Every year it amazes me that the Doctor Who Christmas special writers are not crushed beneath the sheer weight of expectation. And, if I’m honest, the Christmas specials aren’t my favourite Who episodes, although I’ve yet to watch one I really disliked.
The Snowmen manages to be both festive and much more like a normal episode – for me, this is a good thing. Dealing with the fallout from The Angels Take Manhattan is a very Christmassy thing to do – you can’t move for tales of redemption at Christmas afterall – and setting up the new companion, Clara, seems sensible too.
[Here be spoilers…]
Oh good grief this was a brilliant finale. Twisty as a twisty turny thing, full of shock and awe, it’s also the one in which my enjoyment of Andrew Scott’s ‘Jim’ Moriarty reached fever pitch.
One of many things that gave me great pleasure about this is how the writers (Steve Thompson for this one) are playing with the powerful celebrity persona that developed around Sherlock Holmes. It tormented Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. With the massive popular success of his character, he found he’d created a fictional monster. The public were addicted to Holmes, and to this day, people still believe Sherlock Holmes really existed. No-one was ever really interested in any of Doyle’s ‘serious’ writing, and at the time, he wrote to his mother in frustration,”I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him.”
And so, sick to the back teeth of Holmes, Doyle wrote The Final Problem, in which he believed that he had finally got rid of the character that tormented him so, by killing Holmes off in a dramatic scene where he and Professor Moriarty fight to the death over the Reichenbach Falls. But as Victoria Principle found when Bobby came out of that the epically long Dallas shower, things are not always that simple. The public found Doyle’s belief in fairies less than convincing and screamed for the return of their beloved Sherlock Holmes. Doyle eventually had to bring him back to life in The Adventure of the Empty House.
Now, so much is known by the public about Doyle’s stories, the trap that scriptwriters of Sherlock can fall into is to be too clever for their own good, which I felt happened with Baskerville episode (not everyone agrees I know). But I didn’t feel that in The Reichenbach Fall. And there was so much that was scream-makingly excellent:
- The touching, bookending scenes of Watson seeing his therapist to try to deal with the death of his friend Holmes, and visiting his grave.
- The court scene with Holmes unable to stop himself being a smart arse.
- The cameo of IT Crowd’s Katharine Parkinson as plaited haired Rita Skeeter-esque investigative journalist, Kitty Riley. I particularly enjoyed her encounter with Holmes in the Gents’.
- The beautifully done interplay between Holmes and Molly Hooper in the morgue scenes.
- Moriarty. So very fine an opponent for Holmes. I loved The Thomas Crown Affair meets The Wrong Trousers fun stealing-of-the-Crown-Jewels scene, particularly Moriarty being found by the police sitting on the throne in the jewel cabinet, wearing them. I think Andrew Scott has played him beautifully, exuding evil power with frightening, manic intensity without ever appearing totally psycho. Best bits for me: the chaos causing apps on the mobile phone, the carving of IOU into the apple and the delicate sipping of tea with Holmes. So many superb performances in this series, Cumberbatch and Freeman, Gatiss as Mycroft, Rupert Graves as Lestrade. But his is up there too.
- The rooftop scene on St Barts and Holmes’ fall to his apparent death to save the lives of people he cares about. The eruption of excitement on my Twitter feed afterwards when we then see him alive lurking behind a tree in the graveyard. What happened? How did he do it? Was Molly involved, was a ‘spare’ morgue corpse switched at the last? Utterly gripping.
MORE BBC more. Bring it back and bring it soon. Best telly ever.
Posted by Inkface
I'm up here, you idiot.
Sherlock invariably ends with me turning to Mr Qwerty and saying, ‘ But what about the bit where…’ in the hope that he will shine a searchlight into what looks like a large plot-hole and tarmac it over for me. In the case of The Hounds of Baskerville, in which Hound turned out to be a not very plausible acronym (after all, why would a group of dodgy scientists feel the need to give themselves an acronym, and what’s more get I’m-with-the-band t-shirts made noch?), I turned to Mr Q and said, ‘So why did the kindly bloke who was the baddie kill the posh bloke’s dad?’ And the best Mr Q could come up with was, ‘I guess he knew something bad they were doing.’ Well, yes. But what? It troubles me a bit that I don’t know for sure. Was it the paranoid gas thing (or lighter fluid as we called it when I was young)? Big slathering dogs? Fluorescent rabbits? (Actually a luminous bunny would be handy; you could nip out to its hutch at night and feed it without having to find a torch.)
