Spoilers: When fanon becomes canon – or why I don't love series 3 so far

This post was written by new regular contributor, Silke Ketelsen and was written before episode three of series three was broadcast. As those who know her have come to expect, it is robust and pulls no punches.



I adore series 1 and 2 of Sherlock. I'm not blind to their faults, but I did enjoy them tremendously. So, my anticipation for series 3 was sky-high, of course. I was looking forward to endless hours spent blissfully indulging in rewatches of the new episodes (I have no life). I have watched TEH and TSoT each three times so far, and they still make me cringe with embarrassement.

Sherlock left TRF a tragic hero, sacrificing his life for his friends. Even if he did not biologically die, his life as he knew it was over, his reputation in ruins, his few friendships lost to him. He knew he had to dismantle Moriarty's network and who was to tell that this endeavour could not have cost him his life for real? In fact we were shown the very real danger and hurt he was in in one of the very first scenes of TEH in that Serbian interrogation cell.

Now he's back as 'a ridiculous man in a silly hat, only redeemed by the great friendship of John Watson', who has apparently lost all interest in criminal cases, because he's pursuing a career as wedding planner.

What the heck happened?


The Mofftiss have been on the internet too much, that's what. Yes, SM denied ever looking at tumblr, but do I believe him? Not for a second. If they're not looking at tumblr and other sources on the internet, how then did they know about the fans' theories about the fall they incorporated into TEH? How did they know about Sherlolly and Sheriarty? Was there anyone who did not recognise the nod to Pargoletta's 'Detective Shoes' in the pirouette scene in TsoT? Anyone who did not think of kid!fic when Archie showed up?

I stated myself on TwoP (Television without Pity) that I would love to see Sherlock in formal evening wear and to see him dance. Well, I got that (nearly). And while I don't flatter myself that this was the writers granting explicitly *my* wishes, I think I was hardly the only one to harbour such fantasies.

Though I also said on TwoP that I'd love to see Sherlock in formal riding gear and attending a hunt ball at a country manor. If that ever pops up, you know whom to thank for it. ;-)

Fanon is influencing canon and in my opinion they're both the poorer for it. I certainly don't begrudge the writers their inspiration and it would hardly be appropriate to restrict them from finding it in fanworks when the fans are all the time playing in their (the writers') sandbox.

But is it a wise thing to do? I don't think so. I believe that it diminishes both, canon and fanon, and that's a pity.

Because following too many fandom influences, trying to give the fans what they perceived they wanted, the Moftiss seem to have lost sight of their own creation. And as flattering as some may find 'the love letter to fandom', I personally wanted to see *their* version, unaffected by interpretations of fan creators.

Where is the Sherlock the Mofftiss have started out with? I liked him just fine.

How many takes of the Holmes parents have I seen in fanworks - and lots of them far more psychologically plausible than what we've got in TEH? Yes, we can still craft our own Holmes family sagas, but now they will be in contradiction to canon instead of in completion. Loss.

Also the creators seem to have read – and taken to heart to too great an extent, I think – all those discussions between Sherlock and Elementary fans where the latter pointed out how 'their' show was better because it humanises Sherlock, makes him more accessible and more flawed. 'Humanising?' I imagine they thought. 'We can do humanising! We humanise with the best of them!'

But in humanising their Sherlock they took away what made him such an amazing individual. Why is it that today only the emo!character can be fully cherished by many readers/viewers? Emotions are not what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. Every cat and dog have emotions as pet owners will assure you. It is our intellect that is unique to the human race.

And ACD's Sherlock Holmes was unique in that he forswore emotions in favour of pure cold intellect, the appliance of which gave him great joy and satisfaction. Joy and satisfaction? So he *had* emotions after all? Of course he did. He was human enough, even before anyone undertook the task of 'humanising' him.

Sherlock, while staying true to ACD canon, did show that admirably. There were always small incidents indicating Sherlock's emotions, for example the scene in TBB where Sebastian tells John how everyone at uni hated Sherlock - and for a fleeting second he seems truly hurt (blink and you'll miss it).

ACD's Sherlock Holmes just didn't wallow in his emotions. He did not pine for his companion after Watson left him for Mary Morstan. That is the realm of fanon, where it safely belongs – and where it enriches and completes the canon. When it is transposed from one to the other, when fanon becomes canon, as has happened now, the interstices through which to slip and create our own view become smaller, the possibilities less.

In other words: Billy Wilder's 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' would not have been possible, if ACD had seen it before anyone else and appropriated Wilder's view for his own creation. It would have annihilated it's raison d'être.

The Mofftiss' arrogant and haughty Sherlock made me laugh with delight. It was canonical and went against the common pop culture take that every hero must have clay feet. That every misanthrope must be secretly longing to be inside the goldfish bowl.

