Filming and air date
Sherlock made superstars of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the result being that their other movie and TV commitments – most notably Cumberbatch's part as the villain in Star Trek sequel Into Darkness and Freeman's starring role in The Hobbit trilogy – have pushed back filming on series three.
Originally planned to begin this month, shooting has since been postponed until March. The good news? Co-creator Steven Moffat and his producer wife Sue Vertue say that will not impact the intended transmission date of autumn 2013.
In August, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss revealed three key words, one relating to each episode of the new series. They've also dropped other clues, and even a few facts. Here's what we know so far, plus a great deal of educated speculation...
Episode 1 – The Empty House/”Rat”
This is the episode we know the most about. Written by Mark Gatiss, it will answer the question every Sherlock fan is asking – “How did he survive the fall?” The solution was filmed at the same time as the setup and the detective’s death-defying plunge, and Martin Freeman tells us "All the clues were on screen. It's not going to be a cheat – everything that we saw on that final episode offers hints as to how he did it."
But how will Sherlock reveal himself to his friend, and how will John react? We already know from Gatiss (and common sense) that the episode will be based in part on The Adventure of the Empty House, the story in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes. In the original, the detective bumps into Dr Watson while disguised as a stooped, elderly book seller and only reveals himself once he’s finagled his way safely inside 221B Baker Street. We’ve already seen Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock do a bit of character acting (in The Blind Banker and A Scandal in Belgravia) so a disguise-and-reveal is a possibility. We also know Sherlock enjoys a bit of drama, which he can then puncture by acting aloof. And it’s such an iconic moment it would be a shame if Gatiss didn’t recreate it in some way.
What might be John’s reaction if he does? The literary Dr Watson faints at the sight of his friend's face, and is then simply overjoyed to see him, but Gatiss has strongly suggested that John is likely to be less understanding. "I always found it a little unlikely that Dr Watson's only reaction was to faint... as opposed to possibly a stream of terrible swear words," said Gatiss (and knowing John and Sherlock's history, a smack in the mouth is not out of the question either).
With unpleasantries out of the way and the duo back together, what’s next? In The Empty House, Holmes is on the run from Moriarty’s vengeful henchmen, in particular his second in command, bushy-moustached sharp-shooter Colonel Sebastian Moran, who is stationed in the house opposite with an air rifle waiting to blow Holmes’s brains out. When Sherlock fell to his “death” at the end of series two, the hitmen targetting John, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade packed up their guns but if they find out the detective is still alive they could be back. It would therefore seem imperative that Sherlock’s return is kept secret from the world until that issue is dealt with.
The next thing to consider is the possible significance of the word “Rat”. In Doyle story The Boscombe Valley Mystery, “Rat” turns out to be a fragment of a word which reveals the origin of a murderer. It’s also been suggested it could be a reference to “the giant rat of Sumatra,” a case which Holmes only alludes to in the original stories, calling it “a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” It’s possible that BBC viewers are not yet prepared for a giant rodent stalking the streets of London either and it's at this point we should remind ourselves of what Steven Moffat said after revealing the three words: "[they] may be misleading, are not titles, are only teases or possibly clues, but might be deliberately designed to get you into a lather."
Episode 2 – “Wedding”
Wedding? What wedding?! Whose wedding?! As much as some fans might like to see Sherlock forming a brainy-sexy power couple with “The Woman” Irene Adler (or making lab geek Molly Hooper’s dreams come true) it seems highly unlikely that the self-confessed “high-functioning sociopath” is in the market for long-term commitment with a member of the fairer sex (unless you count his lease with landlady Mrs Hudson).
John, on the other hand, could be a different matter. He’s been testing out various prospective partners throughout the series, and in the original stories Dr Watson does indeed settle down, with one Mary Morstan, heroine of novel The Sign of Four.
Weddings feature in some form in numerous other Sherlock Holmes stories, but the one that strikes me as most likely is The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, which not only sees Holmes attempting to prevent the ruthless society blackmailer from ruining some noble nuptials but also has the detective himself – in character, as a plumber – become engaged to Milverton’s maid in an attempt to extract information from her. It’s easy to see Moffat/Gatiss having Benedict Cumberbatch play this one for a few laughs, and what’s more, it involves one of the iconic Holmes criminals, such as Moffat has hinted might appear in the series: “There are other great villains in [the Conan Doyle books] that we want to visit.”
Episode 3 – His Last Bow?
Steven Moffat has confirmed that the final word is “bow” – as in bow out, rather than bow-tie – which immediately raises fears that this could be the end for Sherlock. As any Sherlock Holmes aficionado will know, His Last Bow is the name of Sherlock Holmes's final adventure (chronologically speaking, that is – 12 more were published afterwards, but all were set prior to it).
It sees the detective turn spy (he even gets a codename: Altamont) to help Britain in the war effort against Germany. Thankfully, we're not at war in 21st century Britain, but given Sherlock's connections to Whitehall it's not a massive leap to think that he might be called upon by Queen, country and brother Mycroft. Sherlock as a more cunning, less linguist, James Bond? I'd watch that.
Moriarty's dead, right? After all, it's hard to come back from a bullet through the brain. And Andrew Scott, who won a Bafta for his mesmerising performance as the consulting criminal, has told us as much several times. Thing is, he always seems to follow it with a maybe. “Moriarty is dead, dead, dead” he said unequivocally last time we interviewed him – “but nothing is impossible”...
Scott has even implied he's not against a return: “Mark and Steven are in charge of everything. They’re the bosses," he says. “They could have any number of things [planned]....”
Benedict Cumberbatch would presumably be all for it. After series two, he admitted “Sherlock is nothing without Moriarty”.
And if Sherlock can fake a deadly plunge, why can't Moriarty fake a suicide? Or perhaps we could be looking at flashbacks. Or dream sequences. Or… are we just desperately clutching at straws...?
Colonel Sebastian Moran
We know episode one is based at least partly on original story The Empty House, and we know that story features Moriarty's number two Colonel Sebastian Moran, "the second most dangerous man in London". It would be lovely to meet anyone who'd spent time as Moriarty's cohort – he's bound to be a bit special.
Charles Augustus Milverton
If Steven Moffat is considering the "other great villains" in Sherlock Holmes, he should look no further than Charles Augustus Milverton (see Episode 2), "the king of blackmailers" and "the worst man in London", according to the detective. So bad, in fact, that Holmes allows him to meet his end at the hands of one of his victims and subsequently refuses to help the police in tracking her down. Timothy Spall could make an excellently slimy CAM.