“I’ve always known I was a man out of his time…”
Well, well, well… Happy New Year! In typical fashion, the reinvigorated modern iteration of Sherlock returned to screens both big and small on New Year’s Day – but this time, things would be a little out of the ordinary. Not only was this the first ever “special” episode of the show rather than a full three-episode series, it also boasted a return to the Sherlock Holmes of yesteryear, set almost exclusively in the Victorian period. This one-off festive treat promised to be a playful, standalone diversion from the nine episodes prior and a side-step for the series before normal service resumes in 2017. Rest assured – it was definitely playful, and it was definitely a diversion. But standalone? Let’s just say there were a few surprises in store there…
Coming a whole two years on from Sherlock’s last outing though, was The Abominable Bride worth the lengthy wait? And, more importantly, does it compare favourably with the episodes set in 21st Century with their newer take on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson?
Why, that’s elementary, my dear reader…
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – thrusting Sherlock back into the Victorian era is an absolute triumph. Visually, it’s nothing short of a delight, successfully transforming the London we have become accustomed to seeing back into its former 19th Century self. There’s a huge range of aesthetics on offer, too – not only is the costuming as authentic as you might expect, but so are the locations. From a familiar yet unmistakably Victorian take on 221B Baker Street, to snowy streets, to a Gothic hedge maze, it ticks almost every box with aplomb. If you’ve been yearning to scratch that ‘traditional’ Sherlock Holmes itch left after the Guy Ritchie films (seriously, how has it been 5 whole years since A Game of Shadows?) then The Abominable Bride delivers in spades.
Sherlock lives and dies on its story though, and after three consistently strong series, it’s a relief to say that the show is yet to lose its lustre. Spoilers ahoy – The Abominable Bride is not, as initially believed, a completely separate adventure to the Sherlock of the modern day. Rather, and rather cleverly at that, it is all taking place in 21st Century Sherlock’s mind. Deductions have always been Sherlock’s strength, and the episode is essentially just one long drug-fuelled deduction, playing out an unsolved mystery from the past to ultimately unlock the secret behind Moriarty’s return at the end of His Last Vow.
Yes, Moriarty is back (in an array of fetching attire), as are all of the Sherlock stalwarts in interesting and often hilarious re-imaginings of their modern selves. Sherlock and Watson make the transition relatively unscathed, bar some stereotypical looking costumes and exaggerations in personality, but the disgustingly overweight rendition of Mycroft and Molly Hooper masquerading as a man in plain sight are sure to raise a smile and a titter. In fact, the whole thing feels like one big love letter to the show so far, reliving many of its finest moments in the newer (older?) setting – Sherlock and Moriarty’s face-off in 221B Baker Street being a particular highlight. The mind-bending nature of the story lends itself well to this too, allowing The Abominable Bride to feel like a checklist of Sherlock Holmes greatest hits, eventually ending up in the iconic confrontation above the Reichenbach waterfall. Just like 19th Century Mycroft, the show is well and truly having its cake and eating it here.
That’s not to say that The Abominable Bride does not stand on its own as a rippingly good yarn, though. The mystery at the heart of the episode will have you gripped until its surprising resolution, and it’s packed full of tongue-in-cheek gags (Mrs Hudson’s reaction to being mute in Watson’s stories is priceless) and laugh-out-loud comedy set pieces (the sign language scene being one you won’t forget in a hurry). It’s as good a script as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have ever produced, bringing together so many different tones and elements into a cohesive and satisfying whole that’s just good plain fun.
So, if you can get your head around the timey-wimey nature of the plot jerking backwards and forwards between past and present, you’re in for an exciting ride with The Abominable Bride. It’s full of drama, humour, and some of the strongest characterisation the series has ever seen. While it may not seem as instant a classic as A Scandal in Belgravia or especially The Reichenbach Fall, it’s everything you could want from a classic take on the modern formula, and then some. For my money, this is one of my favourite episodes of Sherlock to date – Series 4 cannot come soon enough so we can find out what happens next!
As an additional note, I went to see The Abominable Bride on the big screen at Cineworld in London’s The O2 – but was the cinema experience worth it? Yes, I definitely think so. Much in the same way Doctor Who’s The Day of the Doctor 3D gained an extra bit of spectacle from being in an auditorium with a packed audience, so too did Sherlock’s special. The laughter at the constant jokes and the gasps of surprise at the barrage of revelatory moments really helped to add to the atmosphere and draw you into the adventure, and the exclusive cinema content before and after the feature presentation (a tour of Victorian 221B Baker Street with Steven Moffat and a series of cast interviews conducted by Mark Gatiss respectively) didn’t hurt either. Often I’m a little wary of such “special” screenings as they can sometimes come off as a quick cash-grab when you could be watching the same show in the comfort of your own home for free, but in Sherlock’s case it was an resounding success, making it feel even more of an event than it ever would have done on television (it looks damn fine on a big multiplex screen too, I must add!)