With the surprising end to Season 3, viewers were excited to see where the BBC’s “Sherlock” would go next and, true to form, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss trolled everyone by announcing that the forthcoming Special would take place in the period for which Holmes is most famously known: the 19th Century – a literal world away from the series’ contemporary roots.
The clash of time zones is threaded throughout the story, especially in the uncomfortably topical opening of the mystery featuring a crazy loner with a gun shooting into the street. Of course, this is merely the beginning of another impossible mystery for Holmes to unravel as the shooter turns out to be a woman who very publicly commits suicide dressed in her wedding dress only to apparently rise from the grave and murder her husband. Months later, the phantasmagorical bride reappears to kill again, leading Holmes to uncover a bridal killing spree which rivals Beatrix Kiddo’s rampage in “Kill Bill”.
Unfortunately, the period trappings are a constant niggling distraction from the key question on the viewer’s mind, which is how this possible connects to the series we know and love. It’s a shame too because leaving aside the usual series, this really is a top notch marriage of cast and lovingly recreated Victoriana (there’s a trip to Limehouse which makes you yearn for the possibility for “Doctor Who” to somehow remake “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang” with the same money and care lavished on it).
Everybody in the cast gets to play dress-up, even if it gets a bit “Blackadder”-ish in the Morgue. Cumberbatch and Freeman are, if such a thing is possible, even better as Holmes and Watson in period garb. Una Stubbs’ Mrs Hudson and Rupert Graves’ Lestrade especially seem more buffoonish and comedic than their modern day counterparts and it seems that, regardless of the setting, it Amanda Abbington’s Mary Watson is destined to play the series’ version of the plot moving/ problem solving sonic screwdriver. Gatiss has tremendous fun as the morbidly obese Mycroft but was also the character which tipped the episode’s main conceit with a few choice anachronistic remarks peppered in amongst the dialogue. Director Douglas Mackinnon also enjoys himself transposing the series’ usual visual flourishes to their 19th century counterparts.
The eventual resolution of the mystery of “The Abominable Bride”, in reality a cadre of hyper militant suffragettes with decidedly KKK-influenced wardrobe choices (another nod to the original Holmes Story ‘The Five Orange Pips’) is somewhat lost amidst the narrative game of three card Monte as Gatiss and Moffat seek to perpetuate the playful conceit of which era is real? The past or the present? A great deal is left teased for the forthcoming fourth season of “Sherlock” but I was left pondering a more interesting question: have Moffat and Gatiss become the first people to successfully create a spin-off of their own show from itself? I have to confess, I’d happily watch new adventures of this Holmes and Watson is either timeframe.