I completely missed that BBC’s Sherlock was back until I walked in on my flatmate watching the second episode with her sister. “Oh look, Toby Jones” I thought, followed by “ah… he’s back”.
By ‘he’ I’m not referring to the TV detective, but the programme’s show runner, Steven Moffat. To understand my apprehension, we should go back in time a little. Moffat was known, among other things, for writing for Doctor who under the then show runner Russel T. Davies; who had been in the position since the shows revival in 2005. Moffat had gained a reputation for being behind the darker more disturbing episodes such as The Empty Child two-parter, The Girl in the Fireplace and of course, Blink. These remain some of my favourite episodes of the show to this day, and I’m certain I’m not alone there. Change was inevitable when Davies stood down in 2008 but there was no worry that Moffat couldn’t easily fill the roll.
Steven Moffat on the set of the 2007 Comic Relief special of Doctor Who.
Moffat’s first full series was pretty good. The scenarios the Doctor and his companions find themselves in were interesting. The baddies were scary and thought provoking though if I have any criticisms they are that the climax is a little ridiculous and way over the top sentimental. The sixth series onward is where the problem starts. The narrative of the show gradually became more and more overcomplicated, convoluted and confusing. For example, the Doctor ages considerably more rapidly, sometimes suggesting that several years have passed for him between episodes or series, alienating the audience from his character. Additionally, in series 8 a character is introduced, developed and then promptly killed off in the climax purely for the emotional impact, which of course there is none, you only just introduced him, you idiots! Moffat, I think, approached the show runner role from the perspective of a fan rather than someone trying to tailor the show to a contemporary audience, as Davies had, causing the show to become as I have said, convoluted and alienating.
Now we get to Sherlock. The series was dreamed up by Moffat and co-writer on Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, on train rides up to Cardiff. It is, on the whole, brilliant. A fantastic visual guide to the innermost workings of the mind, as well brilliant mysteries to unravel. Sherlock is similar to Doctor Who in many ways. It centres around an almost godlike, titular protagonist who has a run of the mill companion to humanise him and make him more identifiable. It takes the best parts of Doctor Who without the holdbacks of trying to appease both children and the adults who watched the original show.
on the first of January 2016 Sherlock returned in a one off special, The Abominable Bride. An episode set in the 1800s, where Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories are set, whereas the show is usually set in the modern day. I really don’t like this episode. The idea is brilliant, and in fact the first half of the episode works very well. But now we get to one of the biggest problems with Moffat’s writing. (spoiler alert) it turns out that Sherlock in the modern day is running the case in the past as a simulation in his head to work out another case. (ie, Moriarty’s apparent survival that was the cliff hanger from the last series.)
This is Moffat’s issue. It’s convoluted nonsense. He wants everything to be connected. Another example of this can be found in the most recent series of Doctor Who. The Doctor proclaims that he chose his current face in his recent regeneration because it was the face of a man called Caecillius in a 2008 episode (Both characters were played by the same actor, Peter Capaldi). In that episode the Doctor learned he should always try to help people by saving Caecillius and thats why he chose his face. It’s all utterly pointless though and jars awkwardly because that was not intended when they cast Capaldi for the roles in 2008 and 2013.
Moffat’s attempt to create a better suspension of disbelief only succeeds in drawing attention to the plot-holes and making the whole thing ring horrifically false. The Sherlock special would have worked beautifully as a standalone piece, but instead it ends on a confusing and dissatisfying note because none of it was real, ergo, what was the point?
This is why I was apprehensive at Sherlock‘s return, and unfortunately, I was right to be. I’ve gone on so I’ll be brief. They spend the whole first episode writing out a character I get the impression they feel it was a mistake introducing. The second episode comes closest to being half decent (Yes, Toby Jones was creepy and brilliant) but its story is a little over complicated and ends on the most ridiculous cliffhanger (Seriously, I’ve heard it described as Moffat randomly flipping through a book of plot twist clichés and selecting one at random. It’s ridiculous.) The last episode isn’t great either. It just looks as though they had written themselves into a few corners and the emotional payoff is minimal if there at all. If anything good came from it, they do seem to be hinting that it’s over without being too comital, so with any luck they won’t make anymore.
That was a very negative paragraph (and post) but I do feel passionately about both Doctor Who and Sherlock and it grieves me to see them both not doing so well. For Doctor Who perhaps I’m getting a little too old, who knows? The same cannot be said for Sherlock. As for Moffat I have no choice but to respect him as a writer. I’d just like to know what went wrong. For now I may go for a Netflix binge to cheer myself up.