And Some Reached For Opium as The Christmas Special Ended – Sherlock

Sherlock has become delightfully divisive.

Despite a total of a mere nine episodes in five years, last night’s tenth outing seemed to anger many on social media. Perhaps some of them would be less angry if they hadn’t tweeted so much during the show and watched it instead. Social media can be like 24 hour news, better to break the story before actually knowing it in the hope of more traffic.
Also, New Year’s Day can be a tricky watch for a tricksy show. Some people are still heavily hungover and others started drinking again at noon, puzzles are best not tackled through Sherry misted eyes.

With the exception of Doctor Who, this was the only other bit of contemporary telly I voluntarily watched this Christmas. I would like to have watched Agatha Christie – Later and Blue, but no one else wanted to during this season of familial communist pact viewing.

The problem with event television is that it gives you months of build up where your hamper of hopes can bulge to bursting by the time the programme is aired. When the show is not all of the things you have been imagining, the anger rises.

I don’t invest as much time in TV as I used to. After The Sopranos, I was worried nothing could be so immaculate and as gripping and all immersive, so I haven’t been concentrating my gaze to the corner of the room for prolonged bouts. Even The Sopranos wasn’t finished for me until 2013.
My only 2015 TV obsession was Inside No.9. I worry that my love of it is so glaring that when I have met Reece Shearsmith his eyes have only seen Kathy Bates and his ankles twinge.

I caught up with the first series of Sherlock a few months after it aired. A Study in Pink remains one of my favourite episodes, brilliantly entwining much of the original story with 21st century twists and embellishments. It is also worth seeking out the DVD which has the original, 60 minute production which doesn’t work nearly as well and lacks much of the flamboyance that has enchanted the Sherlock worshippers.

When I first saw Andrew Scott’s Moriaty in The Great Game, I was a little dubious about this version of the master villain. It took seeing it on the big screen to captivate me, and now he pips even George Zucco and Henry Daniell when jockeying for position in the chart of Moriaties.

That this reworking of such an iconic world, Sherlock Holmes is almost a genre in itself, was embraced in 2010 is an achievement.
So many of the audience were brought up on the superlative Granada adapations of the 1980s where Jeremy Brett is still held up as THE Sherlock Holmes.

Obviously this is not the first time that Sherlock has been fiddled with. Young Sherlock Holmes (a franchise that waited to happen and never did), The Seven Percent Solution (where the shadow of Freud doesn’t merely darken Holmes, he ends up on the couch) and Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes are a few of the notable exercises in Holmes.

Why did last night’s Sherlock special stir people as much as it did? At 1031pm, my social media timelines seemed bombarded with furious and the frothing, this was George A Romero’s Night of the Tweeters. Where were my planks and nails? As time passed, it seemed a more 50/50 affair. The delighted gadded about as the disappointed clawed and gasped.

I am told that the reviews either say – “I didn’t understand it and I hated it” or “I didn’t understand it, I loved it” – but what has become of those who loved it and understood it?

Some have accused it of being plotless and/or aimless, yet it seemed to have direction and story to me, two stories really. The Victorian thriller seemed spooky and fulfilling, the reveal of why the chemistry addled 21st century Holmes had sunk into investigating this historical murder had a point for the modern Sherlock too.
It was the kinder surprise of TV – there was a game, a story and a fat suit.

As an entertainment, and I presume that is what it is meant to be, I thought it was a rollicking adventure. But it’s all subjective, so it was none of the above and all of what the others said as well.

Mark Gatiss is one of our many (22) guests on Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles HERE  (and there’s a Reece Shearsmith one too)

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12 Responses to And Some Reached For Opium as The Christmas Special Ended – Sherlock

  1. pjie2 says:

    I think a large part of the reaction comes because Moffatt is (rightly or wrongly) seen to have a problem with writing believable strong women’s roles rather than male fulfilment fantasies.

    In this episode, he combated that perception by casting women as the murderous enemy within (and literally using them as the replacement for the KKK in the original story). Which he then justified by having a man explain the need for feminism to a room full of mostly-silent women.

    The story itself was OK, if a bit too fond of its own cleverness. The trappings of that story only went to show how little insight Moffatt has into why he is perceived as having problems with women.

    • Rose says:

      Yep, this was my problem with it too.

    • David Brain says:

      Well I guess it’s a perception thing. I agree that Moffat is certainly seen to have such a problem (I’m on the “so wrong it’s absurd to even consider it” side of the argument – I think that Moffat is about as feminist as a man can actually be), but to suggest that Moffat had no insight into how he is perceived seems to me to be misreading the story entirely – I read it as an overt two-fingered-gesture to those who insist that he only writes male fulfilment fantasies by writing a female fulfilment fantasy instead. Heck, he even kept the notion of Mary Watson being a secret agent – and hilariously used that to short-circuit the entire resolution of the “plot”…

      Meanwhile, I am also moderately puzzled by people who talk about a story (or a writer) being a bit too fond of its own cleverness. I’m not entirely sure why that should be a bad thing? I’d rather have a story in which the viewer is invited to participate, than one in which everything is spelled out in words of one syllable (yes, I’m looking at you, Mister JJ Abrams.) I mean Sherlock has hardly been unsubtle in this regard – if you are still tuning in after nine stories of increasing complexity to complain that you don’t understand it, then surely the problem isn’t with the show? If this had been the first episode, then yes, it would be fair to level that complaint. But now? Not so much.

