It’s fair to say Sherlock finale The Final Problem took us to some dark places, but perhaps the darkest among them was the truth behind Redbeard.
Sherlock’s beloved Irish Setter – the childhood pet that represented the happy place he retreated to in times of stress – was not a dog at all, but a little boy, his six year old friend Victor Trevor (a call back to the original Sherlock Holmes stories in which Victor Trevor is revealed to be an old college friend of Holmes’s).
Inspired by his ginger hair, Redbeard was Victor’s nickname when they had played pirates together, with Sherlock known as Yellowbeard.
But there was someone they didn’t include in their games, and that’s where the tragedy began.
Sherlock’s sister Eurus – just a year younger than he and Trevor but with an intellect described as “an era defining genius” – just wanted someone to play with, and when Sherlock ignored her she took her revenge.
As psychotic as she was intelligent, Eurus used her powers to trap and kill Victor and then set Sherlock and his family a riddle, The Musgrave Ritual, that would lead them to his body.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until decades later that Sherlock was finally able to solve it, saving his new friend John from joining Trevor in death at the bottom of a well at the Holmes family estate.
Sherlock, we’re told, was “different after” Trevor’s death, which may explain why he retreated into himself and why he remembered Redbeard as a dog – in order to protect himself from the horrible truth.
That story was perpetuated by his older brother Mycroft, who later faked Eurus’s death, had her incarcerated along with the other “uncontainable” criminals in the secret island facility known as Sherrinford, and – it’s at least hinted – took steps to ‘reprogram’ Sherlock’s mind to ensure he would never remember either Eurus or the truth about Redbeard.
“Redbeard began as a joke,” revealed Mark Gatiss at a screening of The Final Problem. By the end, it was a tragedy.