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Television

Is Sherlock starting to suffer from ADD?

Plus: Darcy has become a sensitive soul in Death Comes to Pemberley, but I miss the uptight Regency posho

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

Sherlock’s not dead. A good thing, since on New Year’s Day BBC1 launched its third series of Sherlock, and it’d be inconvenient if the three episodes didn’t have Sherlock. Last season, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes stood on a building rooftop, dramatic coat flapping, a tweedy caped crusader. Then he jumped to his death. Only he didn’t. He’s still alive. The Cumberbatch comeback! Hooray.

Of course, the detective had some explaining to do. Not only to sidekick John Watson (Martin Freeman) — who grew a moustache as part of the grieving process — but also to the many Sherlock fans who’d taken to the internet in the past two years to post their survival theories. Indeed, the first episode didn’t come up with one scenario, but at least three, in a cheeky nod to these web speculators, and there’s even a geeky character who forms a club where members moot their hypotheses.

For this is the new Sherlock, assured and smart-alecky, supremely aware of its audience, functioning always with a nod-nod-wink to its fans and now really starting to reference and cross-reference itself. I wonder if this self-reflexivity has gone into overdrive. Enacting the various survival scenarios meant viewers basically watched the same footage again and again, with variations, instead of being fully immersed in its new plot (one involving a hazily defined terrorism).


The episode lingered over Sherlock’s ‘death’ at the expense of his new life. This new life was shown in stops and starts. We all know this jittery, 21st-century Holmes is full of the neuroses of our age, but the series itself may be getting ADD. It didn’t seem to want to stick to one train of thought, appearing concerned with solving specific situations rather than one big crime. ‘Let’s have a scene in the Underground with a bomb,’ the producers seemed to say, and Sherlock’s cogitations would be employed on how to defuse the explosive. Or, ‘Let’s have a Guy Fawkes scene,’ in which Holmes computes the fastest way to get to Watson to save him from burning. And so on. But what of the big picture? Yes, deduction is a huge part of the series, but so is the general investigation. Sherlock is no longer On The Case, he is just on the chase. Oh, I’m sure the various plot threads will jive nicely by episodes two and three, and all groupies will be satisfied, but the first one made for manic, spasmodic viewing.

Meanwhile, there was the pitter-patter of little feet at Pemberley. It’s six years since Darcy and Elizabeth got married, and they’ve had a son who runs merrily up and down the halls of the ancestral home, in the televised version of P.D. James’s crime-novel sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley (BBC1). The first few scenes of this three-parter zoomed in on the young boy, which was important, because it made us realise that, early-19th century costumes notwithstanding, what we had was actually a modern family, one where Daddy and Mummy hugged their child constantly and were warm to the servants.

Under such circumstances, dear wayward Lizzie (Anna Maxwell Martin), always ahead of her time, remained the same. But Darcy (Matthew Rhys) seemed to have metamorphosed into a Romantic, penning love notes to his wife and brooding by gravestones. Yes, there were times when the plot — the dastardly Wickham’s good friend Denny was murdered, with suspicion falling on Wickham (Matthew Goode), now Darcy’s brother-in-law — called for him to exercise some of that old crustiness, but almost nothing remained of the pompous man who proposed to Elizabeth as though doing her a favour. Gone was the uptight Regency posho, which is a bit of a pity. Wickham, on the other hand, became a fully rounded character, heroic even, cutting a Byronic figure when standing in the dock.

The whole series, aired over three straight nights, had a wild, Romantic tinge quite different from the Classical, drawing-room flavour of Austen’s novels. Yet something of it stayed true to the novel — perhaps it was the sense of tenderness applied to these well-loved characters by scriptwriters and actors alike. Consistent or not, they seemed to have an inner life, and the show — like the book — had the temerity to put relationships and romance at the forefront.

A ball was supposed to be held at Pemberley, but was cancelled because of the murder. So I turned to Strictly Come Dancing instead. Ah, the tinsel and the glitter and the tassels and Bruce Forsyth and the foxtrot and the quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow!

Strictly is so camp it could set up base at Mount Everest, and so cheesy none of the climbers would go hungry. As of writing, the live final had not aired, but I’m sure a good time was had by all. Happy New Year.


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