The BBC have published a DVD with all three episodes of Sherlock that have been transmitted so far, and said DVD contains the unaired pilot episode for the series: A Study in Pink, roughly 55 minutes long, directed by Coky Giedroyc. This review is made of spoilers for both episodes, so unless you’ve been living on Pluto for the last few weeks and haven’t seen the actually transmitted version, or if you still want to see the unaired pilot without having any idea, you might want to avoid reading this. If you don’t care either way, follow me!
Definitions: When I say pilot, I mean, well, the pilot; when I say episode, I mean the one that actually aired, the 90-minute one. Just to help any confusion that might arise due to incessant rambling and very long sentences.
First, the casting. There’s only one difference: Sgt. Donovan is played by another actress, and it was a good choice to recast―the actress playing her in the 90-minute episode is much more obnoxious and stuck-uppy cow-y. Which was, I think, the intended effect. Anderson, the leading forensic expert (and Donovan’s adulterous part-time boyfriend), always played by Johnathan Aris, had a beard back then, though, and glasses. I think his snide face and nose come out better in the actual episode, here it’s kind of obstructed from view.
There are further visual differences: locations and interior designs have changed, and the costumes, too―Sherlock is already wearing the silk shirts and his long coat and scarves, but also rather skinny Levi’s jeans instead of fancy suit pants. John hasn’t gotten his granny sweaters yet, all in all he’s dressed more stylishly, particularly in that light brown leather, less military style jacket. DI Lestrade is wearing ties, too. Ugh, makes him seem much too up-tight. Oh, and Mrs Hudson wears the most hideous blouse EVER. Speaking of, is that always her snack bar? Can’t remember it from the first episode. The flat itself is very mauve, not good, really not good (Doctor Who fans will now what I’m on about; intergalactic emergencies; all those red alerts, all that dancing)—but the animal’s head with the headphones survived, which is good. John’s little place is as sparse as ever, but with the lighting, it seems warmer. That’s the thing with the entire series: the lighting in this pilot is much different from the three episodes, not as cool, not as sophisticated, one might say.
Of course, the plot has changed significantly over the course of two productions, all due to extended length, the rewriting of a few scenes, and re-interpretation by the increasingly awesome actors―leads and supporting cast alike. Everyone takes a bit more time, tones it down a notch, and that works really well. The acting in the pilot is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but everyone seems a bit unsure about where they’re standing, whereas everyone just bloody knows in 1.01.
One significant loss that one has to point out: no Mark Gatiss acting as the red herring of the first episode—Mycroft. No Steed & Emma Peel vibe, no kidnapping John, no throwing his loyalty into our faces. Bugger!
The police are already treating the suicides as killings, Sherlock figures out who the murderer is when he’s in the restaurant with John, instead of running after a cab for five minutes and later spinning in circles, shouting ‘Rachel’. The entire twist with Rachel, the latest victim’s daughter, is missing, of course, as is the drugs bust (damn!). Jeff, the murderous cabbie, is now working on his own, no sponsor, no kids, no Moriarty, for God’s sake, and the cabbie’s now got a criterion by which he chooses his victims, whereas he later has a gun to make people go where he wants them to, even if they do know they’re going the wrong way.
Thus, the entire situation around Sherlock being abducted changes―in the pilot, we can’t know whether he really would’ve gotten into the taxi, or whether his plan was to stay on top of the situation and generate enough of an audience to be safe when he confronted the murderer. In the first episode version, the point of Sherlock being willing to risk his own life in order to prove he’s clever is driven home more effectively, while this scenario emphasizes John’s astuteness and that Sherlock “underestimated him.”
It also emphasizes at which point John loses his limp―in the pilot, he loses it for the first time when Sherlock’s in danger. One might think that this would hold greater significance which disappeared in the actual episode, which would have been a pity, but that’s really not the case: the episode plays it more subtly. In 1.01, John’s on his way away from the GPS tracing, thinking he’d better take his cane. He then hears the tracing thing beeping, realizes Sherlock’s in deep shit, and rushes off, sans cane. And it makes its point, but without the very-very-obvious close-up of the cane when this first occurs, which both productions employ.
