Monday, 6 January 2014

Review: Sherlock - The Sign of Three

'What's wrong? Why are they all doing that? John? Did I do it wrong?'

Sherlock continued its newly-found mystery-lite, character-heavy sensibility yesterday with ‘The Sign of Three’, that was a near all-out comedy outing for Sherlock and friends. Like 'The Lodger' did for Doctor Who, this episode takes a break from the normal puzzlebox murder mysteries to take a light-hearted approach to Sherlock Holmes' world. 

This can be summed up by the cold opening of the episode alone. Thanks to a lengthy scene, we find out that Lestrade and his team have been tracking down a gang of bank robbers for months. On the verge of catching them, Lestrade is called to Baker Street – to help Sherlock with his best man speech!

Full of frantic storytelling, ‘The Sign of Three’ at times felt more like a series of sketches than a congealed plot. However, you can forgive it that as this episode really was a party. Rather than the mystery of the gigantic hound or the problem of the demanding dominatrix, this was definitely the case of the worrisome wedding with the detectiving all but pushed into flashback sequences filtered through.

Though you might have expected an episode set on John and Mary’s wedding day to be dedicated to the love of the bride and groom, this adventure serves more as a testament to the friendship between Sherlock and John, being the first time John categorises the detective as his ‘best friend’ and even Sherlock waxes sentimental about ‘brave and courageous’ John. Something this series seems keen to show us is that, yes, even Sherlock has feelings!

Apart from the script from all three of the show’s writers, another element ensured this episode was strategically balanced between sweet and funny instead of mawkish; the cast, as always, were excellent. The acting genius of Benedict Cumberbatch can never be praised enough but here he has the hour and a half even more under his command than normal (particularly during his supersized yet poignant and funny best man speech). Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington are also brilliant, with Abbington continuing to fit perfectly in to the Sherlock family. And how wonderful to get more from Una Stubbs as she details what the elusive Mr Hudson was really like… 

The only big flaw is that there wasn't enough of the tight drama that has typified the show up until now, however that does seem crass when the episode so clearly does what it sets out to do. A comic highlight being the stag do in which Sherlock and John have to solve a case while drunk! A great example of the sitcom tone that this episode goes for. If this was done during Series 2, you can imagine Moriarty being booed off the stage, hissing. It turns out Sherlock is as good at doing belly laughs as it at drama.

Speaking of drama, there is a worry that with all this humour derived from sticking Sherlock in human situations it could lessen his character. Thankfully, the final moment was a necessary reminder of who our hero really is. Sherlock Holmes is not a man who dances at a social occasion, he is the man who walks away from one. He may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that he is one …

I imagine many fans will have a problem with this episode, however, I think it thoroughly deserves its place in Sherlock’s own canon. In previous series, we've had a hard-and-fast mystery in 'The Blind Banker', a horror story in 'The Hounds of Baskerville' and 'The Reichenbach Fall' gave us a thriller. We needed a love story, full of humour and heart. And that is exactly what 'The Sign of Three' gave us. 

Three favourite Sherlockian references:

  • John's middle name of Hamish, previously mentioned in 'A Scandal in Belgravia', is based on a long-held fan theory rather than Conan Doyle origin. The idea comes from the fact that, as mentioned in my previous post, Mary Morstan once called her husband James instead of John. Coupled with John's middle initial being given as H, Sherlockians put the two together and decided the H stood for Hamish (Scottish for James).
  • During Sherlock's speech, we see a brief glimpse of a unchronicled case, The Poison Giant, featuring a dwarf with a blowpipe. This is directly inspired by the story from which this episode is loosely based, 'The Sign of the Four' in which Jonathan Small hires his 'small companion', native to the Andaman Islands, to deal with his enemies. You can read John's own write-up of the case here.
  • Sherlock decrees his 'last vow' to John and Mary, to keep them safe. While such a vow is not found in the canon, there is a story titled 'His Last Bow', which sees Holmes retire from investigating. As this is the title of next week's episode could Sherlock really be about to hang up his deerstalker for good? We'll find out next Sunday...

P.S. Happy 160th birthday, Sherlock Holmes!

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