Registered: 28th Nov 2011
When the Christmas edition of The Strand Magazine appeared in December 1893, it created a literary sensation the like of which had not been seen before, nor has it since.
‘It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen,’ are the words with which The Final Problem opened — the words with which Doctor Watson announced that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had killed off his greatest creation.
Sherlock Holmes was dead — having tumbled to his death from the Reichenbach Falls, locked in a death-struggle with his nemesis Professor Moriarty. The reaction to the great detective’s death was extreme. The Strand Magazine lost 20,000 subscribers — and fans of Holmes took to the streets wearing black armbands
Conan Doyle was less sentimental about Holmes than his admirers: the wild success of Holmes was starting to overshadow the rest of his literary output, and, as he put it: ‘I must save my mind for better things, even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him.’
But there was international rejoicing when the needs of his pocketbook (in other words bank account), caused him to think again. Eight years later, in 1901, came The Hound Of The Baskervilles, a story set before Holmes’s death.
Conan Doyle then caved in entirely with The Adventure Of The Empty House in 1903. The escapade at the Reichenbach Falls did not, Watson revealed, kill the detective after all. The stage was set for Holmes to appear in as many more stories as Conan Doyle chose to write.
This was one of the earliest instances of a narrative device — a cheat, really — known as ‘retconning’: retrospectively altering the continuity.
Anyone who watched those old Saturday morning cartoon serials will recognise it. At the end of one episode, we see Rocket Man crash into a cliff. In the ‘previously’ section at the beginning of the next, the same footage appears, doctored to show Rocket Man strapped into a parachute and bouncing merrily down to safety.
Retconning is a staple of science fiction and comic-book writing, so it’s fitting that when Sherlock Holmes ‘died’ again in the BBC series on Sunday, he did so under the auspices of a team of brilliant writers familiar with the device — the show was co-created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, though Steve Thompson wrote Sunday’s episode — all of whom have worked on the BBC’s Doctor Who.
Dramatic: The writing team have used incredible ingenuity to ramp up the tension in reworked plotlines So could they convince a telly-savvy, internet-age audience that Holmes was really deceased? They certainly created a magnificent teaser.
We saw, or thought we saw, Sherlock fall to his death from the roof of St Bart’s hospital. Watson rushed towards him, hindered only by a coincidental — or was it? — collision with a cyclist. We saw a pulse taken, blood on the pavement and a body being carted off in an ambulance.
Later, we saw Watson and housekeeper Mrs Hudson: sole mourners at a gravestone marked Sherlock Holmes. Finally, Watson delivered an affecting soliloquy, adapting the lines The Final Problem about ‘the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known’, before turning to walk from the grave.
The camera cut away... and there was the lugubrious face of Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, looking secretly on.
Holmes is alive! But how?
Instead of breaking out the black armbands this time, the online world and the water coolers of offices are fizzing with elaborate and ingenious theories as to how he survived.
Popular hero: Writer Arthur Conan Doyle said he had never been as sentimental over his much-loved characters as the readers Did Holmes’s friend Molly, the pathologist, supply a Sherlock-sized corpse to be tossed off the building?
Did Sherlock drug himself to stop his own heart? Did brother Mycroft co-ordinate it from his position at the heart of the secret service?
The frenzied debate is nothing new. This sort of speculation has been going on ever since Conan Doyle’s Holmes went over the Falls.
American author Leslie S. Klinger’s scholarly edition, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, identifies several schools of thought about The Final Problem in which Holmes and Moriarty supposedly meet their end: Moriarty is imaginary, Moriarty is innocent, Moriarty lives — as well as ‘the fundamentalist school, which accepts that Holmes indeed died at the Falls’.
More than one of these schools of thought was teasingly courted in Sunday’s episode. One of the greatest virtues of the modern BBC Sherlock is how silkily it modernises the stories, while remaining true to the spirit of Holmes.
There’s an affectionately playful relationship between these stories and their originals.
Emotional: Watson, played by Martin Freeman, gives a moving speech at Holmes's grave - but all is not as it seems The deerstalker hat — a feature of Sidney Paget’s illustrations, as all Holmesians know, rather than Conan Doyle’s text — is similarly treated as an in-joke in the TV version: an impromptu shot of Sherlock in a borrowed deerstalker becomes the stock Press image, much to his irritation. And Watson uses a blog to report his friend’s doings, rather than writing for The Strand Magazine.
