When we last saw Sherlock Holmes he was coming around from a revelatory trip that saw him piecing together the possible explanations for Moriarty’s apparent return from the dead. After a two hour romp through Victorian London (in his head) Sherlock got back in the saddle in the real world, ready to assist the British Government with their consulting criminal Issues. Of course, the head of Sherlock Holmes was still wanted over the murder of vile blackmailer Charles Augustus Magnussen at the end of His Last Vow. That’s where The Six Thatchers kicks off, just days – maybe even hours – later.
It’s just like our government to allow a nepotistic, corrupt cover-up happen just so that the murderer can help save the country, isn’t it? Mycroft pulls a few strings, fudges a few frames of footage and there you have it, Sherlock is back. And it’s straight into action; case after case flits by and none, it would seem, are anything to do with Moriarty’s return. A missing pearl raises the excitement levels a little, but it’s the destruction of a plaster bust of Margaret Thatcher at an unrelated case that triggers Sherlock’s Jim-dar. Someone’s been smashing limited edition Thatcher busts; in the canon the pearl is hidden within and that’s what we’re meant to expect here, too. Only this is Sherlock (2010-) so it was never going to be that straightforward (plus there’s about an hour left of the episode by the time the titular case is cracked). Inside the last bust, sought by the culprit, is a memory stick bearing the initials A.G.R.A., just like the one last seen burning in Sherlock’s mum’s grate.
And this is where the tale ramps up. Mary Watson’s past is explored in greater detail – and it makes her more mysterious than ever – as it is revealed that she was part of a crack black ops unit-for-hire, sold out by someone close to them some years before. Although the A.G.R.A. team were believed dead, that wasn’t the case. Scattered, Mary fled to relative safety while her brothers-in-arms were captured, tortured and generally treated shoddily. While Mary was re-branding as Mrs Watson, Nurse a man named Ajay was getting the wrong end of the stick, believing that Mary (or Rosemund, hence the Watson’s daughter’s name — oh yeah, they had a daughter…) was the one who betrayed him; she must be “the English woman” his captors spoke of, right? So he seeks his revenge against her, now he’s out.
But of course it wasn’t her. That’s what Sherlock promises to prove, as well as upholding his vow that he would keep them all safe. The remainder of the episode more closely resembles a Bourne movie than what we’ve come to know as BBC’s Sherlock. It’s all gun-totin’, all-black-wearin’, identity-swappin’ spy stuff. The deduction is secondary, when it bothers to appear at all. That’s not to say it isn’t massively enjoyable. I adored this episode, it was brave of them to give one of the most hotly anticipated episodes of the show a completely different feel. Okay, sure. It turns out the sweet old government secretary that was note-taking during Sherlock’s pardoning meeting at the start of the episode was the one what done it; she was the English woman (Vivian Norbury – a beautiful nod to the canon) who shopped the A.G.R.A. crew to stop them blowing her cover while selling state secrets and buying a cottage on the coast. That kind of reveal – shot brilliantly among circling sharks at the London Aquarium – is pure Sherlock. But the rest felt bigger, bolder, dafter.
I won’t bang on about John sexting a woman off the bus, about the wonder of seeing Sherlock deal with a baby or some smashing stuff with Lestrade. You’ll read all about that elsewhere and if you watched the episode you’ll have your own feelings about all that. But I would like to bang on about how Moffat and Gatiss et al have managed to make Jim Moriarty a tangible threat that we really feel hanging over proceedings like a shadow. We feel he’s up to something, even though the show has no intention of telling us what while it keeps telling us that he’s absolutely, unarguably dead. For real. I can’t wait to see where they go with this thread.
I’ve been more excited for the return of Sherlock than I have for the return of Doctor Who (review of that coming soon), unusually for me. But justifiably. Sherlock outdid Who in terms of excitement, twists and turns, production quality, performances, plot and promise. I’m so eager to know what happens to Sherlock and John next that I’ve found myself browsing forums looking for theories to discuss. Meanwhile, though it looks great from the trailer, I’m happy to wait patiently for Doctor Who’s next series. Oh, how times have changed. It feels good to have Cumberbatch and Freeman doing their thing (albeit with stupid new hair) once again.
The Six Thatchers is based on one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, The Six Napoleons, and I believe it is one of the episodes most loyal to its source material. It made my New Year’s Night and, it would seem, many other people’s too. Sherlock’s back on the horse (in more ways than one, by the looks of him in the trailer for next week’s episode) and I can’t wait to ride this series out with him. It’s a proper treat that, even when it’s OTT and a bit daft – just as the show has always been, as has the original canon – Sherlock manages to draw me right in, hold me there for 90 minutes, then leave me wanting more. As TV should. Bravo.