Anyway despite not knowing exactly what the important-enough-to-kill-a-man thing was, I enjoyed this heavy-handed Freudian interpretation of the H of the B’s. Or as I now think of it, ‘The Little Hans of the Baskervilles’, a not very amusing psychologist’s joke referring to Freud’s classic case in which Little Hans was scared of horses because they reminded him of his father’s penis. Or something. I graduated a while ago and the details are hazy. As indeed were Henry Knight’s of the night his father was killed – seemingly mauled by a huge slathering black beast with red eyes. Arrrrr-oooooooooh!
The return of the telly (as opposed to the Robert Downey Jnr film) version of Sherlock had been hugely anticipated after the triumphantly brilliant trio of episodes a year ago. And A Scandal in Belgravia did not disappoint. Forgive me, I have to say it, it was a spanking good episode. Whipsmart in fact. Slightly more by way of raunchy undergarments and methods of restraint than I’d bargained for at 8.10pm on a Sunday evening, watching, as I was, with a nine year old, but it sparkled with fun and mischief from start to finish. Some possibly dodgy sexual politics too, more of which later, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.
It began where the last episode left off, at the beautifully lit swimming baths with a standoff between Moriarty and Holmes. Moriarty’s ‘bomb’ jacket is on the ground and red dot scopes from anonymous rifles are trained on the foreheads of Holmes and Watson. But the crisis gets literally called off when Irene Adler, whom Moffat has made into a dominatrix, phones Moriarty on his mobile, and he leaves.
And then we’re off, with so much to enjoy. Much playing with modern culture in a droll, witty way. Best use of a text alert ever. And Watson is writing a blog about cases, including a man dying mysteriously by a loch (the blog ‘exists’, you can see it here). The rapidly increasing number of blog fans leads to Holmes trying to hide his face from fans trying to take his picture as he leaves a theatre – grabbing a random hat from the props box. A Deerstalker, of course. And there’s a ‘real’ Twitter account for Irene’s dominatrix business (@TheWhipHand).
I enjoyed this modern update on the character that proved as resistant to being killed off as Rasputin, dogging creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the point of believing in *fairies just to get away from him. I’m not familiar with the actor playing Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, (not Holmes, please note) in this new Steven Moffat series. But, by George, he’s rather splendid in it, as well as sporting a fine moniker.
Martin Freeman does an excellent job in the sidekick role of Dr Watson, AKA John, here an Afghan army war vet (with a stick, a la Hugh Laurie in House). Despite the modernisation of the story, there are nonetheless quite a few insider gags for Doyle fans to enjoy, including:
- Holmes’ use of multiple nicotine patches instead of pipes during tricky cases
- Rupert Graves as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade making reference to Holmes’ cocaine habit
- a running gag about whether or not ‘Sherlock’ and ‘John’ are actually a couple
Rather surreally, we have Una Stubbs playing housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Also, one of my all time favourite actors, Phil Davis, makes a welcome appearance as a bitter cabbie offering a ‘Russian roulette’ choice of bitter pills to people at gunpoint, resulting in the serial ‘suicides’ which make up the case.
Is it all a bit too knowing and clever-clever for its own good? I don’t think so. I liked the way London was used as a location, in a slightly Monopoly-esque way. I thought it was well acted and wittily scripted. I think this may be a winner, and I’ll be tuning in again.
* I confess I may be taking biographical liberties here
Posted by Inkface
I’ve just noticed that there’s a Sherlock Holmes film coming out on Boxing Day starring Robert Downey Jnr. I’ll save that for myself to unwrap as a delicious belated Christmas present. I don’t give a stuff about Sherlock Holmes, I can’t stand Guy Ritchie, who is directing, and I’m extremely ambivalent about Jude Law (pretty, yes, total twat, also yes) who is playing Watson (yes Arthur Conan Doyle, you should be spinning in your grave with all your little *fairy friends –they seem to have severely sexed up your Holmes and Watson), but I’d travel quite some distance to see Robert Downey Jnr.
He has not led a blameless life, in many ways he’s really rather a naughty boy, but he has a magnificently wicked twinkle in his eye and he brings something fabulous to any film he’s in – Wonder Boys and Ironman are just two examples. And when he joined the cast of the increasingly lame Ali McBeal TV series, it was a stroke of genius. He added sharp, humorous fairy dust to Calista Flockhart’s tedious, fey narcissistic shtick. The only thing I struggled with were his protestations of overwhelming lust for her. Didn’t wash. She’s a bloody stick insect, especially with a supporting cast that included the minxy and utterly gorgeous Lucy Liu.
One thing I’d like to know though. What does Robert Downey Senior look like?
*I’m not being homophobic here, Conan Doyle lost a great deal of public credibility after revealing that he believed in fairies
Posted by Inkface