Sherlock: The Great Game

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson.  He is the organiser of half that is evil, and nearly all that is undetected in this great city.”

The Adventure of the Final Problem

(The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Well, I am pleased to report that the Sherlock series was back on form this week.  Episode 3, The Great Game, does a truly excellent job of rescuing the floundering series after that near fatal blow it received from Episode 2 (which shall remain nameless).  Perhaps this should not be so wholly unexpected though, as both the first and third episodes were written by the executive producers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss respectively, and directed by Paul McGuigan, and in both episodes they rose to meet the high expectations of Sherlock Holmes fans with recognisable knowledge of the text.  Whereas the second episode was written by Stephen Thompson and directed by Euros Lyn, whose abysmal attempt only served to highlight their ignorance of the novels and their intellectual well-written characters and content.

A heroic effort is made in this episode to include a wealth of those various fleeting references and recognisable quotes, which made the first episode so interesting and approachable for true Holmes fans.  There were the obvious quotes and references, of course, that anyone could pick up without boasting a good knowledge of the novels.  However, what made it exciting to Sherlock Holmes devotees like myself, was the way in which references to various original cases were slipped into conversations or scenes so casually that you might easily miss them if you were a) not a true reader and admirer of the original novels, or b) didn’t have your Sherlock Holmes thinking cap on.  It was a wonderful way to include many of the great cases without overcrowding the episode.  In fact, it felt a bit like the episode had an underlying challenge: find all the original cases within this episode! and you’re the one trying not to miss a clue.  Or perhaps that was just me….

Just for fun, here are some of the scenes and the cases I was reminded of.

1.) Mycroft and The Bruce-Partington Plans

This one was too prominent to not be number one.  I was happy that they kept the vital clues and way of disposing the body true to the original.  And I can see why it was necessary to change the murderer and the victim’s death, to minimise the number of main characters.  And it was still a brother who was the main character of the crime.  I also enjoyed the way they slipped in a reference to Mycroft’s superior skills.

2.)  The Blog

Many of the things John Watson writes in his blog are directly taken from A Study in Scarlet.  “His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge”.  The whole conversation about the Solar System is nearly word for word.


I have to say I am in agreement with his views on the Solar System.  However much we know about it, it doesn’t help our everyday lives in any way.  If we suddenly did start revolving around the moon there wouldn’t really be that much we could do about it.  Also, if the people with the expensive telescopes and the  government were hushing up the fact that secretly we don’t revolve around the sun, would anything really change?

3.)  The Letter

The letter is on Bohemian paper just as the letter in A Scandal in Bohemia, reminding us of Irene Adler even though the letter in that particular case was not in fact written by a woman at all.  The manner of identifying the writing as a woman’s is more reminiscent of The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge.

4.)  The Seeds

A quite obviously a reference to The Five Orange Pips in which the pips are a warning sent by a ‘secret society’, the K.K.K.  Holmes tells Watson that their crimes were “‘usually preceded by a warning sent to the marked man'” sometimes in the shape of “‘melon seeds or orange pips'”.

5.)  The Contradictions

‘”The main thing with people of that sort,” said Holmes, as we sat in the sheets of the wherry, “is never to let them think that their information can be of the slightest importance to you. If you do, they will instantly shut up like an oyster. If you listen to the them under protest, as it were, you are very likely to get what you want.”‘  Holmes remarks on this after talking to Mrs Smith in The Valley of Fear, similar to Sherlock’s remarks to Watson after talking to Mrs Monkford.

6.)  The Security Guard

A direct quote from A Scandal in Bohemia: “‘You see, but you do not observe.'”

7.)  Moriarty’s Puzzle: Astronomy and the Painting

When discussing Professor Moriarty in The Valley of Fear, among other things Inspector MacDonald mentions, ‘”I had a chat with him on eclipses. How the talk got that way I canna think; but he had out a reflector lantern and a globe, and made it all clear in a minute.”‘  This coupled with the fact that later he and Holmes discuss a painting of great value suggest that this may have been the basis of one strand of The Great Game.

8.)  Give Me Time!

When trying to work out why the painting is a fake, Sherlock says he can solve Moriarty’s puzzle but he needs time.  Similarly, when discussing the Moriarty with Watson in The Valley of Fear, Holmes says: ‘”No, I don’t say that,” said Holmes, and his eyes seemed to be looking far into the future. “I don’t say that he can’t be beat. But you must give me time — you must give me time!”‘

9.)  Moriarty: The Final Problem

The Adventure of the Final Problem is of course the foundation on which the whole episode is built.  But many details from the original case are also adapted into the final showdown.  A significant part of the conversation in the final scene between James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes is taken directly from the original conversation between these two great adversaries.  Exciting!  Although I must admit I am not entirely thrilled with the casting of Moriarty.  I feel a greater sense of elegance, hidden power and menace were called for than Andrew Scott delivered in his portrayal of the arch-nemesis.  However, it could have been A LOT worse.

