Sherlock series 4 promises “ghosts of the past” with the story “about to reach its climax”

An announcement points to the return - in some form - of Moriarty, with a New Year’s Day launch date looking a near-certainty

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Sherlock series four has begun filming with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss promising that the new three-part series will feature “ghosts of the past” – the clearest indication so far that the handiwork of Andrew Scott’s dastardly Moriarty will be felt even though the character has apparently died.

“Sherlock series four  here we go again!” said Gatiss and Moffat. “Whatever else we do, wherever we all go, all roads lead back to Baker Street  and it always feels like coming home.

“Ghosts of the past are rising in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson bringing adventure, romance and terror in their wake. This is the story we’ve been telling from the beginning. A story about to reach its climax…”

This chimes with the remarks of Benedict Cumberbatch’s sleuth at the end of the New Year’s Day special The Abominable Bride his year in which he remarked: “Of course Moriarty is dead. And I know exactly what he’s going to do next.”

The BBC today issued a statement which said that the new run promised “laughter, tears, shocks, surprises and extraordinary cases”, adding “Series four begins with the nation’s favourite detective, the mercurial Sherlock Holmes, back once more on British soil, as Doctor Watson and his wife Mary prepare for their biggest ever challenge  becoming parents for the first time.”

Cumberbatch said he was “genuinely thrilled to be back filming Sherlock with all the cast and crew. I can’t wait for everyone to see season four. But you will have to wait… though not for long… And it will be worth it.”

Sue Vertue, executive producer for the independent producers Hartswood Films added: “It’s taken a while to gather everyone together for series four but I can confidently say I think it will be well worth the wait!”

News that filming on the new series had begun emerged after Amanda Abington, the partner of Martin Freeman who plays his on screen wife Mary Morstan in the show, tweeted:

Senior BBC sources have confirmed that it is a “near certainty” that the new run will start airing next year on its now traditional New Year’s Day.

Moffat had already signalled “a clear shift in tone” for series four when he appeared at San Diego Comic Con last summer. “There’s going to be some dark stuff coming,” he said, adding there was “a sense of things coming back to bite you.”

Gatiss told RadioTimes.com that viewers “can always expect tragedy as well as adventure” – but wouldn’t be drawn on whether that means Mary is doomed to die, as she does in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. 

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, which aired on New Year’s Day this year, was the most watched programme over the festive season with 11.6 million viewers and the highest ever audience share for a Sherlock episode. The Victorian special was also released in thousands of cinemas around the world alongside the TV broadcast.

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Sherlock is expected to return to BBC1 in January 2017