The most highly-anticipated TV show of the last two years finally arrived on screen on New Year's Day, and promptly left viewers variously dazzled, dismayed and demanding answers after 90 blink-defying minutes of 'Sherlock'.
The reason for all the confusion? Because it turned out that Holmes and Watson's much-vaunted return to the Victoriana of Conan Doyle's original tales was a sleight of hand by writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. You could almost hear the chuckles of this cunning pair as, not content with a flurry of in-jokes, familiar faces, meta-references and hat-tipping to all that had gone before, they moved Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman between the past and present, courtesy of Sherlock's mobile mind palaces.
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch went back in time for Watson and Sherlock's latest case
The stuff going on in 1895 was comparatively straightforward - the everyday case of the abominable bride, a Miss Havisham-type ghostly figure, seemingly risen from the dead and intent on revenge. This section had all the elements of a glorious gothic romp, complete with misty mazes, creepy country piles and smoking pistols, but Sherlock's failure to solve the crime was telling. He was only led to the answer by Mrs Watson, a wannabe suffragette, and the whole story turned out to be married to that socio-political movement. In better news, for anyone who missed him taking on the government from the stage, it gave Holmes the chance to give a passionate speech joining 'right side' and 'history' of which Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican would be proud.
Except, that was Moriarty in the bride's frock, and none of this was real, because it was all taking place in one of Sherlock's mind palaces, that Doctor Whovian device whereby Messrs Moffat and Gatiss can do exactly what they want with their lead characters, in this case, tell a head-scratching one-off tale, while they wait for their two stars to pause making blockbusting films long enough to make a whole series.
Some viewers may have felt cheated by this turn of events, that the to-and-fro journey around Sherlock's mind did little to move the narrative forward, and there was clearly a satisfied archness to some of the goings-on. But there was also a sense of self-mockery, and overall fun to be had along the way, with both writers and director alerting us to the pastiche - corpses falling to the ground out of the story and onto Holmes' carpet, Mrs Hudson complaining about her lack of lines, and Mycroft growing to inexplicably Creosote-esque proportions.
Moriarty - inevitably - appeared, and the writers didn't even make him threatening this time around. He was ultimately dispensed with by a simple push from Watson's boot, after his Holmes exchanges that were one part creepy to three parts erotic, or at least a pantomime attempt at the latter.
Because that's what we were being given. Apart from those few tantalising glimpses of what lies ahead, those key words in Mycroft's notebook on the plane - who is Redbeard, I wonder? - this was a pantomime, a Christmas special, a one-off designed to keep the baying fans happy, while Messrs Gatiss and Moffat get their ducks in a row, or at least their A-list actors, for a proper, possibly final, flourish. In the meantime, Moriarty asked Holmes "Is this silly enough, gothic enough, dramatic enough?" and the answer was a resounding 'Yes, oh so much!'
Because this kind of arch posturing may have kept happy those many, hungry readers hanging on Mr Watson's every word in the Strand Magazine about his clever friend, but probably won't prove enough for the many more, far hungrier rest of us, out here in the 'real' world, who won't be content until, like Sherlock Holmes, we get our hands on a more potent, undiluted fix of this all-consuming concoction.
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