In addition, the care which Sherlock denies having for others is displayed, in a manner similar to the lapse of the original Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.  Watson remarks in the original that it was worth a wound to discover the strength of feelings which “lay behind that cold mask”.


I’m glad they thought that the caring side of Sherlock was worth including.  I have always admired the fact that Sherlock Holmes never lets emotion cloud his judgement, but I also love that extreme situations sometimes shock him into betraying that he is loyal and caring towards his friend.  There are, I feel, fleeting moments in the novels that suggest the famous cold detective is secretly a naive, fiercely loyal, and rather childish character, and these have been portrayed well within this final episode.

So yes, well done for another well-written, exciting, interesting episode, one which gives another glimpse into the world and character of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Really a very fine season finale to a prospectively promising series.  As long as it is written and directed by the right people, that is.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it will be.

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Sherlock: A Study in Pink

“‘Do you include violin playing in your category of rows?’ he asked, anxiously.”

– A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The new Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr Watson (Martin Freeman)

As a devoted admirer and fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, I was naturally sceptical of a modernisation.  Particularly after seeing the attempt at a Sherlock Holmes film in 2009, where the adaptation of such fantastic literature produced a horrific failure which did not even remotely approach a decent or watchable film.  Casting Jude Law as Watson and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler were some of the most shocking mis-castings in the long shameful history of mis-casting.

However, such spectacular failure to do justice to the original is often encountered when film-makers and television producers attempt to adapt or modernise a brilliant and classic piece of literature.  Hence, I approached the first episode with a mixture of apprehension, curiosity, and a general raising of eyebrows.  Imagine then my surprise at finding the series not only watchable, but also interesting, well-cast and entirely enjoyable!

Traitor!  I hear you Sherlock Holmes devotees shout.  But it’s not so!  And this is why.

1.  Sherlock Holmes has been cast very well.

He (Benedict Cumberbatch) is tall and lean, just like Conan Doyle created him: “In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller.”  Moreover, he is excellently played by Cumberbatch as an arrogant, insensitive genius who loves knowing that his intellect is far superior to that of everyone around him.  We aren’t meant to like Sherlock Holmes for being a kind gentle character, or having strong morals, or being interested in the common good, because he neither is nor has any of the above.  On the contrary, he is often quite the opposite; a rather smug eccentric who is always right, and worse, always knows he is.  But we respect and admire his talents and admit to his having a superior intellect and incredible methods of deduction.

Aside: I actually love that Sherlock Holmes is so blunt and insensitive.  It means that on some levels we can know what he is thinking and I admire someone who isn’t afraid to say what they think or believe.  I suppose it helps when you are always right.

2.  Dr John Watson has, again, been cast well.

Martin Freeman provides an excellent rendition of Watson, suitably sceptical of Sherlock at first, but gradually converted, hearing the incredible methods of deduction, to astonishment, wonder, and admiration.  Just like the character in the book.  Marvellous!

Aside: I think it helps that Martin Freeman is easily recognisable as Arthur Dent from the film adaptation of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Not a very good film but the character is one who, in essence, has a lot in common with Dr Watson.  Mainly I suppose, that both of them are ordinary people who meet extraordinary people and their relatively normal worlds are turned into worlds of astonishing and exciting adventure.

3.  Many parts of the episode are easily recognisable as adapted straight from the book.

The conversation about flatmates and their vices.  The place the crucial murder takes place; “‘Lauriston Gardens, off the Brixton Road'” is straight from the text, as is the debate between “Rachel” and “Rache”, the direct quote being, “‘Rache’ is the German for ‘revenge'”.  There is the mobile phone scene which is an updated version of the Sign of Four scene in which Watson gives Sherlock Holmes a watch to test his abilities.  Sherlock’s rise in Watson’s estimation is shown the same way in both series and novel, by Watson’s praising “‘Wonderful!'”  and Sherlock’s expression giving away that he was pleased by Watson’s “evident surprise and admiration”.  And of course the notable first meeting comment, “‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.'”

4.  Finally, the comedy element.

There is an element of the humourous in all the Sherlock Holmes novels, which has been superbly adapted into the series.  My favourite quotes from the first episode are probably:

Watson:  That was ridiculous.  That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done.

Sherlock:  And you invaded Afghanistan.


Sherlock:  Shut up, everybody!  Shut up!  Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t breathe!  I’m trying to think!  Anderson, face the other way you’re putting me off!

Anderson:  What?  My face is?

Ah, the wonderful witty intellectual talent.  It could really only be Sherlock Holmes.

So yes, it is a modernisation of classic literature, and no, Sherlock is not exactly the man of the book.  But he is a good and decent adaptation of the character, who does possess elements of the genius that is Sherlock Holmes.  This, the main characters being cast well, and the producers realising that it would be sheer idiocy not to refer to the text, have all come together to make this really work.  So well done on the first episode, and keep up the good work.

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