Warning: this review contains spoilers.
At its best Sherlock is fantastic television and one of the greatest shows on the box, at its worst, well it’s still pretty great. It would want to be considering the extended amount of time we have to wait for each series. Lucky for us, the powers at be at the BBC (that would be Moffat, Gatiss and Vertue) have decided to break up this tortuous three year break with a Christmas special, The Abominable Bride. The quirky idea of turning the setting on its head has be itself, turned on its head by placing out favourite characters in Victorian costumes for a festive themed adventure this time around. So was The Abominable Bride fantastically amazing, brilliant and wonderful or just pretty great? Let’s find out shall we as the reviewing game is afoot.
The Abominable Bride
Firstly and foremost it must be noted that this episode was incredibly funny as always, Moffat and Gatiss again proving that the best dramas don’t always have to be drab and depressing. Gags fly off the screen more frequently than Sherlock’s trademarked floating text which again makes an appearance. The themes of the modern show are seamlessly woven in and around the new/old setting along with a motherload of references to Conan Doyle’s stories. Not only this but almost every character you were hoping to see gets squeezed in some manner or other. Probably the best squeeze is the insertion of Molly Hooper, even Sherlock did not expect that one. Each character has been modified slightly to suit the narrative, as a nod to the stories or just to have a little bit of fun with them.
There’s no need to tell you that the acting is of top standard and apart from a few annoying rotating-screen mechanics the directing is pretty high shelf as well. No matter the setting, Sherlock is not Sherlock without the music and the theme is modified in every way possible. A bit like the latest Star Wars, no one track stands out as new and exciting but enough has been done to not be a let down. A rehash that worked very well was the new titles with the familiar shots of London town modified to suit the time period.
Off all the episodes too date, this one possibly draws the least from the original stories. Instead of being based on a Conan Doyle story, the title is pulled from a line in The Musgrave Ritual, “Ricoletti of the club foot and his abominable wife”. While the club-footed Ricoletti’s time on screen is fleeting, his abominable wife, Emelia raises hell and this mystery is quite a good one. Sherlock goes about his way to solve it, with maybe more selfish reasons as usual. The story of the abominable wife is on the surface a scary and possibly supernatural one, while in usual Sherlock style there is always a fascinating explanation to all.
I have been avoiding the numerous let downs as long as I could but I can no longer. Mystery aside, The Abominable Bride was not what I have come to expect from my favourite crime drama. No matter how hard Moffat and Gatiss try to cover up the “it was all a dream” cliche with mind palaces, it will still annoy me. I did appreciate that they didn’t try reveal this as a surprise to the audience but I can’t help thinking that it didn’t need to tie in to the plot of the main show. Ninety minutes in and we are still left at the same point were we left His Last Vow. Plus it all got a bit much jumping from dream to reality so often towards the end. It seemed a choice as pointless as Watson’s three lines of narration. Still it was nice to see the meeting take place again under the reign of Queen Victoria.
In a similar move to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and Deep Breath, The Abominable Bride was released to a limited run in cinemas in Australia and around the world. Unlike those two Doctor Who adventures, it didn’t feel as if it was warranted. On my second watch I appreciated the directing much more, this was definitely made for TV and not for film. The presentation at the cinema wasn’t even fully widescreen, which was quite distracting. Although the extras filmed for the cinema release were pleasant enough, with a Moff-guided tour of 221B and Gatiss lead interviews of the cast. Where Sherlock did feel a bit like Doctor Who was the lack of Christmassy elements. Much like most of Moffat’s Christmas specials, Christmas merely serves as a backdrop to the story with snow falling from the sky and a couple of “Merry Christmases” thrown around.
A few more praises before we get back to the failings. Moffat and Gatiss manage to prove that they are not completely subservient fan-boys by referencing the fact that the female characters aren’t given enough story or personality in the originals and they beautifully drop all this blame at Watson’s feet. The open-ended ending must be applauded, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether the spinning top will end on present day or Victorian era. Now I switch back to disappointments as masterfully as a reality to dream transition. Someone should have told Gatiss when he wrote it into Sleep No More that the “dust being made up mainly of human skin” fact is an urban myth and even if it were true to recycle it so soon is just plainly unprofessional. Another piece of bad writing is the choice to have the pilot ask if Sherlock had a good flight. Ok I get that they did this so that we could go, “oh wait she’s Lady Carmichael, mind blown!” but this makes no sense considering the flight went for only five minutes.
Episodes of Sherlock should be worth the wait, especially when our regular dosage of three has been cut to one and I don’t think this one particularly stood up against it’s predecessors. Hilarious, mysterious, superbly acted, with nothing much else to shout about, The Abominable Bride is better than The Blind Banker and maybe, just maybe The Empty Hearse only. Otherwise as Sherlock episodes go, this was a bit of a let down but as I said before even the worst Sherlock episodes are pretty great so for that reason I’m giving The Abominable Bride a three out of five orange pips.