ON New Year’s Day, there was only one television programme that the British public would be watching and it was, of course, the return of everyone’s favourite detective: Sherlock. Quays News entertainment reporter Emily Murray watched the Victorian special…

When Sherlock hit our screens back in 2010, the response was unbelievable. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern day adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories whipped audiences around the world into a frenzy and soon a huge fan base had developed making Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman international stars. Only nine episodes of the popular series had been produced, all to an incredibly high standard, and so each one was eagerly awaited, and none more so than the one off Victorian special The Abominable Bride.

Therein lies the rub. The towering excitement surrounding the special and high standard set by the rest of the series meant that The Abominable Bride had a lot to live up to, with millions of fans to satisfy. And it was quite brilliant featuring the wit, intelligence, drama, comedy and thrills that we come to expect with Sherlock – all delivered with a playful edge that worked like a charm.

Normally, at the end of an episode of Sherlock you are left in glorious awe at what you have just witnessed. However, the end of The Abominable Bride just leaves you, well, a tad deflated – and, judging from the reaction on Twitter, confused too. What could have been perhaps the best episode of Sherlock takes a wrong turn in the final act, messily ending what was an elegant story.

The episode started off rather wonderfully. Beginning with a recap of the events of the series so far the word ‘alternatively’ appears on the screen and we travel back in time to the 19th century where we meet the Victorian versions of the Holmes and Watson we have grown to love.

The Victorian setting works better than anyone could have expected. It is a joy to see Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, complete with cloak and deerstalker, travel around gothic Victorian London in hansom cabs

He is, of course, accompanied by his ever faithful friend Watson, played beautifully by Freeman who gets to sport a bushy moustache in the episode. As ever, the sets and costumes are delicately put together by a crew with an eye for detail and we are easily absorbed by this 19th century world.

Although Cumberbatch and Freeman had to adapt their characters slightly to fit into the Victorian setting, we welcome the Holmes and Watson we know from the modern tales. Cumberbatch’s dazzling performance further defines him as the definitive Holmes and Freeman is as excellent as ever as Watson. When the two are on screen together the result is electrifying, although the first meeting between Holmes and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty in the episode is dynamism that is hard to beat. In fact every time Scott’s Machiavellian Moriarty appears the scene is set on fire thanks to his compelling performance. Moriarty, we did indeed miss you.

No Sherlock episode is complete without a good mystery and The Abominable Bride provides just that. From only half-a-line of dialogue in Conan Doyle’s stories, Moffat and Gatiss have created a classic mystery that is thrilling, clever and gripping. Holmes and Watson set out to pursue the case of Emelia Ricoletti, a woman who committed suicide but appears to be murdering beyond the grave. As soon as the opening credits have rolled we are swept away by this story that provides brilliant drama. The supporting cast all get a role to play and it is fantastic to see the likes of Rupert Graves’ Lestrade and Una Stubbs’ Mrs Hudson appear in the Victorian setting.

The mystery is just one element of Sherlock though. Like the modern day stories, The Abominable Bride is an entertaining romp. You will be left laughing at the abundance of jokes, the in-jokes about Mrs Hudson’s silence work particularly well, and the relationship between Holmes and Watson is as touching as ever when we witness Watson’s doomed attempt to get Holmes to talk about his feelings, whilst waiting for a ghostly bride to appear and commit murder. References to classic Conan Doyle stories are interweaved in neatly and the reveal of the solution by Holmes leaves you exhilarated.

Unfortunately, Gatiss and Moffatt take one step too far. If the episode stayed entirely within the Victorian setting and bride story, it would have been perhaps the best episode of Sherlock yet and we would therefore forgive it for leaving us waiting that much longer for the reveal of how Moriarty survived and series four.

However, it did not.

All of a sudden we are back on the plane with modern day Sherlock and it is explained to us that the Victorian adventure was a drug fuelled dream occurring in Sherlock’s mind palace as he attempts to solve Moriarty’s return from the grave. From then on, we time travel between the 21st and 19th century in a mess of events that is not quite pulled off.

The question of how Moriarty survives feels, in fact, rather shoehorned in. If the mystery was resolved, I am sure we would be left wonderfully satisfied but instead the solution is not shared leaving the audience disappointed and questioning what the point was bringing in the modern day part. Sherlock always likes to leave us on a cliff-hanger but this just leaves us deflated at what is essentially a prolonged it-was-all-a-dream twist that reveals nothing.

Still, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is very fine television indeed and extremely enjoyable. It is just a shame that Moffat and Gatiss ended a near-perfect episode disappointingly being too clever for their own good. Next time, lads, all we need is a good old murder mystery.

Series four of Sherlock is expected to arrive in 2017.

By Emily Murray
@EmilyVMurray

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