      (In passing, I would like to note that I thought the Agatha Christie adaptation nailed it practically perfectly too. Indeed, it did it rather better than the book in some respects, although it failed to use the verse as effectively.)

      • Rose says:

        I’m sorry but I find the idea that this episode was a female power fantasy kind of laughable, as you say perhaps its a perception thing. I can’t quite get over rewriting the suffragette movement as a murderous cult (complete with KKK hoods) and I fear that’s tainting my perception of the rest of the story.

      • Peter Ellis says:

        He knows how he’s perceived, but he doesn’t understand _why_ he’s perceived that way. This isn’t a female fulfilment fantasy, it’s a man’s idea of a female fulfilment fantasy.

        Mrs Hudson complains about not being given any lines… and still doesn’t get any. Mary Watson is a secret agent… at the behest of Mycroft rather than through individual agency. Mary summons Holmes and (John) Watson to the denouement… which Sherlock proceeds to take over and explain to everyone else there (who already know what’s going on). Molly Hooper is again a cipher whose main function is to let John Watson demonstrate his perception.

        … and the feminists are LITERALLY a hooded sinister man-murdering cult.

      • David Brain says:

        “He knows how he’s perceived, but he doesn’t understand _why_ he’s perceived that way.”
        The problem I have is that this assumes a position of superiority in itself by implying that you _do_ understand. I wouldn’t make any presumptions about speaking for anybody other than myself. All I know is that I look at Moffat’s work and see someone writing amazingly positive female roles and an overall feminist position – but I also know that other people look at the same work and see someone writing amazingly negative female roles. And I read excellent critical articles that argue both of those positions enormously convincingly (I still know which side of the fence I am on.)

        I mean, we can argue for ages about whether or not e.g. Molly in the Morgue is a cipher – I might note that she’s doing the job that she’s good at despite the obstacles. Just because there’s a funny bit about John realising her gender doesn’t devalue her clearly positive presence. And in the end, Mary has to summon Sherlock to the scene because he’s incapable of getting there himself by virtue of being a man. [And, of course, Mrs Hudson gets to do satire. Yes, that’s a dangerously cheap way of commenting on the issue. But I admit that I still laughed because it summed up the absurdity in an elegant single line.]

        And surely the point of the scene in the “chapel” isn’t Holmes explaining it to the people there, it’s Holmes is explaining it to himself because he’s the last person to have figured it out, which is a deliberate reversal of the usual situation. He has figured out the mechanics – which, as it happens, aren’t interesting or particularly relevant – because that’s what he’s obsessed with (as he is trying to figure out how Moriarty might have survived.) But he has no concept of the reasons; effectively his brother has had to force him to that realisation – which is then neatly paralleled by the scene on the plane about responsibilities. And in any case, somewhere along the line we have gone into full-on Inception mode; it’s not even clear at what level of “reality” the whole chapel thing is happening anyway. Allowing for the fact that it’s a tv show so none of it is “real”…

      • Peter Ellis says:

        This article nails it.

        “But just like the times when characters pointed out that nothing made sense, acknowledging the problem didn’t actually make it go away.

        In some scenes it felt like the writers were straining themselves to be as feminist as humanly possible, attempting to prove their detractors wrong. Unfortunately, there’s a significant difference between writing three-dimensional female characters, and having Mary Watson make an ostentatious comment about voting rights before disappearing from the story for half an hour.”

  2. Peter Stamp says:

    I think Robin has it spot on – it was a Kinder egg, two stories for the price of one, it played with the ‘conventions’ of Holmes on screen, and it was a Xmas entertainment. Yet it really has polarised opinions – on a forum I saw only ‘love it’ or ‘it was rubbish’, with nothing in-between. It’s interesting that I have also seen the same ‘Moffat is too clever by half’ arguments on threads about Dr Who. Personally, I find clever and skilled people can be very entertaining – what’s the problem?

  3. Ken Mann says:

    What is the original story you are referring to?

  4. Ken Mann says:

    I see – I was getting confused by a suggestion that the story of Ricolletti was being rewritten when it hadn’t actually been written in the first place.

  5. Rober says:

    It’s pretty straightforward. If you use it was all a dream then you are chnaneling Dallas.

    As soon as the dream sequence was revealed. Tenure was an audible groan with the watchers I was with.

    I got distracted by the darts on my second screen to be honest.

    Having read all the books, I just waited till the answer came back around. Guess that’s the problem. So many levels of derivation.

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