroft) dressed in a fat suit to match the enormous character described in the book.

However, I saw a problem.  There were so many moments that didn’t ring true to the Victorian era. Why bother doing this story if it wasn’t go to be of the era? But there was an explanation.

***Spoilers Ahead***

And that explanation was?

***Last warning before Spoilers***

It was all a dream. A narcotics-induced dream by the modern Sherlock. We learn that an hour in. We’re told he was extremely hooked on multiple drugs at the end of, “His Last Vow,” in Series 3 however he showed no signs of being high because he’s Sherlock and he’s an addict and you can never tell when a drug addict is so high that they’re going to induce a Victorian dream world. Or the writers just needed him to be high in order to make their vision of the story work.

But it’s not just a dream world, it’s dream worlds within dream worlds.In the first dream world, Sherlock tells us that the crime he’s solving is real and he’s hoping by solving it with an imaginary 19th century investigation to get clues into how Moriarity came back even though he had no way of knowing when he got on the plane that Moriarty was back. However, by the end we’re not even sure of that. Though, we do get back to the investigation eventually and we learn who was behind it.

Militant suffragettes. We’re treated to a speech in which Sherlock explains how a group of militant suffragettes committed the murders and were justified in doing so because men were awful and in the end (for what it’s worth as we don’t know if what’s going on is real), Sherlock lets them go and agrees to have them marked as a failure.

It’s ironic the great big speech about how men are evil oppressors keeping women down was delivered by a man in a room full of silent women serving as a backdrop. While militant suffragettes were a thing in Great Britain, they didn’t really go in for mass murder, more for arson and bombings, though this was mostly during the First World War. Given the state of the world, it’s incredibly socially irresponsible about having Sherlock (and Doctor Watson) giving a tacit wink and a nod to terrorism as a legitimate way of achieving social change.

Certainly, the status of women and their plight in Victorian times could serve a legitimate purpose or point in a Sherlock Holmes story if handled right, but here it’s overbearing and stifles the rest of the Victorian plot.

Of course, the biggest problem is that nothing we see is even real within the context of the story. I guess that makes it a triumph of post-modern storytelling where nothing really has to make sense or have any cohesion as long as you’re deconstructing stuff. The only thing we’re sure is  real is the final scene where modern Sherlock lands, gets off the plane, and has a conversation with his brother. The rest of it is dreams within dreams for a contrived character journey ending with a psychological meeting with Moriarty (Andrew Scott) who was killed off in Series 2. The only good news is that people can skip this episode and miss nothing in terms of future series.

What’s disappointing about this is, unlike most other television series, is this is Sherlock and this is the first episode in nearly two years and it will be more than a year until the next series of episodes.

The main actors are still good, or at least as good as their material will allow them to be, but the material was pretty awful.

At the end of the day, Stephen Moffat should have hired George Mann or Jonathan Barnes (who have both shown they can write proper Sherlock Holmes for Big Finish), or someone of their talent to write a straightforward Sherlock Holmes story set in the Victorian era and had the cast do it in that style. Instead, we get a confused story that borrows from the plot of Moffat’s 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special “Last Christmas” to produce something far less compelling.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: All Consuming Fire


Despite both series being produced by Stephen Moffat, BBC’s hit shows Sherlock and Doctor Who are unlikely to crossover despite the desire of many fans to see such an event. However, with its adaptation of Andy Lane’s novel All Consuming Fire, Big Finish gives listeners a chance to hear a meeting of the two great heroes with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor and Nicholas Briggs taking on the role of Holmes (one he has played quite well in Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range.)Books stolen from a church library set Sherlock Holmes on a collision course with the Doctor. We’re given a very intriguing concept involving spooky ancient spirits, and a planned human invasion of alien worlds from Victorian England.

The plot is fun, if a bit dense, which often happens when novel plots are heavily condensed. The key to enjoying this is to properly set expectations. This is definitely a Doctor Who story guest-starring Sherlock Holmes as opposed to a story where the two are equals. Things really go beyond Holmes’ experience in the last two parts, although he does a relatively good job of rolling with the punches.

While the actors are the same as for Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the characterization is different both because the novel was written independent of other Holmes pastiches and the story was set prior to the seminal events of the the last two Sherlock Holmes box sets and therefore the characters are younger.

Still, this story is quite enjoyable. There’s a great mix of suspense, mystery, and atmospheric moments, as well as some comedic ones such as Holmes’ response to the Doctor’s compliment at the end of the story. And there are enjoyable interactions between the Seventh Doctor’s companion Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) and Dr. Watson (Richard Earl).

One complaint is the role of the Doctor’s other companion Ace (Sophia Allred). She only plays a part in Episode 4 in helping the Doctor and a friend stay alive on an alien planet but makes cameos in the prior episodes to remind us that she is eventually in this story. It’s an odd use of a popular companion and the cut scenes throughout the other episodes are a bit jarring.

Still, despite some minor production errors, this was a satisfying and entertaining audio drama that delivers a fun story worthy of these iconic characters.

Rating: 4.0 stars out of 5.0

 

 

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Audio Drama Review: The Judgment of Sherlock Holmes


The box set begins with Holmes visiting Watson in the early 1920s on urgent business that involves setting down a key adventure that occurred after the events of the Final Problem when Dr. Watson believed his old friend was dead. However, the Society believes Holmes is alive and wants to find him. To do it, they’ll threaten everything Watson holds dear. Watson faces this threat in London while, unbeknownst to him, Holmes is on their trail in Tibet.

This is a rich story spread out over more than four hours. The music and sound design by Jamie Robertson is some of the finest work Big Finish has done, and it makes the story come to life.

The script is meaty. The production successfully mixes mystery, political intrigue, and great character moments in a constantly entertaining story. Watson is pressed to his limit, into taking actions he would not normally countenance. Holmes ends up facing choices that haunt him (and perhaps the world) decades later. We’re also given insight into Holmes’ family and background.

I appreciated the way the villains were drawn. We’re inundated with fictional villainous organizations bent on world conquest that introducing such a group is not in itself remarkable. Barnes does a great job of casting the Society as a fanatical, apocalyptic cult without going over the top. There’s a certain realism to them that makes their fanaticism frightening.

Nicholas Briggs makes a superb Holmes, and nicely manages to distinguish his Holmes from 1892 from that thirty years later. Richard Earl gives one of the best interpretations of Watson I’ve heard and really does well in a story that requires him to carry far more action than is typical for Watson. They’re supported by an absolutely superb supporting cast who don’t miss a beat.

My only criticism is, after the Society’s Plan is dealt with, we’re treated to more than twenty minutes of decompression and clean up and much of that is still in the 1890s. In addition, the fate of Mary Watson was so central to this story but is dealt with in a bit of an anti-climatic way.

Despite these minor issues, the Judgement of Sherlock Holmes is a thoroughly entertaining and well-produced audio drama that shines some light on Holmes’ lost years with a cracking adventure as well as, perhaps, setting the stage for adventures to come.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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