Since 2010 Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have regularly neglected their duties on the revived Doctor Who to revive another great figure of British popular culture, Sherlock Holmes, creating three series of genuine crossover event television (I had a look at series two here). At Christmas 2015 this reached something of a cross roads with Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, an apparently stand alone, one-off, special taking the action from the modern-day back to its original Victorian setting.
The plot takes us back to Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson’s (Martin Freeman) first meeting, in this case in the subterranean morgue of ‘St Bart’s’ hospital, circa 1880 something, before fast forwarding to a point following the duo’s famed adventures as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So we get references to these tales, most obviously The Hound of The Baskervilles and more telling to the plot The Final Problem.
It’s in these opening sequences that the story first stumbles as the apparent need to cram in references to both Conan Doyle and Moffat and Gatiss’ own version feel somewhat heavy-handed making it harder to get immersed in both the world and the story. Once this settles down though the tale of ghostly murder does pick up and get rolling, most notably from the meeting with Mycroft (Gatiss) onwards.
As it goes on an uneasy feeling falls over the whole thing and it isn’t too long before the reasons for this become obvious and this is another slight stumble as the story is clearly trying to do two things at once. On the obvious front it wants to progress the over arching story that started back in 2010, while on the other it is trying to be a compelling mystery in its own right. This leaves the middle section very uneven and while the period setting is fun it never quite rings true.
From there it largely gives up on the period plot and the modern-day one is the focus once more leading, in a way, to some interesting situations (both fun and serious) concluding on something of a loose cliffhanger teasing ahead toward the next series (currently set for early 2017).
Performance and production wise the whole thing is as top-notch as one would expect, in fact Sherlock is consistently one of the best looking and well made BBC productions I can remember, and the Victorian period is particularly well rendered with interesting little flourishes of telegrams and newspaper cuttings echoing the text messages and online news reports of the modern-day tales.
In the end then The Abominable Bride is a mixed bag of a tale that isn’t as stand alone as I had hoped but works well within the larger context and has got me suitably excited for what’s to come. I couldn’t however help but feel I’d like to see this team tackle some of the original stories in the original setting as I think they could make them just as good and engrossing as their modern variations and breath a new life into them away from the more running and fighting Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. versions.