The final episode of Sherlock’s fourth series aired on BBC One this past weekend, and executive producer Steven Moffat has implied this could be it for the Beeb’s modern retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective, at least until stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman next get a window in their schedules. After its apparent swansong, we used our best powers of deduction to rank the shows thirteen episodes, in descending order of greatness, for those who see, but do not observe...
13. The Six Thatchers
Series 4 of Sherlock has garnered some fairly mixed reactions, and this opener was most coolly received, largely for its impenetrably knotty narrative and a brutal death of a main character at the end. But it’s not without its moments of genius – particularly the swooping early solution to the curious death of a politician’s son.
Sherlock’s best line: “I myself know of at least 58 techniques to refine a seemingly infinite array of randomly generated possibilities down to the smallest number of feasible variables. But they're really difficult, so instead I just stuck a tracer on the inside of the memory stick.”
12. The Abominable Bride
We’d met Sherlock’s “mind palace” in earlier episodes, but to have an entire episode staged in it — and in Victorian London, no less — was an audacious and not wholly successful move. While this Christmas one-off uses that laziest of narrative get-out clauses (it was all a dream!), there’s nonetheless a certain novel thrill in seeing Holmes and a mustachioed Watson pace the cobbles of a foggy 19th-century capital, just as Conan Doyle originally envisioned.
Sherlock’s best line: “Dear Lord, I have never been so impatient to be attacked by a murderous ghost.”
11. The Blind Banker
Sherlock’s second episode is a patchier affair than its debut, finding the new crime-solving partnership come up against a Chinese criminal syndicate and some shady investment bankers. The central mystery is not all that involving, but there’s still room for some witty interplay between our two bickering heroes – and a classic door-locked-from-the-inside puzzle.
Sherlock’s best line: “I need you to maximize your visual memory. The average human memory on visual matters is only 62 percent accurate.”
10. The Sign Of Three
John Watson is getting married to Mary, and Sherlock is the best man. What could possibly go wrong? The writing team’s love of a nonlinear narrative reaches new heights in this episode, as Sherlock’s rambling best man speech intercuts wildly with previous cases – but the speech itself is both hilariously insulting and sweetly self-deprecating, and the episode is an important development in Holmes and Watson’s relationship.
Sherlock’s best line: “I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. So if I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody's best friend – and certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing.”
9. The Hounds Of The Baskerville
The most famous story from the original books is not quite the most famous episode in the BBC retelling, often resorting to jump scares and other horror tropes; the hounds of the title (in fact, mere hallucinations) are something of an anticlimax via rather ropey CGI. But there’s plenty of sharp touches — especially in the way Sherlock casually sacrifices Watson’s “inferior” mind to solve the case.
Sherlock’s best line: “If I wanted poetry, I'd read John's emails to his girlfriends. Much funnier.”
8. His Last Vow
There’s some contentious stuff in this episode – Mary’s past; Sherlock’s shooting; the apparent miraculous revival of Moriarty ("DID YOU MISS ME?" is an alarm clock from hell). But it’s all elevated by the appearance of Murdoch-like baddie Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), whose photographic memory, icy Scandinavian demeanour, and silvery goatee looms over the show’s third series with memorable menace.
Sherlock’s best line: “You were a doctor who went to war. You're a man who couldn't stay in the suburbs for more than a month without storming a crack den, beating up a junkie. Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high. That's me, by the way. Hello. Even the landlady used to run a drug cartel.”
7. The Final Problem
Is this the show’s final episode? If only for the Hollywood demands of its two A-list stars, it could be. And so it goes out with something approaching a bang: the leftfield (but not entirely unexpected) appearance of a Holmes sibling and a fiendish Saw-like maze of puzzles, each more fiendish than the last, with a noble sacrificial tone to the whole thing. It’s daft – the slow-motion jump out of an exploding window stretches plausibility even for a show where plausibility was fairly elastic – but we're damned if it isn’t entertaining.
Sherlock’s best line: “We are soldiers today.”
6. The Lying Detective
Sherlock is only at his best when up against a villain so fiendish, only he can outwit – and in Toby Jones’ entrepreneurial serial killer (or is it cereal killer?), he meets a foe of towering proportions — a murderer as desperate to confess as he is to kill. Jones adds acting chops to a show not short on high-level thesps, while the last-minute Eurus twist pulls the rug from under everyone’s feet.
Sherlock’s best line: “In saving my life, she conferred a value on it. It is a currency I do not know how to spend.”
5. The Empty Hearse
After an agonising two-year wait, we finally found out how Sherlock faked his own death. Sly dogs that they are, Moffat and co. could hardly give us a simple explanation, instead offering several possible scenarios (including an eye-popping one where Sherlock and Moriarty nearly lock lips) – and in the middle of it all, our heroes manage to thwart a terrorist attack on London. All in a day’s work.
Sherlock’s best line: “London. It’s like a great cesspool into which all kinds of criminals, agents and drifters are irresistibly drained. Sometimes it’s not a question of who, it’s a question of who knows.”
4. The Reichenbach Fall
In Conan Doyle’s short story The Final Problem, Sherlock meets his end in a Swiss waterfall while fighting his greatest opponent, Moriarty. The BBC update transposes this famous showdown to the roof of a London hospital, but retains the key elements: Sherlock’s reputation ruined, he is forced into an almost-literal cliffhanger ending. In both the books and the television show, the consulting detective is never dead for too long.
Sherlock’s best line: “Brilliant, Anderson. Brilliant impression of an idiot.”
3 A Scandal In Belgravia
Frequently mentioned in both the Doyle and Moffat canons, dominatrix Irene Adler (“the Woman”) proves a rare match for Sherlock’s brilliant mind, flummoxing the usually sexless detective with her feminine wiles; the episode’s finale (”I am Sherlocked”) ultimately offers a more emotional kicker than standard. Plus, for the naked Cumberbatch scenes alone, it’s an undeniable fan favourite.
Sherlock’s best line: “Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.”
2. A Study In Pink
As pilots go, this is a storming statement of intent. Establishing the whip-smart style and modern eccentricities of the series from the off, we are given a classic head-scratcher of a murder mystery, Moriarty’s whisper already in the background – and in John and Sherlock’s flatshare, the founding of a great and illustrious partnership.
Sherlock’s best line: “I'm not a psychopath, Anderson, I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research.”
1. The Great Game
Since the pilot episode onwards, Sherlock Holmes has been desperate for a case worthy of his prodigious talents – more than just “a nice murder”, as Mrs. Hudson puts it. In The Great Game, he finally gets it, solving a series of challenges set by archenemy Jim Moriarty, who waits in the wings – and hides in plain sight – before a sniper-showdown in a swimming pool. It’s the perfect culmination of nearly five hours of setup, and in Andrew Scott’s Moriarty, offers a distinctly megalomaniacal take on Conan Doyle’s famous villain. Sherlock has never been more thrilling. The game, Mrs Hudson, is on.
Sherlock’s best line: “Don't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist, and if they did, I wouldn't be one of them.”