Did you spot the clues and references in the new Sherlock special pictures?

Who is the Abominable Bride? Which original stories will the episode draw from? And could we see an appearance from Moriarty's right-hand many Colonel Sebastian Moran? Paul Jones sifts the clues...

So, we have Sherlock and John looking extremely dapper in some new Victorian outfits, Benedict Cumberbatch in a classic Sherlock Holmes silhouette and Rupert Graves with bushy side whiskers – yep, there’s plenty to enjoy about the newly released photos from Sherlock special The Abominable Bride (see them all in the gallery below). But look a bit closer and there are also a few clues to what we might expect from the New Year’s Day episode, plus plenty of references to original Sherlock Holmes stories…


1 The Hound of the Mantlepiece

This statue of a gigantic baying hound is, of course, a reference to Holmes’s most famous case, The Hound of the Baskervilles (“the dog one”, as Sherlock calls it when making fun of John in the trailer). Actually, it’s not the only nod to the adventure we’ve seen so far – the stained glass on the door of 221B Baker Street features a silhouette of the creature which in turn echoes the cover of an early edition of the novel.

2, 3 The Slipper and the Knife

In original Sherlock Holmes short story The Musgrave Ritual, Watson points out that while Holmes has “the neatest and most methodical” approach to crime solving, when it comes to his personal habits he is “one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow lodger to distraction”. He “keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece”. The coal scuttle is out of shot but you can see the slipper and the impaled letters right here.

4 The Elephant in the Room

During his best man’s speech at John’s wedding, Sherlock has fun at the groom’s expense by bringing up his blog. Among the cases he mentions are those John has named The Hollow Client, The Poison Giant, The Matchbox Decathlete and The Elephant in the Room (read the blog entry here). This image – if you can make it out – is the elephant in their Baker Street rooms (although Johnlock shippers would of course tell you that the real elephant in the room is the sexual tension between John and Sherlock…)

The importance of good accessorising

“It’s a new story, but if you know the original stories, you’ll see that it’s fashioned out of quite a few others,” Steven Moffat says of The Abominable Bride. This could be a clue to one of those tales…

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes short story A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes pursues one of the major players in the case to a church where a hurried wedding is set to take place. Holmes is in disguise, so unrecognisable to the couple, and is hauled in by the desperate groom to act as a witness. Afterwards, the bride rewards him for his trouble. “The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch-chain in memory of the occasion,” Holmes tells Watson later. What’s the betting this is that very sovereign? And if it is, could the bride in question – despite her apparent generosity – be the Abominable one referenced in the title of the special…?

And while we we’re on the subject of Sherlock’s outfits, it nice to see he’s staying consistent whatever the century with his trademark red buttonhole…

Who is the Abominable Bride?

The synopsis for The Abominable Bride tells us it features a woman who has returned “from beyond the grave”. Exactly how she came to be walking the streets of London looks to be one of the central mysteries of the story but could those smudges of dirt on her face and those worn and possibly blood-stained fingernails be the signs of someone who has clawed her way out of a coffin? That would be vaguely reminiscent of original Sherlock Holmes story The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, in which Holmes narrowly saves a kidnapped woman from being buried alive.

The way the bride (played by relative newcomer Natasha O’Keffee) is wearing that veil also reminds me of The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger, in which Holmes investigates a woman who confines herself to her room and always wears a veil over the upper half of her face. As it turns out, this is to disguise the fact that she was disfigured after being mauled by a lion. Could the bride have had a similarly horrific experience, and could those terrible injuries be the reason she is referred to as abominable…?

Mycroft or Moran?

The elephant in the room here is the large amount of ivory about the place, including a giant pair of tusks framing the doorway in the second shot. Could this be the handiwork of big game hunter Colonel Sebastian Moran, right-hand man to one James Moriarty?

More likely, this is a scene set in exclusive gentlemen’s retreat The Diogenes Club, where Sherlock’s brother is generally to be found, reading, smoking and basically running the country. We haven’t glimpsed Mark Gatiss’s character yet, but maybe that’s who Dr Watson is here to see.

Incidentally, we’re told in the blurb that comes with this main picture that the registrar at the desk is named Wilder. I like to think that’s a sly reference to 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is a favourite of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat and was directed by a certain Billy Wilder. It could also serve as a nod to another 70s movie, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, a musical comedy starring, written and directed by Gene Wilder.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is on BBC1 in New Year’s Day