*Spoiler Alert* Do not read if you have not seen the first episode!
Almost two years have passed since ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ shocked fans of Sherlock with the ‘death’ of one of television’s most charismatic characters and the subsequent reveal of this being a trick designed to fool Moriarty’s accomplices. Feverish speculation over how Sherlock faked his death was rife following the finale of series 2, with many theories developed, some ridiculous, some completely absurd. Therefore it was apt that a fair portion of the opening episode of series 3; ‘The Empty Hearse’ was devoted to various theories of how the deception was accomplished.
The opening theory, involving wires, a fake Sherlock mask, Molly (A Sherlock kiss – Surely not!) and Derren Brown was swiftly revealed as the wild speculation of Anderson; the founder of ‘The Empty Hearse’. The somewhat less convincing theory, revealed by another member of ‘The Empty Hearse’, involved a sniggering Sherlock and Moriarty conspiring to trick John, followed by a gay embrace in a sly nod to Sherlock fan fiction. The final theory, and the explanation offered up by Sherlock himself to Anderson explained that Sherlock had used a giant inflatable to break his fall, a body double and a ball placed under his armpit to momentarily hide his pulse.
This was all very clever television and it is true that any number of explanations could have been offered up to satisfy the conundrum. However, such wild speculation always leads to a sense of disappointment at the reveal and the writer Mark Gatiss acknowledged this through Anderson who also seemed to be dissatisfied with the explanation. By this point though Sherlock had disappeared, leaving Anderson and Sherlock fans wondering as to whether this was indeed the true story of events.
Also central to the episode was the reconciliation of Sherlock with Watson, and in typical fashion this was done with as little sensitivity as possible; with Sherlock springing the surprise on Watson just as he was about to propose to this new girlfriend Mary. The funniest scenes of the episode revolved around the dynamic relationship between Sherlock and Watson, and Sherlock himself was back on top form by the end of the episode, manipulating Watson into confessing how much he missed him whilst he was ‘dead’.
It is also testament to the series that even in an episode largely dedicated to re-establishing the status quo between Holmes and Watson, the main storyline involving a secret terrorist underground threat to London did not feel neglected. The danger felt every bit as real as in all previous episodes and though the finale revealed there is likely bigger danger to come, the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament lead to some fantastically tense moments towards the episode’s climax. In particular, one scene where Watson had to be rescued from a bonfire by Sherlock was edge of the seat television. Watson’s abductors were later revealed to be the same people involved in the terrorist threat. It is unclear at the end of the episode as to why this occurred, but it is expected this will be revealed over the next two episodes of the series. The walk through the deserted tunnels of the underground and the scene aboard a tube car were also terrific television and it was clear that this was Sherlock back in his element.
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch have both gone on to star in hugely successful films since Sherlock was last on television. Whilst this means that the series is still limited to small 3-episode runs, it does not detract from its quality. Both actors claim they love starring in Sherlock and so it seems likely to be renewed in future. The next two episodes are likely to build on the first and get better and better: this is one of the BBC’s best series and should not be missed.
Sherlock is on next Sunday 5th January 2014. The first episode is available on iPlayer.