On Monday evening, slightly less than a fortnight before it’s due to air on New Year’s Day on BBC1, an assembled group of press, BBC bigwigs, celebrities and the occasional politician sat down to watch The Six Thatchers, the first episode of Sherlock for a year and the opener to a new three-part series.
More than ever, there is a real determination to ensure that key plot points do not leak out ahead of broadcast. Before the screening, BBC director-general Tony Hall asked everyone in the audience to avoid sharing spoilers. Then Sherlock creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat got up on stage to do the same. Twice. They did it again during the Q&A afterwards. There may or may not have been death threats attached. So you definitely won’t find any major spoilers here. But I can provide a general view on the episode and tell you a few things that will give you a flavour of what to expect.
First up, how good is it?
Is it better than the previous one, last year’s Victorian-Life-On-Mars-it-was-all-a-dream story? Definitely. Is it the best Sherlock ever? No, it’s no Reichenbach Fall. It doesn’t have quite the clever twists and turns of the series two finale, or the hypnotically intense relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty at its core. But is it good Sherlock? Certainly. And it should have enough to keep both general viewers and fan boys/girls engaged on the first evening of the new year – even if some of the story may be dark enough to make you wonder if it’s still 2016.
It’s no secret that John and Mary are now proud parents of a baby daughter called Rosamund (they posted the announcement in The Telegraph so I’m not taking the blame for that one) and we get to see them at home doing endearingly mundane baby stuff, and even a bit of Uncle Sherlock on babysitting duties.
There’s another funny bit with a dog, too. And there’s heaps of action, including more on Mary’s backstory as a special operative and a great gritty Bond-style fight scene for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.
There’s a Sherlock Holmes story fans of the originals will recognise, with a twist and lots of extras thrown in too, yet not so many that casual viewers will end up asking ‘what was that all about?’ like they did at the end of The Abominable Bride.
There are many mentions of Moriarty (try saying that five times fast) and numerous other references to Sherlock Holmes lore strewn throughout for aficionados to look out for, including another name that will cause a buzz in some quarters.
We learn something surprising – even shocking – about John Watson.
And there’s a conclusion that makes you wonder where the hell this is going to go next (luckily, you’ll only have a week to wait to find out).
Oh, and after that post-credits scene at the end of series three, stick around for another one. Just don’t get your hopes up for another return for Moriarty – however much you might miss him.
Sherlock: The Six Thatchers is on New Year’s Day at 8:30pm on BBC1