The BBC’s series has now become one of the popular shows in recent years, winning a BAFTA and tipping the balance of back against the purveyance of reality TV against scripted drama on prime-time TV. The update is wholly successful, thanks to an excellent creative team at its helm, infusing a ready wit and complex character dynamic to the already compulsive narrative of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The casting is spot on, arguably making the name of Benedict Cumberbatch (no mean feat) who, along with Martin Freeman, has now graduated to leading roles in some of the most anticipated films (Star Trek 2 in Cumberbatch’s case, The Hobbit in Freeman’s) but here on the small screen there are a few clever changes to the personalities of the characters, given by series co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to allow the characters to remain faithful to the work of Conan Doyle while being perfectly plausible in modern day.
The six episodes compiled here (along with the hourlong unbroadcast pilot) are considered by the creators as movies, and this is evident in the production values and self-contained narratives of each. Incidentally the pilot is well worth a watch, if only to see how the series was originally envisaged, and comparing the two versions of A Study in Pink (the first of the three episodes in series one) reveals the changes made to the characters and interplay which were necessary if the show was to engage as much as it has.
The stories chosen by Moffat and Gatiss are A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game in series one and A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall in the second series, choices which may ring distant bells in those familiar, but not too familiar, with the work of Conan Doyle and which provide fertile ground for the relationships to mature as the series evolves. Certainly the Sherlock/Moriarty dynamic is beautifully paced, beginning in The Great Game and concluding (or possibly not) in The Reichenbach Fall, however for my money it’s the introduction in A Scandal in Belgravia of Irene Adler, played with sinister charm by Lara Pulver, which brings the series’ best moments.
Not every episode works as well, I found series two’s The Hound of the Baskervilles disappointing in execution rather than ideas, despite the presences of Russell Tovey, however with this series already spawning the recomissioning of ITV’s own modern day detective drama with historic overtones, Whitechapel, as well as the CBS clone Elementary with Lucy Lui and Johnny Lee Miller on the cards we’re seeing what should be a resurgence of UK television drama.
Compellingly told stories, a cast which squeezes every drop of potential from the scripts by Gatiss and Moffat, and a reverance to the source material only when it serves the re-telling, Sherlock has become an unlikely jewel in the BBC’s crown.
Extras on the Blu-ray include commentaries, the aforementioned pilot and there’s a neat, if a little short, documentary called Making Sherlock, the thrust of which I’m sure you can decipher but each adds a little more to the Sherlock TV show story. By no means a sure thing, this series has been a hugely successful update to the characters and there are many more stories to tell and you can bet that the BBC won’t want to give this one any time soon.