Is Sherlock losing it?

There has been a lot of internet traffic following the release of The Abominable Bride and the Sherlock fan-base is polarized as it has never been before. Could this be the beginning of the end?

As I've said before, I was not overly keen on the idea of a contemporary Sherlock Holmes but I found myself converted by series one. Aside from the awful Blind Banker the series was wonderful and convinced me a modern Sherlock could work.

The pattern was repeated in series two. The middle episode was not worth much but the first and third were excellent. The fan-base was pretty much united in its liking of all things Sherlock.

Then came series three. Oh my word, what went on there? Despite assurances from the writers that they were not being influenced by fan theories, the opening episode, The Empty Hearse, proceeded to send said fan-base into a right state by feeding into almost every theory that had been put forward between series two and three.

Perception is more powerful than reality so whether or not the writers were listening to fan ideas was hardly relevant; the perception was that they were and thus the schism began to appear in the opinions of fans. Some were delighted at the apparent support from the writers for their theories. Others were annoyed at what they perceived as the writers pandering to the more obsessive fans.

Perception, perception, perception.

By the time series three ended there were more dissatisfied fans than there had been at the end of series two.

This dissatisfaction made some things less tolerable than they were before. People appeared even less happy at the gaps between series. Before series three there was a more or less unspoken attitude of ....the delay's annoying but at least it will be good. Once series three ended it was more of .....another delay and will it then be as mad as the last series?

The grumbles about the perception that the writers were either pandering to the fans or mocking them became more common. Yet, despite this, there was an apparent level of faith, from those that worried that the show had lost its way, that the series could/would recover the standard of series one and two.

Then, totally unexpectedly, there was talk of a return to the Victorian era. The reaction to this was also polarized. Some fans of the modern series couldn't see the point and didn't want the contemporary setting messed with. Some thought it was pandering to the traditionalists. Ultimately we were presented with a special that did neither. True, there were plenty of people who loved it but even a casual glance at the Amazon UK ratings for the special shows how its popularity has sunk compared to the previous series.

Series 1,2,3 and special respectively (as at 12 Jan 2016)

Before anyone is tempted to comment, I do appreciate that as time goes on the results will change but it will be interesting to see if the high scores ultimately outstrip the low scores to the same degree as they do with series 1 - 3. What is clear is that the special motivated people in the UK to criticise in a way that they didn't appear inclined to do before.

So what of the US?

The US seems to be more pro the Special than UK reviewers yet there is still a higher level of lower scores (as percentages) compared to the previous episodes. Again, it will be interesting to see how this develops over time.

The grumbles about the wait for series four appear to have increased in the wake of the special. Can the writers reunite the fan-base or will the chasm get wider? In my opinion, only a return to solving cases as opposed to having episodes focused on character relationships stands a chance of achieving that. In other words a return to the model as displayed in the first two series.

Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here


  1. Couldn't agree more! But the scores you show are somewhat faulty - through no fault of your own, I hasten to add - because when you look at the amazon scores for S3 you will find that a good portion of five star reviews (as well as others) have been written *before* the series even aired. Yes, that's right! Amazon announced the DVDs far in advance and people started writing mock reviews right away, the first having been written on July 10, 2013! To get a real result one would have to deduct those from the real ones that appeared after the show was actually on TV.

  2. I completely agree with this line 'In my opinion, only a return to solving cases as opposed to having episodes focused on character relationships stands a chance of achieving that.'

    Solving an intriguing mystery is exactly what's at the core of every wonderful Sherlock Holmes story and also at the core of almost every amazing Sherlock episode.

    I hope the writers return to it in Series 4.

  3. I am sad to say that I am one the American "Sherlock" fans who was greatly disappointed by "The Abominable Bride," the eagerly-anticipated latest episode of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman's "Sherlock" series. I am no Sherlockian purist, but this latest episode is a horrible mess that crosses the line into parody.

    What a ghastly waste of talent, both in front of and behind the camera.

    The series started going off the rails in Series 3, when the emphasis started to shift away from the characters, and especially the Holmes-Watson partnership, to an effort to create "spectacle" through gimmicks — notably the faking of Holmes' death and whether Moriarty faked his death. It almost hit bottom when they had Holmes resolve the Magnusson problem in a way that violates one of the bedrock rules of detective fiction. (I'm avoiding being more specific in order to avoid spoilers for those who haven't yet seen the series three episodes.)

    This latest episode is an ego-driven, self indulgent mess. If the continuing series follows its example, they will destroy a brilliant program. If Moffatt and Gatiss have to indulge themselves in this way to keep up their own interest, it would be far better to just wrap up the program in a dignified way that honors the original concept.