The rescue is something else that’s been worked differently in the two versions: in the pilot, it’s sneakier. We don’t see John getting into the building opposite of 221b, trying, perhaps, to shout out at Sherlock, we didn’t see John grabbing his army revolver when he went to his flat (before being ordered across London ‘cause Sherlock wanted to send a text). The scene had shock-value in 1.01, but the pilot does it even better―complete with blood splatter on Sherlock’s neck and chin. Oh my.
Seeing that I’m talking about John so much anyway: the dynamic between the two flat-mates is quite different from what we saw in the episode. John’s less stoic, less minimalistic in his facial expressions, and more antagonistic towards Sherlock―he openly mocks him about his website, The Science of Deduction. This John is jumpier, almost… too loud. In the actual first episode, both Sherlock and John are much calmer, and John is not necessarily more accepting of Sherlock’s methods, but his reactions are more inscrutable, more guarded. He conveys his opinion about Sherlock’s blog in one slightly teasing look and the raise of an eyebrow, which is amazingly more impressive than words could ever be―all hail Martin Freeman―and much better than condescension. It’s as if the friction from filming the pilot had been polished into affectionate exasperation, as if Cumberbatch and Freeman had reconsidered their footing and decided, with a bit of added input from the writers, that more calm would do their delivery some good. Which is absolutely true: the wanna see some more dialogue in the pilot seems so rushed, the actors’ chemistry doesn’t come out as well; the way they did it in 1.01 is much more seductive, for lack of a better cliché, and shows much better how Sherlock, again, CALMLY lures John into accompanying him. In the pilot, Sherlock hasn’t quite found his piercing stare; John’s “Oh God, yes” is just too… rushed. Not significant enough.
In general, Sherlock’s very chuckly and perky in the pilot, and his speech less accentuated, his deduction lectures less concise, not as clinical as in the “new” episodes. He’s too.. friendly, for God’s sake. Too much of an ordinary young man even, sometimes. He holds himself quite differently in the 90-minute episodes, he’s less imposing in the pilot, and possesses too much social grace. Also, the caring lark: When he tells John to examine the Lady in Pink and they have that argument about helping to pay the rent instead of making a point, but proving a point being more fun, Sherlock admonishes John that he better stop talking and get to it, otherwise there’d be more victims. In 1.01 he gives a caustic retort about “there’s a woman lying dead” being “a perfectly sound analysis,” but that he’d hoped John would go deeper; which suits him much better. He doesn’t particularly care about more victims, as Jeff points out later, the result he wants is to know how and why the killer did it. Something like “keep talking and there’ll be more” is what Lestrade or John himself might say to him; which is what they pretty much did when they shouted at him to bloody SAY what identified the painting as a fake in The Great Game in order to save the kid, whom Sherlock seemed to have forgotten about as he was so caught up in admiring the beauty of it.
What’s missing, too: John and Sherlock’s giggling. Although they’re both more generally bubbly in the pilot, they don’t laugh together as much as they do in the episode, in which it poses a nice contrast to their respective usual behaviour―Sherlock’s aloofness and John’s guardedness. Of course, it’s a question of running time, but still.
Something else that bugs me about John: the lunch with Mike Stamford in that apparently rather fancy restaurant. He’s sitting there quite comfortably, but considering he doesn’t really have the budget for it, I’d rather think he wouldn’t want to go there, saving himself the embarrassment of Mike covering the bill; which is why, I suppose, the lunch morphed into coffee to go on the park bench.
Well, I’m babbling about what’s missing in the pilot, but what about stuff that was in the pilot that would’ve been lovely in the episode?
For one thing, the conversation John and Sherlock had towards the end. John’s more forward about admitting he saved Sherlock’s life, and this would’ve gone so well in the actual episode, even with John’s more restrained attitude, I think:
“I’ve seen men die before, good men. Friends of mine. I thought I’d never sleep again. I’ll sleep fine tonight.”
Another bit that should’ve stayed is the part of their stake-out-mistaken-for-a-date conversation when Sherlock quips that eating and a social life, etc., are just “transport”; the brain is what counts. It gives a glimpse into the recklessness with which Sherlock handles his health, more than his “digestion slows me down.” Besides, John informing Lestrade that he’s Sherlock’s “doctor” is adorable―especially in immediate contrast to the “nobody” answer he’d given Sgt. Donovan just hours before.
