Sherlock (BBC, 2010-2017), adapted by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
This review originally started out as a review of just Series 4 of Sherlock, and it wasn’t going to be a particularly positive piece. However, as I was planning out what I wanted to say, I was reminded of why I loved Sherlock in the first couple of series and I felt the need to write something a little more balanced. ‘The Final Problem’ felt like an ending (and if the series continues further I don’t think I will watch) so I decided to do a review of the series as a whole, discussing both the positive and negative aspects of this adaptation.
From the very first episode, the aspect of Sherlock which really stood out to me was the way in which Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories had been updated in ways which didn’t completely take over from the source text. It might sound hard to believe now, but when the series was first announced there were many who were unconvinced that it was possible to modernise Sherlock Holmes; the Victorian setting to the stories was seen as too integral to change. Yet the early episodes put this fear firmly to rest: the integration of modern technology and modern-day London was well-crafted and thoughtful, bringing the source texts into the contemporary world without drawing attention to the fact that it is a modernisation. The subtle differences in the cases made it a really fun watch for someone who knew the stories well; I was always on the lookout to see which moments from other Sherlock Holmes stories would be included.
Conan Doyle’s source material is characterised by clever cases with sprinklings of personal development throughout the narrative. As the series went on, one of the biggest issues became the fact that this balance was being completely ignored: from the end of one series to the beginning of another, Sherlock went from being a show that focused on the cases to being a show where the cases were almost irrelevant. This is far from just the personal preference of someone who leans more towards procedural dramas to character-based drama: I enjoy both genres. The issue for me is that, for all the outward cleverness Series 3 and 4 try to portray, it actually demonstrates somewhat lazy storytelling: it is much more of a challenge to deliver meaningful personal moments for each character over the course of a fascinating case than to return to the same personal storylines time and time again.
In all technical aspects, Sherlock is obviously an outstanding series. It contains some beautiful cinematography, bringing modern-day London to life with distinctive style and scenery. The soundtrack for the series has become rightly well-respected: it manages to maintain the balance between levity and tension which characterises the series. The most popular aspect of the show is obviously the characters and relationships, an aspect which is strengthened by the high quality of acting from all those involved. These technical aspects, combined with some fantastic writing in the early episodes, have created some of the strongest episodes of television in recent years. ‘The Great Game’, the final episode of Series 1, is one that immediately comes to mind as a good example of Sherlock at its best: delivering an intense case packed with meaningful moments that maintained the overall tone of the show.
Overall, I would definitely recommend the first couple of series, and I have done on many occasions. Although I myself had a multitude of issues with the later series, some of which are outlined here, many of my friends have enjoyed the whole series. Writing this review has reminded me of some of the aspects of this adaptation that I really enjoyed in the beginning, but I still feel that it wavered too far from the original source material by the end of the series.