Wedding planner!Sherlock, who is so socially awkward that a public speech can only end in disaster, is a sad thing to behold, in my opinion (although I must admit it's hilarious on the surface). Social awkwardness was much used in fanfic to explain away Sherlock's coldness and make him more likeable. And that was all right for those who needed a warmer, kinder version, just afflicted with extreme shyness, to like him. Those opportunities of engaging the material are lost, when the creators of canon start incorporating fanon into their own universe.

I would not have minded one funny outlier episode as an extra(!) Christmas special or somesuch after the show had had run for three or four seasons and established a firm canon of character and storyline, but with just six episodes of varying quality the sudden change in tonality seems difficult to explain and risky at best.

Though not to worry, the goldfish like it just fine.

Written by Silke Ketelsen


  1. Hello!

    Yes. This was a tragedy. :( My disappointment was big.

    This is not Sherlock Holmes, just someone who is use his name. This is a fanfiction show. Segregates two camps: Sherlockians, and actors fans (Benedict, Martin, Mark) - sorry my english is not perfect :(

  2. No problem with your English! It's all fine and I totally get what you mean. The Mofftiss assured us when they started, that this would be oh, so canonical and it's not anymore. This is deeply worrying. Otoh, it gives us something to talk about. And that's perhaps not a bad thing as we have no fall to speculate about this time.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I love this blog with alistaird and your post. :) Always good find classiac(al) Sherlockians. I am watching this blog .. some years...

    - :( sorry my english, I'm from Hungary.

    My friend Revati and I write an article my Sherlockian site about the "Common Misbeliefs About Sherlock Holmes" (Show: and I hear of Sherlock) - but the new fan histery is very strong. :( and they don't knew was the philosophy of the original canon, and not Sherlock Holmes likes, they likes the actors.

    Born a new man, who just use Sherlock Holmes name. And I'm afraid this is harmful. Conan Doyle show a violent world, but he show what miracle when one or two (Sherlock Holmes and Watson) peoples fight against this, with logic brain, and humane heart. And we can do this miracle too, becouse this can work. But now... the young girls, and boys just sees brutality, cheap false moustache, disgusting evils, and Misbeliefs. They can thinks if someone is sociopath thats cool. Sherlock Holmes never was sociopath, he worked for the more peaceful society.. This series show: And if somebody insults you kill or strike him or her. Don"t talk about him/her just hit... You have the right to lie and to hurt others. And the young people generation see this as an example.

    I was very disappointed. I believed in the fact that they will deal with the English national pride (Sherlock Holmes) and the memory of an author with a worldwide fame with respect - yet in the first season, becouse was some interwiev Sherlock Holmes character will grow, and will be it is similar to original one .... but it was just a dream. :(

    BBC Sherlock died and born a media product. :(

  4. Well, I understand your pain, but it's just one interpretation among many. And none of them can really hurt the original character which is still to be found in the books unspoilt.

    But, I agree. It's a pity that they broke with the formula, which is basically Holmes and Watson sitting at the fireplace, squabbling about this or that, and then a client steps in, explains his/her problem and off they go.

    And I have no idea where they intend to take this from here, as the 'cases' have become so big already that a simple murder mystery will be considered to small for their/our attention now.

    But it's still a fun series, even if they have left the canon behind, and we should enjoy it for what it is - just another fan's interpretation.

  5. Yes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the canon. Everything else is fanfiction.

  6. I think it does depend a lot on how you view the show, as a staunch Sherlockian, or as a fan of the BBC show Sherlock. (Not that they are mutually exclusive but this certainly appears to be where a big divide in the viewership lies).

    As MG keeps reminding : 'This is not a detective show, this is a show about a detective'.

    There will be detection, of course, but there must also be characterisation and forwards movement or it becomes stagnant and formulaic. If ACD didn't provide a blueprint for this growth, the writing team of Sherlock must.

    Being the ACD fanboys that Moftiss clearly are, there will always be an abundance of references to delight and excite Sherlockians but to keep the casual, modern viewer coming back for more there also needs to be personal drama, be it in the form of love, loss, joy, or angst - the everyday emotions people (fandoms) understand and empathise with.

    I think there's been, to date, an excellent mix of canon and bog standard modern entertainment. They have tried, with series 3, to acknowledge all viewers of Sherlock, whether they be from the ACD side of the fence or the Eastenders side.

    Their modern take has also encouraged a new generation to educate themselves on the works of ACD (my daughter being one of them) which is to be applauded.

    1. I have nothing whatsoever against character development and personal drama. The characters have developed through seasons 1 and 2 as well - only then it was done more subtle. I feel that this season we were bludgeoned over the head with everything and some of what we were shown was in direct opposition of things stated in the seasons before. I like a little internal consistency in my shows. Otherwise what is there to believe in, when everything may be different in the very next episode?