There’s so much that could be said about Sherlock, I keep thinking, “where do I even start?” But before I even attempt to start, let me fill you in on the background. Sherlock is the current BBC adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle. These stories have been adapted to film many times, both in the UK and in the US. This BBC series is written and produced by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Moffat is currently producing Doctor Who as well, and Gatiss has been involved with some Doctor Who episodes as well. In fact, it was during a train ride together to a Doctor Who filming site that Moffat and Gatiss originally had the idea of doing a Sherlock adaptation together. Yes, this is the random sort of knowledge you pick up from pouring over fan sites and Wikipedia pages. : ) Anyways…what you need to know about Sherlock: It stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. That is all. End of post. Haha, okay, I guess I could say a bit more. But seriously, Cumberbatch and Freeman make Sherlock. There’s absolutely no way the show would work with anyone else. They’re just brilliant. Also, this adaptation is set in modern-day London, so that adds an interesting dynamic to the stories.
So let me make a confession. When I first started watching the series (TWO WHOLE YEARS ago, thank you, Moffat…but I’ll get to that) I was incredibly skeptical. I think I was sick or something, but for whatever reason I had an abundance of time on my hands, so I thought, “okay, okay, I’ll waste my time with this inferior modern version of Sherlock.” And even after the first episode I was reluctant to get on board. It took the first season (which isn’t all that much, only three episodes) to decide that it was actually quite good. So I kept watching. And back then there was something to keep watching. I got in on the series after both Season 1 and 2 had aired, so I got to the end of Season 2 and started googling a site to watch Season 3. Only to discover it didn’t exist yet. Season 3 just aired a few weeks ago. So Sherlock fans have waited two years, with only six total episodes to sustain us, for Season 3. Yes, things got a little crazy in the fandom, and it looks like the insanity will resume until later this year when Season 4 is rumoured to come out.
Anyways…what should you care? Being a bibliophile, I’m used to movie adaptations that range from “that is horrible, who dared to mutilate a beautiful story in such a way?!” to “hmm, that was actually a fairly decent movie…but not as good as the book.” I mean, really, that seems to be the accepted understanding of adaptations. They can be awful, or quite good, but never as good as the original source.
Because I truly believe that Sherlock is actually an improvement on the books, and is either as good or better than the original. Really. I know. You’re skeptical. So was I. But I am convinced now. How can this be?
I think Moffat and Gatiss took the potential of the Sherlock stories and made it real. They took the idea of Sherlock and created an extremely compelling story about people. While all the Sherlock episodes have a mystery to be solved (inspired by the original Conan mysteries), the story is really about Sherlock and Watson. And they are people you actually care about. In the books, the mystery took priority over character development. Haha, what character development? you might ask. Exactly. As far as I remember, the books basically have none. And let’s face it, who really cares about Sherlock? He comes across as this egotistical, cold-hearted genius who thinks the world revolves around himself. That’s it. Conan doesn’t give us any persuasive reason to relate to Sherlock as a fellow human, because he definitely doesn’t act like one. But the Sherlock Moffat and Gatiss create is a character that we simultaneously despise and love. Because he is real. And he’s human.
In one of the most well-known scenes, Sherlock orders Watson to punch him. Watson is taken aback and responds, “punch you?” Sherlock says, “Yes, punch me in the face. Didn’t you hear me?” And Watson’s famous line, “I always hear ‘punch you in the face’ when you’re speaking.” So when Sherlock says something like, “don’t talk out loud, you lower the IQ of the entire street,” we can certainly relate to Watson’s impulse to punch him.
But yet in The Reichenbach Falls, why is Sherlock forced to his death (or so we think)? It is because if he doesn’t, everyone close to him will be killed. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, everyone who could remotely be considered his friends, are being shadowed by trained killers who will murder them if Sherlock doesn’t jump to his death. Granted, he doesn’t actually die, but the point is that he carried through with the hoax of his death to save the lives of those closest to him. And when Mrs. Hudson and Watson were in danger (most recently when Watson was kidnapped and almost killed in Season 3), Sherlock drops everything for them. When their lives are threatened, you realize how very much Sherlock does care about them.
Sherlock is a complex character. In other words, he’s real. He’s like us. He defies a simple stereotype. Same goes for Watson. The faithful sidekick with basically no personality in the books has become a real human being, with a traumatic war experience he still struggles with. And even Mary, as you find out at the end of Season 3, has a deeper past than Watson realized. They are all people you hate, love, scorn, admire, and ultimately, relate to. Because they are real, we can create a connection between our lives and the world in which they live.
This comes out very strongly in Season 3, when Sherlock naively assumes Watson will be overjoyed to see him, after letting Watson live for two years with the belief that Sherlock was dead. So when he comes backs, surprising Watson in the midst of his proposal to Mary, Watson is not thrilled, to say the least. They are chased from restaurant to restaurant around London as Sherlock tries to pick up where they left off, and Watson responds by punching him. Repeatedly. It takes a while for Watson to accept what Sherlock made him suffer. And that’s to be expected. In the original story, Watson reacts by fainting and then basically going on as if nothing had ever happened. What happens in Sherlock is what we imagine would happen if our best friend fakes their death and leaves us thinking they’re dead. For two years. And then they show up again as if they had never “died.” We’d probably want to punch them too.
There are a lot of elements and aspects to Sherlock that I find fascinating and thought-provoking, but the overall point here is that this adaption truly captures the idea of Sherlock and creates a compelling story with characters that resonate with us. So watch Sherlock. But only if you’re ready for a lot of emotional trauma and crying. Because that’s what a good story does.