A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking ninety minutes of television.
It’s a case that sounds so simplistic, and yet proves to be anything but; summoned to the murder case of a young man, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) identifies another and far darker mystery. Six identical stone busts of Margaret Thatcher are being destroyed, one by one, yet lurking in the background is the betrayal of a woman whose secrets are about to explode, as past and present collide. Perhaps the only detractor from the BBC’s hugely successful adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is the infrequency of it’s airing, but for legions of dedicated followers, this action-packed season opener proves well worth the wait.
When last we left Sherlock, at the conclusion of the largely irrelevant Christmas special ‘The Abominable Bride’, Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) had a chilling message from beyond the grave: “Did you miss me?”. Pardoned for the murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen with the help of doctored security recordings and the never-ceasing influence of brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), the world-famous detective returns to the solitude of 221B Baker Street – awaiting the next chapter of his archnemesis’ posthumous game of revenge.
Tonally, the series has entered unfamiliar waters, as each of the central characters enters a critical phase in their development. For the eponymous hero, a sense of responsibility prevails to keep his beloved Watson family safe; a tether to the world of social obligations the high-functioning sociopath has spent years religiously avoiding. Whilst he expresses the possibility of becoming overconfident to Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) within the episode, quite the opposite seems to be the case. He’s suddenly very aware that his actions have consequences, and Sherlock feels the extra weight of his responsibilities.
Since the show’s last regular outing in 2014, Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington) and her dark past has been a central theme of the show; however, it’s the choices her husband John (Martin Freeman) makes in the present that adds a fascinating and unexpected layer to his personality. The moral freedom Sherlock and Watson enjoy can, to an extent, dull the moral spectrum of their actions, but John’s most recent mistake has an altogether relatable and human feel to it, and could serve to be his undoing. The series has returned as dark as ever, though the protagonists now serve to contribute to their own problems.
Technically-speaking, the series retains its polished, smooth feel. Transitional sequences have taken a step up in quality, and with episode writer Mark Gatiss and co-creator Steven Moffat scripting a drama of this calibre, it only adds further disbelief into the poor state of their other interests (Doctor Who must be looking in envy at the metaphorical cruise liner, as it sinks slowly into a sea of discarded television programmes). Once more, the writers are to be commended for their ability to turn a surprise, and even more so for the bravery to spin one so great this early into the series’ run. The action is well sustained over the course of ninety minutes, dovetailing the action sequences with plenty of classic Sherlock-style office chit-chat. It is the mark of a strong episode that the plot twist remains hidden in plain sight until the crucial moment – this episode certainly proves a triumph on that score.
Sherlock has awoken from its three-year hiatus an entirely different beast, yet with the same familiar feel to it. ‘The Six Thatchers’ proves a spellbinding watch from start to finish, delivered with aplomb by its strong cast. Gatiss’ script proves a triumph, though it remains to be seen if, under fire, co-creator Moffat can step up to the plate with next week’s installment. Viewers had expected a darker turn for the series’ central characters; few would have predicted how dark it would play out.
Sherlock continues this Sunday (8th January) with ‘The Lying Detective’.