A Study in Pink, the first of three episodes of BBC One’s Sherlock aired yesterday evening, and I’m bloody sold. What Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have thought up on long, dreary train rides to and fro between London and Doctor Who-Cardiff is amazing, gripping, clever, quick-witted, imaginative, insightful, great handiwork, wonderfully cast, … blahblah. I could go on kissing arse for hours. And I will; but first, the obligatory warning:
Spoilers! If you haven’t seen the episode yet, do it, and come back later. Or just read it anyway, you’re old enough.
Alright, there we are. We start the episode with Dr. John Watson’s PTSD—or do we? Opinions on that seem to diverge drastically… but more to that later on. The exposition of the case is swift and suitably puzzling; with several seemingly unconnected people popping some kind of poison—my guess is cyanide: always comes in capsules and fits Watson’s statement of asphyxiation— , the police being their usual clueless selves and numerous red herrings dangling before our eyes five minutes in. For instance, in your S.O.P. crime story, it’s nearly always significant that one of the victims had an affair with his secretary/assistant/whatever. I mean, we can bloody guess it’s not important in this obviously much bigger scheme, but it’s remarkable it gets shown at all in that case. They could just let it have been the wife, but no, they make the guy an adulterer on the way—just as the serial adulterer, the Lady in Pink, the fourth “suicide” victim. They could’ve made that a theme, they could have made the sociopath cab driver choose his victims on terms on their marital values, considering he’s been left by his wife. But the writers do not go down that road; they stop before making it seem easy. Damn, they’re awesome.
The titular Study in Pink is an obvious allusion to Sir Conan Doyle’s first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and it’s lovely how Moffat worked in some direct homage into the script: Anderson, one of the crime scene specialists, interprets the writing on the floorboards as “Rache”, the German word for ‘revenge’, as it is intended in the original story; and it is a cab driver responsible for the killings: he offers his victims the choice of two pills, and he does drive one of them to an abandoned house. The plot changes in aspects of choosing the victims; as our modern cabbie had no personal relationships with them or specific thirst for revenge—Moriarty simply gave him an opportunity to unleash himself on the people around him in order to outlive someone before his aneurism burst. Ah, Moriarty, you sneaky, fiendish public menace. By making him the Big Bad behind these serial killings, they present Holmes with an entirely new challenge, for he doesn’t even know Moriarty yet, they add a sense of foreboding to the following adventures of this contemporary Sherlock, and they establish that the character can remain hidden for as long as they want—the more suspense until we finally get to see his face, the better. Add to that Sergeant Donovan’s—isn’t she just a stuck-up, annoying cow, by the way? /rantmode—warning to Watson, that, one day, Holmes, the psychopath, was gonna get bored and become a murderer himself; and you get the impression someone, someday, was going to frame Holmes in a murder investigation; someone, a criminal mastermind they would have to be… like Moriarty, perhaps?
Although my theory on the cab driver is: he would’ve died anyway. If I’m right, then the two pills left in the bottle after the Lady in Pink takes hers are the two that are in each of the bottles the cabbie presents to Sherlock. Unless there’s been another victim in between, why would there be only one pill left in there now? For purposes of dramatization? Aesthetics? Question about that is, then: If those were the two pills, that would’ve been slightly unfair, so did Moriarty tell the cabbie to do that? The latter didn’t give a rat’s ass whether he died now or later; and Moriarty must have speculated on getting rid of him at some point—dead man tell no tales, after all—so why not like this? Question is, did Moriarty want Sherlock to die that soon? Was this one of many assassination attempts, or just a game? Does he want the challenge, the playing games, first, or did he want Sherlock to die sooner rather than later?
I got this via @robwillb on twitter:
This is pretty amazing. A fan asked Steven Moffat, “Isn’t Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who without the cool powers?” […] @steven_moffat’s response: Some would say it’s the other way round. But in fact it’s BOTH WAYS ROUND!!!!
And goodness me, yes! Wouldn’t be the first time that the Doctor got compared to Sherlock—or the Master to Moriarty, for that matter; just as there are Holmes-ish and Watson-ish interpretations for House and Wilson. Sherlock is so much more than the world he comes from, and he aspires to be more than a mere human being—such as House is more than your normal doctor, and the Doctor is more than your normal Time Lord. And that’s where Sherlock and the Doctor clash so wonderfully, with all their similarities: the Doctor loves the humans, he loves their tiny human lives—he does get annoyed with their tiny human brains, but in the end that’s just trifles—and with their help he becomes more than your standard old fart of a Time Lord. Sherlock, on the other hand, would dismiss stars and the TARDIS and alien planets as simply inconsequential to his life; he strives to leave tiny human brains behind for the sake of his own brilliance: by using logic, deduction and scientific reasoning, not with the help of a Sonic Screwdriver, an overactive imagination, and an overdose of ‘makeitupasyougalongeum’, as, I believe, Terry Pratchett once called it (thought that debate is a different matter entirely…). Both lack the superpowers the other embraces, yet they’re both so very much more than the people they belong to—and, mostly, than the people they happen to meet.
Sherlock: “Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains?It must be so boring!”
The Doctor: “Is this how time normally passes? Reeeaaally slowly—and in the right order!” (Vincent and the Doctor)
And the people they meet become their companions. Nevermind the danger, the carnage and the blood; he’s bloody fascinating, and they can’t resist. Who could? Add to that the explanations at break-neck speed and a delightful measure of arrogance (The Doctor: “I’m making perfect sense, you’re just not keeping up!”—The Hungry Earth) and you get a really Doctor-y feel from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s Sherlock.
