At just after 8:10pm on New Year’s Day, a dominatrix was revealed to be disciplining a member of the royal family with a riding crop. What a saucy start to 2012! But then this was Irene Adler, known to Sherlock Holmes (and also here to her extensive client base) as “THE woman”.
Despite the teasing and thrashing, it was notable how closely Steven Moffat’s reworking of A Scandal in Bohemia followed the heartbeat of Conan Doyle’s original. We had the clergyman disguise, the ruse of a potential fire, the use of Adler’s “goodnight, Mr Sherlock Holmes” and a keepsake by which the detective could remember his adversary - only here it was a phone rather than a photograph.
The big added element was the possibility of Sherlock sublimating his desire. In Conan Doyle’s words, Irene Adler is to Holmes the one woman who “eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex”, but this is mainly due to her powers of deduction rather than seduction. In Moffat’s screenplay, Adler’s charms were presented a little more overtly, most notably in her naked entrance and the orgasmic sounds of her text alerts.
So, in the face of so much blatant flirtation, did we believe Sherlock when he went on to dismiss sentiment as a “chemical defect” and love as a “dangerous disadvantage”?
Note that it was he who infiltrated a terrorist cell in Karachi in order to save this most notorious of femmes fatales from being beheaded. Yet maybe this act of heroism was also consistent with the traditional Holmes of old. After all, that erotic charge appeared to be sparked by Irene Adler’s potential to outsmart him. She’s no fool and was certainly on to something when she stated that “brainy is the new sexy”.
"Brainy" is also a word that could be used to describe this episode in general, with Moffat piecing together a terrifically complex panorama over the course of 90 minutes. One of the biggest joys came from seeing how seemingly throwaway jokes, such as the succession of clients who paraded through 221B, were tied into Mycroft’s grand plan.
These moments also offered up some wonderfully sly Sherlockian puns – the Geek Interpreter being particularly inspired. The one bum note was the repeated use of the word “cameraphone”, surely an outmoded term in the era of apps?
Very much up-to-the-minute, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of Holmes. Sherlock may have the social graces of the Duke of Edinburgh (poor pathologist Molly) but the way he cracked the case in the time it took Watson to put his cup of tea from lips to table was thrilling.
Thank heavens we’re actually allowed to watch him deduce, which is more than can be said for Robert Downey Jr’s big-screen incarnation, who’s become little more than an expert fight choreographer.
The BBC’s Sherlock may exhibit those same cold, calculating machine-like traits but there is some suggestion that there is also a human being lurking underneath. Just look at the way he consoled a terrified Mrs Hudson, who’d just been roughed up by some CIA thugs – “England would fall”, he stated, should she ever leave Baker Street.
In the space of just four episodes, Cumberbatch has certainly done enough to earn that deerstalker (and Martin Freeman his cheese cutter), so let’s hope they keep up the high quality when they encounter a certain fearsome hound.