Moving Sherlock Holmes from Victorian times to 21st century London is a simple idea.  Updating classic literature and fictional characters by changing the period in which they take place is often used to give stories a new lease of life.  It doesn’t always work of course, but with Sherlock, it most certainly does.

Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) have created a modern take on Sherlock that is funny, clever and creative, with quick-fire dialogue and elaborate plots.  The first series contained three episodes of new cases for Holmes, but series 2 has new adaptations of Conan Doyle originals.  Episode 1 is called A Scandal in Belgravia, based on A Scandal in Bohemia.

It begins where series 1 ended, with Holmes and Watson seemingly doomed at the hands of Moriarty.  But a last-second reprieve after Moriarty gets a phone call which upsets him, allows them to continue their work together.

Later, we see the pair working on a series of cases and vetting potential clients, which Watson blogs about, making Holmes a minor celebrity, and internet sensation.  A man appears at 221b when Holmes and Watson are away, startling Mrs. Hudson.  When the pair return, he explains his story.  His car had broken down in the countryside, and he noticed a man standing in a nearby field.  After his car backfires, he looked at the man again, who is now dead.  Watson is sent to the scene, with Holmes staying behind and watching via webcam because he only rates the case as a 6, and he only leaves the house for 7’s or more.

The investigation is abruptly called to a halt when both men are whisked away to Buckingham Palace.  Here Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, tells the pair about a woman named Irene Adler, who is believed to have compromising photographs of a young female royal.  Mycroft asks Sherlock to recover the photographs to protect national security.  After agreeing to do so, Sherlock tells Watson to punch him before he meets with Adler.  When John is reluctant, Sherlock hits him first, which makes Watson over-react and grapple with Holmes.  Sherlock adopts a persona to try and trick Adler, not knowing that she already knows who he is and is expecting him.  She makes her first appearance nude, and we see that Sherlock is unable to read her like he can with other people.

The pair lock horns, trying to outsmart each other, before they are interrupted by a group of Americans, also keen to gain possession of sensitive material that Adler stores on a camera phone, which is protected by security codes and explosive devices which would prevent information from being retrieved from it.  Although the pair and Watson work together to get the better of the Americans, Adler manages to escape with the phone.

Benedict Cumberbatch is again brilliant as Sherlock.  His Holmes is annoying in two ways.  Annoying because he is so smart, and annoying because he is too smart for his own good.  He never switches off, always reading people in every situation, often offending them or complicating their lives in a way that alienates him from the crowd.  Martin Freeman is great as the often frustrated Watson, usually a step behind Sherlock, but never allowing him to go unchallenged.  With Sherlock at the start of the year, and the first part of The Hobbit at the end, it’s going to be a big year for Freeman, who is finally stepping out of the shadow of being ‘Tim out of The Office’.  Another strong part of Sherlock is the script, and A Scandal in Belgravia has great dialogue, a strong plot and is funny and inventive.

In Irene Adler, there is a character capable of matching Sherlock’s intellect and getting the better of him.  At one point, Sherlock tries to dupe her into revealing the password to unlock her phone, but after he thinks he has tricked her, he discovers that she has still managed to get the upper hand and has in fact tricked him.

The second series of Sherlock is off to a strong start.  A Scandal in Belgravia has an excellent and cleverly complex plot, and the performances are strong.  Next up for Sherlock is the The Hounds of Baskerville, an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably the most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels.  But even after just one episode, shown on January 1st, Sherlock is already likely to be one of the best TV shows of 2012.

David Dougan

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