Benedict Cumberbatch and his stunt double recreated the death-defying Reichenbach Fall this weekend as filming continued on The Empty Hearse, the Sherlock episode that will finally reveal how the detective fooled the world.
But Sherlock and his friend John, Martin Freeman, weren’t the only familiar faces on set.
The show’s co-creator Mark Gatiss was in costume – complete with pinstriped suit and dyed hair – as Sherlock’s brother, Whitehall maestro Mycroft, while there was a return too for Andrew Scott who plays criminal mastermind Moriarty – dead as far as we knew, following a hard-to-fake (and even harder-to-recover-from) self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But even more unexpected was an appearance by TV illusionist Derren Brown, apparently shooting a scene with Martin Freeman.
Mycroft’s presence is easy enough to explain – either Gatiss had been filming elsewhere and was now on hand in his capacity as writer, or Mycroft was involved first-hand in ensuring Sherlock’s “death” appeared authentic.
As much as some fans would like to see Andrew Scott return to resume his coruscating performance as Moriarty, his presence at the shoot doesn’t necessarily mean much. After all, if Cumberbatch and Freeman were shooting new footage for the solution, Scott, who was also involved in the scene, could be too.
What about Derren Brown, though? In one way, the psychological illusionist fits right in to a plotline that is (presumably) all about misdirection, sleight of hand and theatricality. Paparazzi shots taken on the set show him doing his thing to Martin Freeman, placing a hand on his head before lowering him to the tarmac to lie face down, seemingly unconscious, quite possibly in the same spot he found himself after a cyclist knocked him to the ground ahead of Sherlock’s leap at the end of the last series.
Could Brown be playing a character employed by Sherlock to hypnotise John, thereby giving the detective the extra time he needs to carry out his scheme without his friend being aware – or to convince him he had seen something he hadn’t (or hadn’t seen something he had)? Could he, as some people are suggesting, be Moriarty’s right-hand man Sebastian Moran who comes after Holmes seeking revenge in Arthur Conan Doyle adventure The Empty House, on which this episode is at least partly based? Brown has swapped his usually dapper look for close-cropped hair and a parker, and his eyes look harder and more menacing than usual in the photos we’ve seen. But I seriously doubt it.
Would Mark Gatiss really want Derren Brown playing a larger-than-life version of himself in his story? This is not a Ricky Gervais comedy. We’re used to seeing Brown acting only as part of his own programmes. Put him at the centre of a dramatic scene doing his day job and you shatter the illusion of drama. It becomes the Derren Brown Show, or a joke. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have never been keen on crossovers or the idea of mixing universes and the whole idea seems a bit cheap. Not their style at all.
Meanwhile, the hypnosis angle smacks a little too much of the soapy “it was all a dream” cop-out.
More likely, this is its own piece of misdirection, a playful ruse on the part of the show’s creators in response to the unremitting attention from fans and press photographers who have been following filming around.
Or perhaps it’s part of a scene Derren Brown is shooting for one of his own shows. Maybe it will be as much news to Martin Freeman when it finally appears on Channel 4 as it is to us…