Sherlock season 3: funny first episode may surprise fans on New Year’s Day

Spoiler-free preview: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back on BBC1 with a lighter touch, says Mark Jefferies

Watching a preview of Sherlock: The Empty Hearse with super fans made it hard to judge exactly what up to ten million people will think on New Year’s Day.


But based on the reaction of the audience at London’s BFI earlier this month, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, writers and creators of Sherlock, are laughing all the way to the bank.

Without ruining it, the pair have gone for a surprisingly light script to launch the trio of episodes. 

I found myself laughing quite a few times, the Cumberbitches giggled every few minutes, and it was only after an hour that the storyline turned more serious and emotional.

It feels slightly different from previous episodes and some fans will love it and some won’t, but that is inevitable when you have a drama this popular and so hugely anticipated. 

What else takes two years to make three episodes and even has a pre-episode handed out on the BBC website like a Christmas present for fans?

The big question on everyone’s lips is how did Sherlock, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, fake his own death.

Fans should know by the end of the first episode, and this mystery takes up a decent chunk of the opening. Andrew Scott, who played Moriarty, even gets a nice cameo in the explanation.

The other part, which works brilliantly, is the reunion of Sherlock and John Watson, played by Martin Freeman.

Benedict describes this perfectly in an interview on the BBC website when he says: “I think Sherlock completely thinks that John will understand what he has done, and be fine with it. I think he is expecting a wry smile, a handshake and maybe a laugh or two and then off on a case. He gets it so wrong, so so wrong.”

John’s reaction and the scenes that follow between the pair are the highlight of the episode for me. They have great chemistry and Sherlock’s lack of emotion and deadpan delivery is a recipe for much humour.

Benedict says of Martin “his reaction and comic skill is always exceptional” and that is certainly the case in The Empty Hearse.

There is also a new lead character in play, in the form of Watson’s new girlfriend, Mary Morstan.

She gets involved in what Watson and Sherlock do and I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes even more integral as the series goes on.

Perhaps wary of not starting off too dark and serious, which could turn viewers off, the writers appear to have solved this problem by starting softly with gags in the script allowing them to turn up the tension a notch later on.

Benedict says: “They have some extraordinary adventures in the first and second episodes and then in the third they are challenged by a situation and a master villain who brings him to his knees. What’s exciting about this series is we see Sherlock in real peril.”

So enjoy the lightness at the start of this first episode and prepare for things to get a whole lot meaner and tougher for Sherlock as the series reaches its conclusion, all too soon for fans.

Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror