BBC’s Sherlock Series 1: A Recap and Review

BBC’s Sherlock: A Recap and Review

It’s finally here. After 3 years (Unless you count the 2016 Christmas special) of waiting, Sherlock is back on our screens for the fourth and possibly final series of the marvellous detective program. In celebration, I wish to offer a little retrospective and review of the episode that was broadcast on New Years Day. Subsequent reviews of the remaining episode will be published when they are aired. So lets begin. This is going to be a long one so it will be split into parts but make no mistake, I will get the others finished for the next episode on January 8th.

If you can, cast your mind back to the Summer of 2010 when the first episode of Sherlock was aired. It promised to be a modern take on the short stories that were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with up-to-date references, back stories and means of solving crimes. By back stories, a prime example would be that he original Dr Watson was an assistant surgeon for the British and was wounded in action during the Battle of Miawand in the July of 1880. He suffered a fever and returned back home to England. Our own John Watson was an army doctor serving in Afghanistan. The actor portraying Dr John Watson for this modern version is played by Martin Freeman who is well known to the British public for his numerous comedic performances having been in the UK version of ‘The Office’ and also both having cameos and starring in ‘The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy’ that were written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

Upon the revelation of the updated version of Sherlock, the question was inevitably asked… Who will play Sherlock? Enter, Benedict Cumberbatch. And when his name was released, the entire country in unison said… Who? Yes, before Sherlock, Mr Cumberbatch was fairly unknown with no breakout roles to his name. He’d starred in a few mini-series of varying quality but not until Sherlock did he become a household name. And just look at him now. The man is so busy that he can’t find any time to record potentially the final series of the very show that made him famous. Anyway, series one.

A Study in Pink

John Watson and Sherlock meet in a similar fashion to the novels. They are introduced by a third party as they are both having trouble looking for flatmates. Upon meeting Sherlock for the first time, John is strangely drawn to him as Sherlock correctly deduced that he is an army doctor who had been invalided home from Afghanistan. His therapist thinks that his limp is psychosomatic and he doesn’t have a very good relationship with his brother. He could tell all of that from John’s appearance and his mobile phone. They meet at the infamous 221B Baker Street where John meets Mrs Hudson. Soon after, he meets DI Greg Lestrade who is at the flat to collect Sherlock for a baffling mystery. Sherlock brings along John because he was an army doctor.

At the crime scene, Sherlock shows his incredible powers of deduction but also shows his outstanding arrogance towards others who he considers to be inferior. A great deal is told about Sherlock’s character throughout this episode whilst John’s backstory is very much summed up by Sherlock’s observations. But then again, the show is called ‘Sherlock’. Anyway, Sherlock works out that a string of suicides is the work of a serial killer and with his latest victim, he has made a mistake. Because the lady has a fondness for pink, Sherlock finds her pink suitcase, but no mobile phone. They know that the killer has the phone because he rings John’s phone after sending him a text. However, the police
are not very far behind. Lestrade orchestrates a pretend drugs bust in order to coerce Sherlock into co-operating. It is here that the audience learn about Sherlock’s history with drugs. Later series expand on this a bit more but for now, the only drug Sherlock is using is nicotine. Nicotine patches to be precise. 3 patches for a 3 patch problem.

Sherlock pushes his brain into high gear once again to find out where the killer is. He figures out the pink lady’s password to her phone account and switches on the GPS. It shows the phone is right on his own doorstep. It is here where the killer is revealed. The killer is in fact a cab driver (Phil Davis) who drove all the victims to a secluded location and talked to them, seemingly persuading them to take poison. Sherlock goes along with the cabbie to a college where the full scheme is unravelled. There is not one pill, but two. One is poison and the other will do nothing at all. The victim chooses the pill and the cabbie takes the other. Sherlock insists that it isn’t a game at all but a 50/50 chance but the cabbie has played 4 times and has won. Sherlock begins to unravel the cabbie’s life and works out that the man is dying. He discovers a sentimental connection with his children that he doesn’t see anymore and further questions the man’s motives. The cabbie reveals that he has a ‘sponsor’ who is also Sherlock’s biggest fan. The more he kills, the more money that is left to his children when he eventually dies. Sherlock keeps asking who his fan is but the cabbie won’t answer. Sherlock is about to leave when the cabbie persuades him to choose a pill. He presses on Sherlock’s love for a puzzle and his hatred of being bored. Sherlock chooses a pill and together, they get ready to ‘take their medicine’.

All the way through their confrontation, John has followed Sherlock due to the killer still having the phone. He ends up in the wrong building but can see Sherlock through the window and he is about to take the pill. As Sherlock prepares to swallow the pill, John shoots the killer through the window with his army issue pistol and hides before Sherlock can see him. Sherlock asks the cabbie if he chose the right pill with desperation. When he won’t answer, Sherlock tortures the cabbie by stepping on his wound, demanding to know the name of his fan. Eventually, the cabbie blurts out a name. Moriarty. And so, the game is on.

Of course, Sherlock knows it was John who fired the gun and saved his life. He decides to leave it a secret between just the two of them. In the closing scene, we are also introduced the Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft (Mark Gattis, also co-creator and writer). We are given an insight into Mycroft and Sherlock’s continuous sibling rivalry as they jibe at each other. As they leave, Sherlock revels at the concept of Moriarty’s existence and the prospect of a true challenge.

I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the opening episode. It is entertaining to watch Sherlock as he amazes everyone with his powers of deduction and observational skills. Special praise should go to Mr Cumberbatch’s performance of everyone’s favourite super-sleuth and indeed it did. Its a huge surprise that it took until 2010 for him to be recognised as a phenomenal actor but better late than never. What is wonderful about ‘Sherlock’ is that it’s not only a platform for Benedict Cumberbatch, but for all the other actors aswell. Martin Freeman shines as John Watson, Una Stubbs is remarkable as Mrs Hudson who definitely gives the impression that she cares for Sherlock and Rupert Graves is great as the desperate DI Lestrade. The critics of the episode have said that Sherlock was a bit slow to figure out that the cabbie was the killer but I am willing to overlook that fact given that I was so bloody entertained. The characters themselves, especially Sherlock and Mycroft, are a touch on the eccentric side but sometimes, eccentric is better.

The Blind Banker

The middle episode in the series of these sets of trilogies do tend to be a bit dull and do nothing for the overarching plot. This one is no exception. This story does nothing to move the plot forward, it only stands to show the state of Sherlock and John’s friendship now that they are living together. I’ll keep this brief so we can get to some plot.

Sherlock gets a call from an old friend who is now a high flying stock broker type who has called in Sherlock to solve a mystery. Someone had broken in to an office on a high floor, wasn’t picked up by security and had painted a strange symbol on the wall. Sherlock works out that it is down to a group of Chinese smugglers who had something stolen from them by one of the stock brokers who were also smugglers. The stock brokers are killed by a Chinese assailant who is also a very good climber. Turns out, the symbols are part of a code that are the numbers from pages in a book that all of the victims owned.

As a side plot, John gets a job so he can pay the bills since Sherlock doesn’t get paid for the work he does for the police. Working in a doctors practise, he is attracted to another doctor, Sarah. He takes her out on a date, only to be captured by the assailant who is aware that Sherlock is onto him. Sherlock arrives to save the day and the assailant is killed. The Chinese lady who is in charge of the smuggling ring escapes. However, we learn in the end scene, she is in direct contact with Moriarty who has her killed so she can never reveal his identity.

To me, all this was a fun little story but there was no pressure. It was all too nice, just something to fill an episode, padding if you will. As ever, the performances are to be complimented and the writing definitely develops the relationship and sometimes friction between John and Sherlock. Given some of the things that Sherlock does, I wouldn’t want to live with him. On second thought, yes I totally would. Ready for some tension? Onto the series finale.

The Great Game

This episode starts off with Sherlock being bored out of his mind and taken to firing a gun into the wall to entertain himself. He then has a go at John for his blog about the cab driver case. John leaves in frustration to go to Sarah’s. Mere minutes after he leaves, an explosion rips through the building opposite, blowing out the windows and knocking Sherlock to the ground.

The morning after, John returns home to see the devastation. He runs upstairs to see Sherlock is perfectly fine and having a conversation with Mycroft. Mycroft wants him to look into the death of someone he suspects has stolen some important missile defence plans and also wants the thumb drive containing the plans to be returned. Sherlock declines, stating that he is far too busy to take his brother up on his offer. Once Mycroft leaves, John questions Sherlock about his deception. It all comes down to their petty rivalry. Sherlock is then summoned by Lestrade.

Lestrade reveals that the explosion in the building across the road from 221 Baker Street was not a gas leak as they had originally thought. They found a letter addressed to Sherlock. Inside the envelope is not a letter but a mobile phone that is very similar to the pink phone from ‘A Study in Pink’. This leads Sherlock to believe that the bomber is a reader of John’s blog.

Throughout the episode, Sherlock is put through numerous tests. He has to uncover the real explanation for the death of a young swimmer in the late 80’s, do the same for a reality TV star, find out why a famous painting is a fake and solve the mystery of a missing man whose blood is found all over a rental car. Sherlock is successful in all of these tests and even finds the time to find the missile plans for his brother. Believing there is still one more mystery, Sherlock contacts the bomber via his own website and offers to meet him at a swimming pool at midnight.

When he gets there, he finds John has been strapped with C4 and is speaking the bombers words through an earpiece. It is here that Sherlock finally comes face to face with none other than his biggest fan, Moriarty (Andrew Scott). It was fairly obvious that Moriarty had been responsible for all the crimes throughout the episode but it was all upon the request of his ‘clients’. A consulting criminal in a showdown with our own consulting detective.
Moriarty and Sherlock have a little exchange that’s filled with cliches and threats. When Moriarty turns his back to John, he leaps on Moriarty’s back, telling Sherlock to run. A sniper is trained on John so if he moves, the whole place would go up. However, another red dot appears on Sherlock’s forehead. Moriarty leaves them alone, promising that if Sherlock doesn’t leave him alone then he will destroy him. Just when they think they are safe, the red dots return. Moriarty will not let them leave. In response, Sherlock aims his pistol from the beginning of the episode towards John’s vest of C4. End of episode.

The first series of Sherlock was without a doubt the most interesting and compelling piece of television the BBC has managed to pump out in years. The mix of well performed and eccentric characters made the whole experience feel like one step above a decent panto. Moriarty for example is the definition of a colourful and witty panto villain. The mysteries were difficult to figure out and as I mentioned before, it is fun to watch Sherlock give a grand old performance of his magical powers and the outcome is usually so simple, I wondered why I didn’t figure it out. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman give an outstanding performance as the two lead characters and I definitely felt like none of the other characters were wasted. It is a great testament to a writer when they can make the presence of a number of characters feel balanced and like they each have a part of play.
There is a point to them being there and if one were to suddenly ‘disappear’, then the series would be worse for it.

Stick around for series 2.

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