By Joseph Cardle
Oh, come on. It’s obvious! No?
Well, judging by your pale complexion and constant squinting, you spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the television. You’re shaking, open-mouthed, aghast: you’ve just seen something traumatising, and amazing, and probably sexy, too. You want to tell people, to shout it from the rooftops, but you can’t wrap words around it: it’s beyond you. Yep, you’ve been watching the triumphant – almost transcendent – second series of Sherlock on BBC One. Or Inside Nature’s Giants. For the sake of editorial decency, I’ll assume it’s the former.
Co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (of Doctor Who and League of Gentlemen fame, respectively) brought world-famous Victorian super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes and all-around decent guy John Watson into the 21st century for a wonderful but slightly uneven three-episode mini-series in 2010. This year, they elected to tackle what are, arguably, the consulting detective’s three most well-known adventures: A Scandal in Bohemia, re-imagined as A Scandal in Belgravia; The Hound of the Baskervilles, now, confusingly, The Hounds of Baskerville; and The Final Problem, which the MODERN-O-TRON 20XX has designated The Reichenbach Fall. As in series one, Moffat, Gatiss and playwright Steve Thompson have jettisoned the Victorian trappings that smother most other Holmes adaptations, meaning reverence to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is very much a low priority: the scripts playfully swap, condense or delete characters, deductions and entire plots without a backwards glance in order to ensure the most entertaining ninety minutes possible. It all works a treat, and die-hard fans of the character will have fun noticing the winks and nods to other stories.
Whereas the first series was mostly consumed with re-introducing Holmes and Watson to a contemporary audience, each episode of series two presented the duo with a different emotional gauntlet to run. Scandal deals with the prospect of Sherlock in love, Hound brings fear into the mix, and Reichenbach gives them the emotional equivalent of a thorough beating. Needless to say, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were on top form, bringing even more extraordinary depth and darkness to their roles than in series one. Freeman in particular really shone this run, as he was given far more meaty material to play with. Credit, too, has to be given to the guest stars this year: Andrew Scott is terrifying as an unhinged, reptilian Moriarty; Lara Pulver brings an air of sophistication and grace to what could have been a tacky interpretation of Irene Adler; Russell Tovey goes haunted posh as Henry Knight (Sir Henry in the novel. Y’see what they did there?); and Una Stubbs is heart-warming as the strong, motherly house-keeper, Mrs Hudson.
My favourite thing about Sherlock is that, in an age where The Only Way Is Essex somehow wins a BAFTA and celebrities take turns to eat an alligator’s bum in some jungle hell-hole, the hero’s super-power is intelligence. He can deduce your entire life-story in a single glance, simply because he’s clever. There are bigger people, wealthier people, and people who are handier with a gun, but a smart guy who thinks fast trumps all of them. Isn’t that a far greater message than “orange skin plus blow-dryer equals chicks durr-hur-hur”? We can only hope for more shows like Sherlock: confidently made, superbly acted, and not afraid to wear it’s brain on it’s sleeve.