The Sherlock special was better suited to a mid-season episode rather than the only “special” we are going to get in the last two years. There could well have been something very special in this episode but when you boil it down to it’s core, it was a very generic and mediocre “special” which felt too much like a stop-gap than a real progression of the story or the show at all.
The biggest draw was the fact that the episode was placing the modern versions of Sherlock and Watson back in their original, Victorian setting. Seeing the duo by candlelight, in the traditional deer stalker, riding by horse and cart, was very novel but unfortunately, it was nothing much more than that. There wasn’t anything that worked in The Victorian setting that added anything new to the show and the setting was so under-used that you soon forgot it was different at all.
Add to that a very generic and simple case to solve. To it’s credit, the case was interesting to begin with. The idea of a bride returning from the grave to kill men that have wronged them was a very unique one and in some instances quite scary. Unfortunately, it was also hugely drawn-out, especially considering the really obvious answer to the whole mystery and the way it was finally resolved.
Which brings us to the other issue with Sherlock’s special. It was utterly confusing and poorly written. Not the dialogue, which zips at a great pace with the right mix of jokes, action and drama but the actual set-up of the show. The Victorian setting was a “twist” and we found the old “dream within in a dream” used more than once. Unfortunately, it wasn’t used well and although the scenes between Sherlock and Moriarty were great, they were also really bizarre with no real sense of purpose or reason.
The episode felt very much like Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have no idea or direction for the show. This was a stop-gap but not a good one. They had all the cast and could have began to unravel the case or story which will involve Moriarty but instead we got something quite ordinary stretched across ninety minutes.
Luckily, the old Sherlock magic was still apparent in places. Benedict Cumberbatch is still great as Sherlock, Victorian or modern and Martin Freeman made the greatest transformation into his Victorian counterpart, doing well to become the story-writer. Their central friendship is still the show’s greatest success, even if it felt slightly under-used here.
None of the flaws of the show would have been an issue had this been the middle episode of the usual trilogy or a special having already had three episodes that year but as the first time we have seen Sherlock in almost two years, it wasn’t enough. The episode needed to move things forward or present something new and different and the Victorian setting wasn’t used well enough to count.
Overall, Sherlock’s special was unfortunately anything but. The case was quite average, the setting under-utilised and the ambition of the story more confusing that successful. There were moments that reminded me of the classic Sherlock but it seems we’ll start getting the “proper” episodes later this year.
Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)