Moffat, by the way, has a knack for making people terrified of perfectly ordinary things that are, in almost 100% of the cases, perfectly harmless. Statues, cracks in walls, kids, shadows… now, it’s cabs. Although, for me, it’s more of nurturing some irrational fear I’ve always had―I’ve never liked getting a cab alone, and now, after watching this? Hell, no. Never.
There are cars that pass like ghosts, unseen, unremembered. There are people we trust, always, when we’re alone, when we’re lost, when we’re drunk. We never see their faces, but every day, we disappear into their cars and let the trap close around us. […] I give you the perfect murder weapon of the modern age: the invisible car―the London cab.
Cumberbatch, for this monologue, I both hate and love you.
Other than that: Sherlock’s relationship with Lestrade has changed, too. In the pilot, Lestrade calls Sherlock first thing after seeing the fourth victim, and the writers make a bit of a show of Sherlock ignoring his calls, his e-mails; it suggests history… until Lestrade shows up on his doorstep, practically begging for help. Much, much different from the way Sherlock starts pestering Lestrade about actually coming to him for help about the Lady in Pink. It’s Lestrade who goads Sherlock about whether he’d chosen the right pill―he knows which buttons to push and he teases Sherlock by happily pushing them; and he rips the page out of his notepad because he realizes Sherlock had opted to protect John from being investigated. In the episodes, he doesn’t know the young genius so well, it’s more like he’s still fishing. He might know about the history of chemical stimulants in Sherlock’s household, but he’s not sure, it seems; and he teases him about not knowing that the Earth goes around the sun, but that’s something he read in John’s blog. There’s a lot more friction and history between the two in the pilot, in the episode Lestrade tells John that he pretty much doesn’t know Sherlock at all―no, dammit, because John is the one meant to really get to him. Besides, the reluctance Lestrade shows to let Sherlock in works better with his very grudging admission that he needs him―if he actually spent half his time with trying to get Sherlock to help him, that would make his admonitions and lectures (“I’m breaking every rule letting you in here!” – “Yeah, because you need me!”) seem like a half-arsed attempt to save his face and regain power when he really knows he doesn’t have any, not over Sherlock―that would make Lestrade seem a crooked deal, and Rupert Graves doesn’t play him that way. He’s in desperate need of Sherlock’s help, fine, but he’s not just a bumbling idiot.
All in all, this was enjoyable, but not as absolutely fucking awesome as 1.01. 90 minutes do the pacing, the plot, and the characters more justice; and it’s noticable that the actors have made so much more of their characters and their timing after being given a second go at the same script.
And, goodness, the new opening credits are so much better. 😀
There are three cute nods to the canon, by the way:
One, the email Sherlock sends to Mycroft (“When we have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains―however improbable―must be the truth.”); two, the email Sherlock sends to Gregson, who’s Lestrade rival in the Met―a bit like what Litton is to Gene Hunt, if you will―and three, THIS:
Very much Hound of the Baskervilles, in which Holmes looks out for Watson in the moor, getting caught by his friend when he stands on a hill, backed by the moon. Also: Sherlock’s Batman. Just saying.
Favourite Quotes, Random Thoughts and Loose Ends:
- Mrs Hudson’s very obvious, very huge wink at John nearly killed me.
- Look―Sherlock’s a bloody genius. He should know John was shot in the left shoulder, somehow. Not go, ‘aaah!’ when John tells him. They got that right in the ep, though.
- “Whatever shakes your…. boat.” – Yes, John, do shut up. *facepalm*
- Sherlock’s history of drug abuse is worked into both scripts: “Do a lot of drugs?” – “Not in a while.” – “Well, you’re very resilient.” in the pilot, “Still the addict!” in the episode.
- When the cabbie tells Sherlock he’ll be “as weak as a kitten” for at least an hour, and that he could do anything to him in that state―Me: Moffat, you’re one naughty perv―Sherlock sits up―cue sneaky peek of his underpants. Me: Gulp. Good thing I know where this is going, or I’d be worried I’d somehow landed in a Torchwood repeat.
- Comment from a friend of mine: “They had to re-do it―Sherlock can NOT wear a blue forensic suit!” Right she is!
- Angelo, by the way, is Luigi from Ashes to Ashes―kept his obsession to partner off his patrons, it would seem. And I loved the Headless Nun bit.