Sherlock is a British mystery crime drama television series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson. Thirteen episodes have been produced, with four three-part series airing from 2010 to 2017 and a special episode that aired on 1 January 2016. The series is set in the present day, while the one-off special features a Victorian period fantasy resembling the original Holmes stories. Sherlock is produced by the British network BBC, along with Hartswood Films, with Moffat, Gatiss, Sue Vertue and Rebecca Eaton serving as executive producers. The series is supported by the American station WGBH-TV Boston for its Masterpiece anthology series on PBS, where it also airs in the United States. The series is primarily filmed in Cardiff, Wales, with North Gower Street in London used for exterior shots of Holmes and Watson’s 221B Baker Street residence.
Sherlock has been praised for the quality of its writing, acting, and directing. It has been nominated for numerous awards including Emmys, BAFTAs and a Golden Globe, winning several awards across a variety of categories. The show won in three categories at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Cumberbatch, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Freeman and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special for Moffat. Two years later, it won Outstanding Television Movie. In addition, the show was also honoured with a Peabody Award in 2011. The third series became the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001. Sherlock has been sold to 180 territories.
All of the series have been released on DVD and Blu-ray, alongside tie-in editions of selected original Conan Doyle stories and an original soundtrack composed by David Arnold and Michael Price. In January 2014, the show launched its official mobile app called Sherlock: The Network.
Moffat and Vertue became interested in casting Cumberbatch as the title character after watching his performance in the 2007 film Atonement. The actor was cast after reading the script for the creative team. The part is modelled as a charismatic secondary psychopath or “High functioning sociopath” as Sherlock self-describes, unlike Doyle’s rendering as a primary psychopath, thereby allowing more opportunity or ambiguity for traits of empathy. “Cumberbatch”, says The Guardian, “has a reputation for playing odd, brilliant men very well, and his Holmes is cold, techie, slightly Aspergerish”. Cumberbatch said, “There’s a great charge you get from playing him, because of the volume of words in your head and the speed of thought—you really have to make your connections incredibly fast. He is one step ahead of the audience and of anyone around him with normal intellect. They can’t quite fathom where his leaps are taking him.” Piers Wenger, head of drama at BBC Cymru Wales, described the series’s rendering of Sherlock as “a dynamic superhero in a modern world, an arrogant, genius sleuth driven by a desire to prove himself cleverer than the perpetrator and the police—everyone in fact”. Addressing changing social attitudes and broadcasting regulations, Cumberbatch’s Holmes replaced the pipe with multiple nicotine patches. The writers believed that Sherlock should not talk like “a completely modern person”, says Moffat, but were initially intent that “he never sounded like he’s giving a lecture”. Moffat turned the character “more Victorian” in the second series, capitalising more on Cumberbatch’s “beautiful voice” to make it sound like “he’s giving a lecture”.
In an interview with The Observer, co-creator Mark Gatiss says that they experienced more difficulty finding the right actor to play Dr John Watson than they had for the title character. Producer Sue Vertue said, “Benedict was the only person we actually saw for [the part of] Sherlock… Once Benedict was there it was really just making sure we got the chemistry for John [Watson]—and I think you get it as soon as they come into the room, you can see that they work together”. Several actors auditioned for the part of Watson, and Martin Freeman eventually took the role. Steven Moffat said that Matt Smith was the first to audition unsuccessfully. He was rejected for being too “barmy”, as the producers required someone “straighter” for Watson. Shortly after, Moffat cast Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who.
The writers said that Freeman’s casting developed the way in which Cumberbatch played Holmes. The theme of friendship appealed to both Gatiss and Moffat. Gatiss asserted the importance of achieving the correct tone for the character. “Watson is not an idiot, although it’s true that Conan Doyle always took the piss out of him”, said Gatiss. “But only an idiot would surround himself with idiots.” Moffat said that Freeman is “the sort of opposite of Benedict in everything except the amount of talent… Martin finds a sort of poetry in the ordinary man. I love the fastidious realism of everything he does.” Freeman describes his character as a “moral compass” for Sherlock, who does not always consider the morality and ethics of his actions.
Rupert Graves was cast as DI Greg Lestrade. The writers referred to the character as “Inspector Lestrade” during development until Gatiss realised that in contemporary England the character would have the title “Detective Inspector”. Moffat and Gatiss pointed out that Lestrade does not appear often in the stories and is quite inconsistently portrayed in them. They decided to go with the version that appeared in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”: a man who is frustrated by Holmes but admires him, and whom Holmes considers as the best person at Scotland Yard. Several candidates took a comedic tack in their auditions, but the creative team preferred the gravitas that Graves brought to the role. His first name is revealed to be Greg in “The Hounds of Baskerville”.
