Sherlock’s major new nemesis Charles Augustus Magnussen made a surprise last-minute appearance in the opening episode of the third series tonight, as the detective drama returned to BBC1 after a two-year absence.
The new villain was not expected to feature until the season finale – although Martin Freeman told RadioTimes.com recently that hints about him might be dropped from the beginning – and many fans will have been wrong-footed when Magnussen was glimpsed at the very end of The Empty Hearse.
Viewers saw only his bespectacled eyes as he studied a screen showing the aftermath of John Watson’s near-death experience beneath a bonfire on 5 November. But to those familiar with Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen, star of The Killing – and particularly the now infamous publicity shot of the “terrifying” new villain – those eyes were unmistakeable.
The revelation suggests that Magnussen is likely to fill the role of Andrew Scott’s departed villain Moriarty in the new run and could be part of an unfolding story arc culminating in the season finale. Hints about a shadowy figure pervaded the first two episodes of season one of Sherlock, but Moriarty did not make himself known until the final minutes of the series.
Little is known about Mikkelsen's character but, in name at least, Charles Augustus Magnussen is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation Charles Augustus Milverton. Sherlock Holmes calls Milverton the "king of all blackmailers" and describes him as more distasteful than any of the many murderers he has encountered during his career.
Sherlock: The Sign of Three is at 8:30pm on Sunday 5 January on BBC1