The Game is Afoot: A Sherlock Review

I found this really great fanfic… it’s like a modern AU of Sherlock Holmes? And it’s on TV. And it’s amazing.

Sherlock season 1 cover

As someone mystified by the Holmesian universe but never quite in possession of the mental energy it takes to chew through the stories, Sherlock seemed to be sent from Fiction Heaven itself (though the nature of its creators, Mark Gattiss and Steven Moffatt, also known for tormenting avid watchers of Doctor Who, would be argued by some fans to be less than angelic).

The richness of the original is there and the characters that so many people have known and loved over the century are as fascinating and delicious as they have always been, with the modern day setting only a light, satisfying tang over the top.

And what a fascinating character the eponymous Sherlock is. Captured in all his enigmatic glory by the talented Benedict Cumberbatch (though unfortunately contradicting Sir Arthur’s declaration that Holmes was in no way an attractive man), he is not sugar-coated— he is cold and logical and itches to use his brain as if puzzle-solving is a drug (alongside his smoking habit, which he’s trying to kick, and implied other recreational substances… Holmes loved a bit of snuff back in the day). He seems trapped in the everyday world which he frequently declares is dull and uninteresting and populated by idiots. His mind is an intricate and fascinating machine that we only get glimpses of.

Foil to him is the more lovable but in no way squishier John Watson—though he may appear in knitwear quite often, be not fooled; he is a soldier at heart and, as Mycroft (also excellent, and played by co-creator Mark Gattiss descending from on high) points out when he first meets him, secretly longs for the adventure of the battlefield. He finds this with Sherlock and the two personalities bounce off each other as they put their very different heads together and set off on their adventures.

They’re also implied to be caught up in awkward sexual tension and keep being mistaken for a gay couple, but that’s another story.

The universal angle of heterosexual longing

The universal angle of heterosexual longing

While the mysteries are masterfully written, an intriguing weave of the old story structures and the modern world with all its technology, the real pull for me is the characters. That’s what you need, after all, to kick off and sustain a good series: good characters and an interesting central concept. And Holmes and Watson solving crime is, to say the least, a tested and true formula.

But don’t for a second think that this makes the stuff of Sherlock “done”. It feels fresh and exciting and new, even if you do know the original stories they’re adapting. In fact, it then becomes a game of guessing how they’re going to alter it to fit the modern setting and what twists and turns will come out of this. As with watching any adaptation, it isn’t ruined if you already know the story, it’s enhanced—you get to sit in and follow along, watching what its new handlers have done with it.

The interplay between the characters is much more of a focus than it was in the books (I’ve heard) and time is spent, carried along by the mystery or adventure at hand, developing the friendship between the two poles, Sherlock and John, and the changes each character goes through as they grow. And yet it isn’t overstated! Which I love! It’s just sort of there, and becomes more and more integral to the series as it progresses.

Sherlock and John

“We solve crimes, I blog about it, and he forgets his pants”

And then there’s the power play between Sherlock and Irene Adler, when she appears for an episode in all her finery (and at one point her birthday suit), and the elaborate mind games between him and James “Jim” Moriarty. I think that this version of Moriarty is one of the best villains I’ve seen on TV recently, or at all. He tiptoes the line between completely brilliant and mentally unhinged and keeps our heroes on their toes and the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The big question he raises is, are he and Sherlock really that different, two geniuses stuck in a world of ordinary people with only each other to play with until one of them outwits the other? I love stuff like this. The final episode of the second series is made entirely of this subtle and graceful dance of power and deception, and is some excellent writing at work… and of course, ends on another sparkling cliffhanger, which left the Sherlockians sprawled on their living room floors where they shall remain until series three… filming starts in 2013.

A tweet from Steven Moffat


I think this relationship is handled much better than in the most recent Guy Ritchie movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I found myself really not enjoying it, for this and many other reasons, unlike the person I was watching it with, who demanded to know what I was muttering so bitterly about. I showed her Sherlock and she understood. I was simply jaded by such a good freaking adaptation, and not even that, such a good freaking show with such good freaking characters.

Suspense! Mystery! Intrigue! Compelling characters! Everything a good drama needs. Sherlock has this and more, and whether you want to look upon a really interesting adaptation or are stepping into Holmes-land for the first time, I highly recommend it.


Filed under Alex Watches

5 responses to “The Game is Afoot: A Sherlock Review

  1. santaflash

    Sherlock Holmes is my favorite fictional character. When I saw this, I immediately loved it and the entire cast. My son asked to watch the Guy Ritchie Sherlock films. I told him I’d let him see and get to know the *real* Sherlock first, before he watches those films. 🙂

    • Haha! I enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes movie with RDJ a lot, but I felt the second one was leaning a bit from the true soul of the Holmesian adventures. Still a bit of fun if you want a Victorian era action movie, but BBC’s Sherlock captures the puzzle-solving element and the characters much better (ah dear, I really must read the books properly one of these days…)

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