Tonight’s episode is titled The Great Game, and is written by series co-creator Mark Gatiss. We recently spoke with Gatiss, and you can read our interview below.
HeyUGuys: You collaborated with Steven [Moffat] to develop the series, How much of it was you, how much was Steven? Were there any elements that you liked, and Steven didn’t or vice versa?
MG: Well no, I have to say. Steven is always joking that we’re actually married now, but it was a shared passion. The first thing was this ‘actually, do you know anything about the Basil Rathbone skirting around. Do you know my favourite? It’s called Spider Woman‘. ‘Oh, that’s mine too! But it’s mad, it’s crazy, the finger murders, all these things’. So no, it was very much a shared passion. I mean, the thing to stress really, people would balk at the notion ‘created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’, and obviously it’s Conan Doyle’s genius absolutely at the heart of it. In fact that’s probably what we’ve done, is get back more to the original feel of the characters and the stories. But what we had to do, and put an awful lot of work into, was devising essentially a series of Bible for what it would be like now. It’s not just a question of ‘well he’s not going to wear a hat’, there are so many decisions, and even right to the last minute, things that you slightly miss, you know? Like immediately, you think ‘well they’re going to have to be called Sherlock and John, because no one calls their flatmate by their surname. Do they have a landlady? Yes, they have a landlady, because she owns the house but she’s not going to be they’re housekeeper. Who is their housekeeper?’ So many little things like that, that make you feel that it is definitely a modern world. Then weirdly, there’s lots of things that haven’t really changed at all. I mean, we still live in Victorian houses. Like the design of Baker’s Street. We wanted to make it feel like it was now, but was definitely a house in that period because that’s what most people live in. For instance we’d been shooting and we’d shot some things with Rupert [Graves], and I sat up in the middle of the night and just went ‘Christ, we’re calling him Inspector Lestrade. He’d be called DI Lestrade. Who’s called Inspector? It doesn’t work like that’. It sounds like a trivial thing, but there’s loads of little details like that, that took us a long time. So no, there was no real ‘push and pull’ like that. It was a completely shared vision.
HUG: You mentioned the show Bible, and I know that it’s something a lot of TV series theoretically have, developed by the show runners, and then allowed to sit in a corner while it becomes inconvenient. I take it that it was the opposite case for you guys then?
MG: Well we didn’t write it all down, that was just what we’d talked about, and as soon as Steven had written the original pilot script, it’s there, it’s on the page, really. And Benedict [Cumberbatch] and Martin [Freeman] were both sceptical when they were sent it. Then as soon as they started reading it, they got it, and I think that’s what comes across, to me. I’d like to think that you could sit a sceptic down and just say ‘well look, it works doesn’t it?’
HUG: How long ago exactly was it that you came up with the idea?
MG: Well really it’s about five years. It was early days on Doctor Who.
HUG: So it was before the launch of the Warner Bros.’ Sherlock Holmes?
MG: Yes. I mean, I’m not just saying that, but we were making the pilot which was Winter, ’08. We were aware that it had been announced, but it always happens like that. There’s always two Robin Hoods at the same time. It’s just odd.
HUG: So there wasn’t a moment during that period where you thought ‘Oh Christ, we’re going to have to stop now’?
MG: Not at all, because we knew Guy Ritchie’s excellent film was going to be a period one, where he was going to something with the period version. As I said, Sherlock Holmes is big enough to stand anything, really. My God, it’s had some things in it’s time and I’m sure it will again. Roger Moore in Sherlock Holmes in New York will be one of them, I’m sure, but it’s so indestructible. So nowhere at all, I have to say.
HUG: So with your previous work. You’re obviously known for having a very dark sense of humour with things like League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, bith of which have a very dark sense of humour, and Sherlock is also darkly comic, is that you or is that Steven?
MG: Well I don’t know. The thing is, people often forget, always forget, that Steven’s Doctor Who scripts, which have this reputation for darkness, are always love stories. They’re incredibly positive. It’s a shared sensibility. We wanted it to be a real world, but not a drably police procedural one, because they’re adventures. They’re not cases in that way. There’s a strong adventure element we wanted to keep, so even thought it still looks like our land, it’s really like Watson has fallen through the rabbit hole into an ‘Oh my God, this is what it’s like’. So it’s not about me pulling it into a darker direction. The stories have a luridness and a sense of violence which people rarely acknowledge. I mean there’s a story that’s never done called Black Peter where they find a sailor speared to the wall by a harpoon. I’d love to see that one. Let’s do that one.
HUG: So hopefully a series of this will be your next project, but for yourself, outside of working with Steven, have you got any other projects on the go?
MG: Well last year I made a new version of The First Men on the Moon by H.G Wells, which will be on BBC Four later this year. Also a lot of other things that I can’t really talk about. But tonight, I’m off to spend a night in a haunted house with the rest of the League of Gentlemen for a radio programme.
Sherlock is broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 8th August.
Interview transcribed by Ted Leighton.