The spirit of their friendship has also been perfectly preserved. Theirs is a chaste fraternal romance. Conan Doyle is said to have described Holmes as being ‘as inhuman’ as the calculating machine envisioned by Victorian inventor Charles Babbage — ‘and just about as likely to fall in love’.
In the new Sherlock, as in the old, Holmes’s regard for the only woman who ever bests him, dominatrix Irene Adler, is a thing of the mind. But more important is the approach that the new Sherlock takes to detection.
Here we glory in the actions of that calculating machine: the brain that can deduce a career path from the shape of a bowler hat or the re-hemming work on a skirt; and can pinpoint a sweet factory in Addlestone from chemical traces in a bootprint.
Those who have complained that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock makes ‘unfair’ deductions the rest of us can’t — that what he does is, effectively, magic — have forgotten Conan Doyle’s original: it was later detective writers who insisted the clues should all be available to the reader. The pleasure is in the ingenuity of his inferences, more than the attempt to compete with him.
In the BBC series, what the plodding policeman, Detective Inspector Lestrade, drily calls ‘CSI Baker Street’ comes as a blessed relief in an age in which — for the sake of ‘grittiness’ — most television detectives now track down their quarries by dismantling the bodies of their victims.
Poignant ending: But what will come next for the story's fresh legion of fans? Those lazily psycho-sexual serial killers, their motivations as gross and dull as the means of their detection, give little challenge to their audience.
Sherlock’s plots look back to the golden age detective stories that were Holmes’s legacy — when the highest achievement was a ‘locked-room’ murder mystery with few clues.
Conan Doyle’s The Adventure Of The Speckled Band — where a poisonous snake slithers in through a vent and out up a bell-rope, having done its work — is a classic of the genre.
When Moffat’s Sherlock has a man, distracted by a car backfiring, killed by his own flying boomerang, that is a witty sort of locked-room mystery itself: one in the open air.
The guessing games as to how Sherlock engineered his ‘death’ on Sunday night, and whether Moriarty — apparently having shot himself — also survived, will continue for months as we bide away the agonising wait for the next series.
Will it begin with An Adventure Of The Empty House, with Holmes surprising Watson and solving a locked-room mystery? I’d like to think so.
But all we can say for sure is, like Conan Doyle fishing Sherlock out of the Falls, Moffat and Gatiss can take him anywhere they jolly well want
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#655287 - 19th Jan 20123:09pmRe: how CAN Sherlock return from the dead?
Registered: 28th Nov 2011
my personal opinion is that, sherlock put his coat on moriarty and through him off the building and got molly to fake the dna results, with watson getting knocked to the ground he never really sore sherlocks body properly.
Registered: 2nd Nov 2008
Loc: new ferry
The most popular theory is that pathologist Molly Hooper, helped Sherlock in his mission. Molly, who has had a crush on Sherlock since she met him, could have helped him by faking death and post-mortem certificates and providing a cadaver to bury as well as arranging for the paramedics to be immediately on the scene. Sherlock is seen asking Molly for help in an earlier scene when he tells her: 'I think I'm going to die'. Molly, being a coroner/pathologist/wonder lab girl, is the perfect agent for Sherlock's plan. Aware that he will need to fake his own death, he needs to place his faith in someone who can help him die - officially.' Of course, we mustn't forget that the fall was witnessed by Dr Watson who was speaking to Sherlock on his phone and saw him standing precariously on the rooftop. But as he runs to reach his friend as he falls, Watson is knocked over by a cyclist which disorientates him, which would be enough of a diversion for Sherlock to pretend to be lying dead on the pavement before being safely taken away in the back of a waiting ambulance. It has also been suggested that Sherlock's brother Mycroft was in on the plan and arranged for the cyclist to knock Watson down, distracting him from what was going on by the hospital. Fans have claimed that a rubbish truck is seen pulling up alongside the hospital which Holmes could have landed in before making the body swap. It is suggested: 'Holmes leaps off the roof, out of view of Watson, lands in the rubbish truck, and violently deposits the body which is hidden inside. It was Mycroft who took care of the details of the plan such as the truck and the bicycle.' But one viewer suggested that Dr Watson never witnessed a fall because he was hallucinating. In the second episode, The Hounds of Baskerville, Holmes, Dr Watson and their client Henry Knight, played by Russell Tovey, were drugged which tricked the trio into thinking they had seen a terrifying wild dog - so could it be that Sherlock used the same drug on Watson?