Andrew Scott made his first appearance as Jim Moriarty in “The Great Game”. Moffat said, “We knew what we wanted to do with Moriarty from the very beginning. Moriarty is usually a rather dull, rather posh villain so we thought someone who was genuinely properly frightening. Someone who’s an absolute psycho.” Moffat and Gatiss were originally not going to put a confrontation between Moriarty and Holmes into these three episodes, but after seeing Scott’s audition they realised that they “just had to do a confrontation scene. We had to do a version of the scene in ‘The Final Problem’ in which the two archenemies meet each other.”
The remainder of the regular cast includes Una Stubbs (who has known Cumberbatch since he was four years old, as she had worked with his mother Wanda Ventham) as Mrs Hudson and co-creator Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes. Vinette Robinson, Jonathan Aris and Louise Brealey play the recurring roles of Sergeant Sally Donovan, Philip Anderson and Molly Hooper, respectively.
Amanda Abbington, Freeman’s then-real life partner, plays Mary Morstan, Watson’s girlfriend and eventual wife. In series three, Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton, Cumberbatch’s actual parents, are introduced as Sherlock and Mycroft’s parents.
Guest appearances included Phil Davis as Jefferson Hope, Paul Chequer as DI Dimmock, Zoe Telford as Sarah, Gemma Chan as Soo Lin Yao, John Sessions as Kenny Prince, Haydn Gwynne as Miss Wenceslas, Deborah Moore as one of Moriarty’s victims and Peter Davison as the voice-over in the planetarium. Series two’s “A Scandal in Belgravia” featured Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, while “The Hounds of Baskerville” featured Russell Tovey as Henry Knight. In the final episode of series two, the role of Rufus Bruhl was played by Edward Holtom, while Katherine Parkinson played journalist Kitty Riley. The first episode of series three featured Derren Brown.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock Holmes fans with experience of adapting or using Victorian literature for television, devised the concept of the series. Moffat had previously adapted the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the 2007 series Jekyll, while Gatiss had written the Dickensian Doctor Who episode “The Unquiet Dead”. Moffat and Gatiss, both Doctor Who writers, discussed plans for a Holmes adaptation during their numerous train journeys to Cardiff where Doctor Who production is based. While they were in Monte Carlo for an awards ceremony, producer Sue Vertue, who is married to Moffat, encouraged Moffat and Gatiss to develop the project themselves before another creative team had the same idea. Moffat and Gatiss invited Stephen Thompson to write for the series in September 2008.
Gatiss has criticised recent television adaptations of the Conan Doyle stories as “too reverential and too slow”, aiming instead to be as irreverent to the canon as the 1930s and 1940s films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which were mostly set in the then-contemporary interwar era. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock uses modern technology, such as texting, the internet and GPS to solve crimes. Paul McGuigan, who directed two episodes of Sherlock, says that this is in keeping with Conan Doyle’s character, pointing out that “[i]n the books he would use any device possible and he was always in the lab doing experiments. It’s just a modern day version of it. He will use the tools that are available to him today in order to find things out.”
The update maintains various elements of the original stories, such as the Baker Street address and Holmes’s adversary Moriarty. Some of these elements are transposed to the present day: for example, Martin Freeman’s Watson has returned from military service in Afghanistan. While discussing the fact that the original Watson was invalided home after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80), Gatiss realised that “[i]t is the same war now, I thought. The same unwinnable war.”
Sherlock was announced as a single 60-minute drama production at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in August 2008, with broadcast set for mid- to late 2009. The intention was to produce a series of six 60-minute episodes should the pilot prove to be successful. The first version of the pilot—reported by The Guardian to have cost £800,000—led to rumours within the BBC and wider media that Sherlock was a potential disaster. The BBC decided not to transmit the pilot, requesting a reshoot and a total of three 90-minute episodes. The original pilot was included on the DVD of the first series. During the audio commentary, the creative team said that the BBC were “very happy” with the pilot but asked them to change the format. Critic Mark Lawson observes that the pilot that was on air was “substantially expanded and rewritten, and completely reimagined in look, pace and sound”. In July 2009, the BBC drama department announced plans for three 90-minute episodes, to be broadcast in 2010. Moffat had previously announced that if a series of Sherlock was commissioned, Gatiss would take over the duties of executive producer so that he could concentrate on producing Doctor Who.
25 July 2010
- E01 – “A Study in Pink”
- E02 – “The Blind Banker”
- E03 – “The Great Game”
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