You might remember that last week’s Sherlock left me pretty down in the mouth. In particular, I was concerned that we weren’t getting enough plot to fill the 90-minute format, and that the episode made Sherlock and John into generic 21st century crimefighters. To a large extent, Mark Gatiss’ The Great Game showed a return to form, but it also left me feeling very uncertain about the show’s future.
Unsurprisingly, Gatiss craftily steered his plot around Canonical landmarks – combining material from The Bruce-Partington Plans and The Final Problem, slyly nodding toward The Five Orange Pips, A Scandal In Bohemia, A Study in Scarlet, The Musgrave Ritual and The Empty House. As we’ve come to expect, there were nods to the Rathbone films as well, with The Golem an homage to The Hoxton Creeper from The Pearl of Death and Moriarty’s puzzles for Holmes recalling The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Structured as a series of consecutive cases, these puzzles allowed us to see Sherlock and John at work in number of different environments. This was just what I wanted last week’s episode to do – give us a sense of how the two men work at different cases together, what roles they play, and how this shapes the rhythm of their lives together.
Cumberbatch and Freeman were on typically fine form, and given lots of nice character moments. John’s anger and frequent embarrassment at Sherlock’s dispassionate method were especially well performed. I was pleased to see Rupert Graves return and, given my previous reservations, was surprised at how effective Mark Gatiss was in his scenes as Mycroft. Stripped of the ‘is he Moriarty?’ conceit, Gatiss was suitably condescending. Una Stubbs was given just the right amount of screen time, but I felt sorry for poor Zoe Telford. I hope she’ll be written better in the next series.
I liked that Gatiss gave Sherlock some Victorian dialogue. You’ll remember I wasn’t keen on changing “the game is afoot” to “the game is on”. Cumberbatch is a good enough actor to make antiquated language sound appropriate for his Sherlock. So it was nice to hear him saying things like “ten-a-penny” and “meretricious”! Conversely, there were some updated elements that jarred – was I the only one to cringe at Cadogan West’s translation to ‘Westy’?
Paul McGuigan’s direction had settled down a lot from the first episode. I was especially impressed by the fight in the planetarium, which counterpointed Holst and Peter Davison’s dulcet tones in a blur of light and colour. The shot of West’s body carried away on the train was another nice composition. This episode’s score was excellent as well, with David Arnold and Michael Price’s brooding strings really adding to the menace.
Well, except for at one point. You know, the point where the woman off Peak Practice said “Moriarty” and the music went DOOM-DAH DOOM-DAH DOOM-DAH!!!
Ah, Moriarty. You really messed everything up, didn’t you? Why did the programme makers feel the need to use such an exaggerated effect? Surely Sherlock knew it was Moriarty who was behind all of this? We certainly did.
Maybe I’m being too much of a purist, but I can’t really see any connection between Conan Doyle’s master criminal and the hyperactive psychopath played by Andrew Scott. His flamboyance and aggressive craziness reminded me of John Simm’s Master, another poorly written pantomime villain. I suppose the intention was to contrast Cumberbatch’s measured sociopath with an unpredictable sadist. Unfortunately, Scott’s shouting and gurning made him seem like a kids TV presenter. I think a quieter actor would have been genuinely frightening, as opposed to the strained viciousness that we got. I didn’t believe in Moriarty’s silly childhood murder backstory and I hated his affected way of speaking. “Gotcha!”, “Boring!”, “Teensy!” This was pitifully bad writing.
So I’m left with decidedly mixed feelings about the future of the series. While much of The Great Game was good, I suspect the next series is going in a direction which will severely test my patience. I really do think this could be a classic interpretation of the tales, especially given the two wonderful leads. Moffat and Gatiss would do well to learn from Conan Doyle. His Professor Moriarty never appeared as a character in the Holmes stories. He was only ever talked about, a shadowy presence described in flashback. That’s why he’s been so pervasive as a character, that’s what makes him unique. If Sherlock is to fulfil its potential, it must be clever about what it retains of Conan Doyle, and what it discards. Otherwise, it will end up looking like every other show on television, a victim of its own iconoclasm.