Among all the secret siblings, car chases and ghost wives of this week’s Sherlock, The Lying Detective, you’d be forgiven for not noticing a meta little joke creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss threw into the milieu, poking fun at their critics with a vintage reference to Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.
However, luckily for you here at RadioTimes.com we didn’t miss it – but only because the writers themselves pointed it out to us. Hey, we’re not too proud to admit it.
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The gag comes during the episode when John (Martin Freeman) and Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) go on a hospital visit with baddie Culverton Smith (Toby Jones), bumping into a health professional called Nurse Cornish (Katy Wix) who’s a fan of John’s blog.
However, upon realising the blog is written by John instead of Sherlock himself, she comments: “It’s gone downhill a bit, hasn’t it?”
Now, on the surface this feels like a light-hearted prod at the series’ critics, many of whom have suggested it has left its best days behind it since the end of 2012’s series two, and to an extent it is that – but as Gatiss explained at a special Bafta screening of the episode, the joke also has its roots in a real anecdote told by Doyle himself.
“There’s a little joke in there about Nurse Cornish, who’s named after the Cornish boatman,” Gatiss revealed, “who famously, when Conan Doyle’s being rowed across a river in Cornwall, this man says ‘do you write Sherlock Holmes?’
“And he said yeah. And [the man] goes ‘he was never the same after he came back from the dead, was he?’ So he was the first kind of critic.”
“He was the first comment section in the world,” Steven Moffat deadpanned.
Still, the pair can at least feel good in the knowledge that their struggles with criticism were shared by the man who started Sherlock Holmes in the first place – even if the ways it’s passed on are rather more modern these days.
“Someone tweeted me the other day,” Gatiss said, “and says ‘I’ve now watched the Six Thatchers 12 times. I’m disappointed’.
“And I thought ‘I’m not, you’ve watched it 12 times!’
“But… that’s what you get. That’s probably what Conan Doyle had!”
Yet another way they’ve brought the world of Doyle into the present day, then.
Sherlock continues on BBC1 next Sunday (15th January) at 9:00pm