Even before the episode The Lying Detective aired, Sherlock writer Steven Moffat had described Toby Jones’s Culverton Smith as “diabolical and disgusting”, while Sherlock himself called him “the most dangerous, the most despicable human being that I have ever encountered”.
And while it’s hard to image any TV villain whose crimes are as shocking as the real-life abuses carried out by Jimmy Savile, it’s also hard to escape the idea that Savile provided at least some of the inspiration for Sherlock’s new foe.
On the surface, Culverton Smith is an entrepreneur and philanthropist, a man who makes millions for charity and is loved as a national treasure.
But Smith has a dark secret – he’s a serial killer. Murder may not have been among Savile’s sins but Smith certainly shares a modus operandi when it comes to getting away with his crimes.
Just like Savile, he “sort of owns” a hospital, which is where he carries out his atrocities, largely uninterrupted by staff who are bullied into turning a bind eye to his disturbing behaviour by a man who has their livelihoods in the palm of his hand and is seen by millions as beyond reproach.
Culverton Smith spends a great deal of his time in his “favourite room” in the hospital, the morgue, talking to the dead. And in one scene that will send a shiver down the spine of anyone who knows the Savile case, he brandishes a bunch of keys which give him access to any area of the hospital, and the ability to lock any of its rooms.
I don’t know what Moffat or Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss would have to say about the parallels – at the Q&A that followed the press screening of The Lying Detective, there was no mention of Savile. But for me, at least, his shadow loomed large.
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