Following the somewhat surprise hit that was season one of Sherlock in 2010, two of the men now behind Dr Who, along with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, came back with a second season of three feature length episodes with much more expectation and confidence.
I have to admit that, other than the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr version, I hadn’t really had much experience of the world of Sherlock Holmes but I very much enjoyed Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ first go at it and so when the three episodes of series two were announced I was rather excited, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Taking off exactly where the season one cliffhanger ended this series almost instantly seems to take on a larger scope as we get a montage setting up Sherlock and Dr Watson as a much more established detecting double act as they are then thrust into their first proper case of the series, A Scandal In Bohemia, which brings a modern sensibility to things as an exploration of scandal and sleaze, as well as a great mystery story.
While this is the first of three individual mysteries we get this series, it also continues the threads that began in series one with Moriarty and Sherlock’s backstory continuing to develop and deepen here, and across the series, in a much more confident way (in terms of the writers and producers work).
It is this new confidence which marks the series throughout as it tackles three of the most famous of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but in their own modernizing way, and nails the combination of old fashioned mystery and modern twists excellently.
In some hands the use of mobile phones and the internet to the degree it is used here would seem cynical, but in Moffat and Gatiss (and their compatriots) hands it seems, as it should be, just a part of life and a part of the story, marking this as one of the first TV shows I have seen that truly feels part of the digital age, in an honest way (despite some of the series other, more fantastical, elements).
As the series goes on we get a new take on The Hound of the Baskervilles which adds another more modern concern to proceedings with the idea of a military conspiracy thriller running alongside the almost Hammer horror elements of the tale of the hound.
This is then followed by what seems to be a climax to the overarching story of both series as Holmes and Moriarty clash directly, though of course this wouldn’t be a modern TV show, or a mystery, without an enthralling cliffhanger (which I for one won’t spoil, and have yet to fathom).
Episode three, The Reichenbach Fall, also continues the series’ theme of tackling modern concerns, here looking at how the media can create and destroy ‘celebrities’ as it sees fit and how a single image can become the sole identity of a person to the wider world (cleverly done here with the use of Cumberbatch’s Holmes wearing a deerstalker).
While this all sounds rather serious and full of issues of modern life, what really opens Sherlock up as an extremely watchable series (none of its three feature length episodes drag in the way a 90 minute TV show might) is the humour that runs throughout.
Whether playing on the relationship between Watson and Holmes, or the knowing ridiculousness of Sherlock’s attitude, or the comparative incompetence, but humanity, of Officer Lestrade, Sherlock contains a rich vein of comedy that makes it somehow uniquely British in the same way Doctor Who is, and that little other TV seems to manage. (I’d like to make it clear this isn’t me being ‘patriotic’ just honest that American TV, which can also be this good, rarely has this same vein of humour to it).
In terms of the blu-ray package the extras are a little sparse. There is an interesting 20 minute or so making of, where we get to hear from all the main players, but, when compared to the three feature length episodes that make up the series, this seems rather little.
That said, the lack of extras can’t take away from the enjoyment to be gained from the series itself which looks set to be something of a modern classic of BBC TV drama as Holmes is once again reinterpreted for the current state of the world.