A new episode of Sherlock is a rare treasure that only emerges once every blue moon and causes by its very existence a feverish excitement among its fanbase.
Two years on from the third season, we have a one-off special to tide us over.
‘The Abominable Bride’ carries off from where we left Sherlock in Season 3’s finale ‘His Last Vow’, having just heard that Moriarty is apparently back from the dead. High on a potent cocktail of drugs, Sherlock retreats into his Mind Palace in an attempt to solve a similar case from a century gone by; the case of Emelia Ricoletti, a bride who shot herself but somehow rose again.
First things first. ‘The Abominable Bride’ is, for the most part, hugely enjoyable. It’s a cheeky, intriguing murder mystery with characters we know and love in top hats and tails. It’s stuffed full of suspense, drama and humour; up to a certain point, it works, and works well.
In terms of humour, the relationship between Sherlock and John has always been a goldmine for comedy, and ‘The Abominable Bride’ carries on this tradition with vigour and glee.
‘Pass me your revolver, I have a sudden need to use it,’ Holmes responds in disgust to Watson’s attempts to probe into his personal life. Cumberbatch’s delivery is pitch perfect, and it’s one of many snigger-worthy moments in the special.
The ‘will he/won’t he’ possibility of Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty making an appearance in ‘The Abominable Bride’ has been a source of speculation for months now. Turns out he does indeed, and Scott continues to be the show’s biggest scene stealer. Personally, the greatest gift the special provides is the opportunity to see Jim Moriarty’s reaction upon being referred to as ‘shortarse’ by Sherlock Holmes. It’s nothing short (ha) of beautiful.
The case of the bride is spooky enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on the end. Her lilting, creepy song is genuinely unnerving, and I will hold my hands up and admit that I screamed like a banshee when she appeared behind Watson as he guarded the broken window. It harked back to the suspense and fear factor of Jeremy Brett’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
The links into the show as it is set in the modern times were enjoyable but I did wonder how they came across to the casual viewer, who perhaps hasn’t seen the previous season – or indeed, simply watched them when they came out anywhere between two and six years ago.
‘The Abominable Bride’ was greatly enjoyable as someone who has made an effort to keep up with Sherlock, but I imagine that much of it would be lost on people who haven’t followed the series intently.
That brings us to the main criticism of the special; the final 20 minutes or so see the plot shoot away like a runaway train and begin to career all over the place as the episode dips between reality and Sherlock’s Mind Palace. It gets confusing.
Sherlock spends much of the episode proving how Emelia Ricoletti managed to fake her death via a gunshot wound to her head, and yet this, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, seems to prove that Moriarty is definitely dead. Cue masses of speculation for Season 4.
The viewing figures will no doubt be great, but I’m not so keen on an hour and half episode leaving me, predominantly, with a sense of bewilderment.
Having said that, ‘The Abominable Bride’ was engaging, thrilling and fun. It just needed someone to pull the brakes every now and then and stop it wandering into what felt a little too much like Doctor Who territory at times. Despite that, the cast make the show; (deerstalker) hats off to them, because they were, as ever, a joy to watch.
Aired at 9pm on Friday 1 January 2016 on BBC One.
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