REVIEW: Abominable Sherlock ‘special’ not worth the wait
To describe last night’s Sherlock and the Abominable Bride as ‘much anticipated’ would be a criminal understatement. Not as criminal, however, as making the Sherlock-loving public wait two years for a new instalment of the iconic detective show, before delivering what was essentially a much too long Comic Relief sketch, with a disappointingly underdeveloped, time-jumping storyline that aimed too high and landed too low.
While the BBC’s Sherlock special unquestionably succeeded in drawing an audience – of a ratings topping 8.4 million viewers, no less – for its New Year’s Day premiere, Gatiss and Moffat’s realisation of a Victorian Sherlock sadly failed to live up to the promise of its premise. In fact, with so many of the show’s countless followers speculating about potential plots in advance of the special, some of the fan theories floating around the internet would’ve probably made for a much better episode, worthy of the reputation for intelligence and attention to detail that the three series proper have earned for the Benedict Cumberbatch-led show.
So why was this ‘most watched festive programme‘ such a disappointment? Firstly, expectations were high. Very high. Particularly as the idea of Sherlock going back in time to his Victorian roots could’ve been so excellently executed. Personally, I’d envisaged a loving tribute to Conan Doyle’s masterpieces – a one-shot story as told through the voice of Holmes documenter Watson, centring around a self-contained case which would have had some subtle bearing on the broader series. Unfortunately, however, subtlety was not the strong suit of this special. In fact, the feature-length episode was not shy of embracing the wholly farcical, with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft sitting surrounded by calorific confections while donning a ludicrous fat suit, and pathologist Molly Hooper in an oh-so-convincing (joke!) drag disguise of a top hat and moustache. Where the switch-up of temporal location could have added a new gravitas to the show, opportunities to explore important, timeless themes were wasted (we would have loved to have seen the case’s feminist thread weighing in more substantially on present day society, for example), essentially rendering the flashback format a pointless gimmick.
We then arrive at the unexpected device of the parallel timelines, with present-day Sherlock communicating with Victorian Sherlock’s thoughts and experiences in an attempt to explain the mystery of Moriarty’s return, which we were confronted with at the end of the last season. Where the use of two storylines could’ve been clever and/or interesting, this was no Mulholland Drive. Neither strand was developed satisfactorily, meaning that the Victorian-era case of the titular ‘Abominable Bride’ was a hurriedly conceived and far too easily deciphered ‘mystery’, and the so-called significance this had on modern Sherlock’s dealings with is-he-dead-or-not Moriarty was rather nonexistent. While Sherlock stalwarts will inevitably spend the rest of 2016 trying to convince us of clue-giving easter eggs hidden within, we’ve come to accept that “The Abominable Bride” doesn’t reveal anything that we didn’t already know going into series four.
Most importantly, we’ve learned from what we’ve seen so far of Sherlock that each of its procedural instalments lives or dies by its writing. The acting, delivered in the main by the faultless Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as his beloved Dr. Watson, is consistently outstanding. Yet where unforgettably surprising and intricate episodes such as “The Reichenbach Fall” and “His Last Vow” still have us raving about them today, the weakly written “The Blind Banker” and “The Hounds of the Baskerville” have us remembering them for all the wrong reasons. Something tells me the story of Emilia Ricoletti and her pseudo Suffragettes will most certainly be falling into this latter camp for most fans.
After such a long wait for this decidedly un-special special, we really hope that Sherlock will be back on form when it finally returns for a new season, and that nothing more will be said about this regrettable diversion. It was, in short, abominable.
Sherlock and the Abominable Bride is available on BBC iPlayer now.
The fourth season of Sherlock begins filming this April, and is scheduled to air in 2017.