But this John Watson is not what he’s often perceived to be: the sidekick, the foil to Holmes’ jokes. He’s more than that, he’s even got more conflict potential than the Wilson Who Disapproves of Your Shenanigans; if Sherlock’s like House, ’cause of the addiction and the brilliance, and the anti-social tendencies—then so’s this Watson. As Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, points out: he needs the danger to forget the pain in his leg—and which man of the medical profession do we know who needs interesting cases to, yes, forget the pain in his leg? It’s even on the same bloody side! “[He’s] not haunted by war… [he] miss[es] it.” In short, John, change your therapist and keep up the adrenalin, you’ll be fine.
Holmes, describing the shooter to Lestrade: “… nerves of steel—” (his gaze stays on Watson as he realizes who really saved his life)
Nerves of steel? An extraordinary marksman, determination up to his nose? Yep, that’s Watson. Of course, he’s less of a bastard than Holmes, and not nearly as addictive a mind as his brainy flat mate, but still. What makes him a bit Wilson-ish, though, is his acceptance of Holmes. Wilson befriended House when the latter bust him out of jail during that conference back in the day and has stuck with him until now, despite the issues they did have and still do—Watson is amazed by Holmes’ deduction skills, and unabashedly tells him so on numerous occasions: He’s fascinated with it, and he exclaims it instead of telling Holmes to “piss off”, which makes him unique amongst Sherlock’s acquaintances—of course Lestrade puts up with him, he has to, but John is simply intrigued. And loyal: not necessarily to Holmes, but on principle.
Mycroft: “What is your connection to Sherlock Holmes?” — Watson: “I don’t have one; I barely know him, I met him… yesterday.” — “Hmm, and since yesterday, you moved in with him, and now you’re solving crimes together. Might we expect a happy announcement by the end of the week?”
Apart from the fact how wonderfully dysfunctional Moffat managed to make this relationship between the two squabbling siblings by having the one brother look out for the other by pretending to recruit the unexpected new friend for some betrayal and spy work; this question posed by Mycroft highlights the shippyness of it all (is that even a word? Well, who gives a damn…)! Angelo thinks John’s Sherlock’s “date”, Mrs Hudson just assumes they’ll be sharing the flat as in sharing a bed, and Sherlock himself mistakes Watson’s inquiries as to his love life as an indicator of romantic interest. Who needs all the speculation and reading stuff into the old classics with Basil Rathbone (as much fun as it undoubtedly is!), when you can just confront the two with it in modern and sexually liberated London?
Also: ACTING GENIUS. Martin Freeman is no doubt aware of what it means, in terms of body language, when you look at someone’s lips while you’re talking to them. Exactly.
And however difficult Sherlock’s relationship with the fair sex might be, I’m sure he realizes that Molly, the medical examiner, has a huge crush on him, but just chooses to ignore it—and still pays her a compliment on how the lipstick made her lips look fuller. Either, that’s male insensitivity for you—despite all of which he is genuinely concerned for Watson’s well-being after the latter had just shot a man to rescue him, the man he’s known for about 24 hours — , or he just really was trying to be nice despite his disinterest. Considering his reaction to Watson’s inquiries, I think he noticed it was intended for him. Speaking of innuendo… well, I wasn’t but still: ‘Scrubbed his floor boards’—is that what they’re calling it now? Good thing they transported it into the 21st century, Victorian Holmes wouldn’t have been allowed to even think that!
Seeing as I’ve been cross-referencing TV series all over the place already anyway: Let me just say that Mycroft and his assistant, Anthea (we don’t get her real name, of course), give off a rather delightful John Steed and Emma Peel vibe, don’t they? He’s got an umbrella, a smart suit, a snarky demeanour when talking shop, and she’s got manicured hands, great hair, and tight-fitting, sophisticated black clothes. Ring-a-ding-ding?
For the closing comments of this review, one should remark on the following things:
- That sequence with Sherlock in the lab, shown as he’s explaining to John how he deduced he’d been a soldier in Afghanistan—it reminded me very strongly of the memory sequence in The Eleventh Hour, as the Doctor recalls all those images of events leading up to the confrontation with Prisoner Zero in the park.
- That thing they do, letting the contents of the texts Sherlock sends and the deductions he’s making while looking at the Lady in Pink’s body hover in the air next the actors is pure genius without becoming a nuisance. It lets the audience in on Sherlock’s immediate reasoning, not leaving everything unexplained until the genius decides to tell us about it. And all those floating Wrong!s were bloody funny.
The last, but definitely not least, remark of this review: the acting. There’s so much one could say on this, but, one, I’ve already rambled far too long, and, two, it actually is quite simple, simply because the actors, from lead roles to supporting cast, are so absolutely wonderful—so, here goes: I really like Graves’ DI Lestrade, I bloody love Cumberbatch’s Holmes, and, goodness, how awesome is Martin Freeman as Watson?
“You know, I’ve got a phone. Very clever, and all that, but, ah… you could just phone me. On my phone.”
If that’s not delightful delivery with a swagger, I don’t know what is.
Favourite Quotes (ah, there are way too many, but I’ll restrain myself):
Sherlock: “You’re a doctor. In fact, you’re an army doctor.” — Watson: “Yes.” — “Any good?” — “Very good.” — “Seen a lot of injuries, then; violent deaths.” — “Yes.” — “Bit of trouble, too, I bet.” — “Of course, yes. Enough for a lifetime, far too much.” — “Wanna see some more?” — “Oh, God, yes!”
Sherlock: “Aah, brilliant! Four serial suicides and now a note—this is Christmas!”
(Ahem… Christmas? Pale Venetian girls with fangs, anyone?)
Sherlock: “Ooh, that’s clever!—Is it clever? Why is it clever!?”
NEXT: The Blind Banker (sorry, title-mix-up last week… weird). Sunday, August 1, 20:30 on BBC One.