The Sherlock New Year Special – what went wrong?

The recently released Sherlock New Year special, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, amounted to 90 minutes of hyped-up, and drugged-up, disappointment. Trying to be simultaneously endearing and clever is usually this BBC adaptation’s biggest success. But this time they have missed the mark considerably.


The idea of setting this episode in Sherlock’s original era was promising and set fans up to expect a fun, entertaining watch where Freeman and Cumberbatch would have leg-room to play about with slightly alternative and era-conscious characterisations of their much-loved Watson and Sherlock. Where nods to the previous series were expected we really did not need as much as we were given. By attempting to combine present and past the charm of the alternative setting was lost, and the dramatic gothic scenes were made preposterous by comparison.

The Abominable Bride

Everything about this special was trying to be too clever, the stylised scene changes and camera angles for example, and even the script was mostly non-sequitur and frustrating to follow. You can almost see the actors finding difficulty with the patchy script – most pronouncements seem awkward in context and have to be continuously estimated with the constantly changing locations, moods and time periods. For actors and audience alike there is simply too much to focus on. It would be better, for instance, if we were able to enjoy the quirkiness of Watson’s alternative moustache and mannerisms rather than concentrate on his turbulent relationships. Character development was attempted, along with historical character displacement meaning that any true sentimental moments for these characters, like the concerned Mycroft pleading with his brother to be more careful, were almost lost with impromptu and fake sentimentality – Watson and Sherlock in the greenhouse, or on the waterfall, or in the plane, or in the flat…

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Not to mention that most of the information about the actual case, the links to past and present etc., are presented first and explained later. Whereas usually a build-up is exciting, in this instance, by the time everything is revealed, you feel like you have physically earned it through sheer patience.


Yes, admittedly it is fun once you realise that this episode is essentially a guided tour of Sherlock’s illusive ‘Mind Palace’. The ‘and-it-was-all-a-dream’ cliché works to connect the change of era to the current series, but Moffat and Gatiss try to relate it in too much and, strikingly, get nowhere. At the end of the episode we are no closer to understanding the mystery of Moriarty’s resurrection, unless I’m missing something, and that alone demonstrates the failing of the episode. They also squeeze in an extra level of confusion by ending with 1980s Sherlock telling Watson about his ‘perception of the future’, a device simply to create dramatic doubt and weak speculation. At the very least the episode ends with a cracking line where Sherlock calls himself ‘a man out of his time’, essentially summing up the intent of the entire BBC adaptation. The series has succeeded on presenting the well worked and well-loved character as a ‘highly functioning sociopath’, a character dealing with the modern world, ‘a man out of his time’. In this respect the episode works well as an insight into Sherlock’s imagination, and it could almost be considered ground-breaking, but in this overcomplicated format the episode comes to nothing.


By Anna Whealing

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