We’re only two weeks into 2014, but it’s a safe bet Sherlock will remain one of the most talked-about TV shows of the year. In the run-up to its return, we spoke to showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss on the set of 221B Baker Street (as seen in Issue 295), also taking the time to talk to production designer Arwel Wyn Jones about the famous sitting room. Now that all three episodes have been aired, we spoke to Gatiss and Moffat once more about the public reaction to the new series, which bits were hardest to write, and the reappearance of You Know Who for a special spoiler podcast you can listen to in full whenever you like. Here, for the aurally-adverse, are 20 particularly intriguing moments. And, as you may have guessed, here be spoilers.
Gatiss: The most amazing thing is that reasonable-sounding people have asked, ‘Which of the three theories was the truth?’
Moffat: To which I always reply, ‘The middle one.’ It was an unconvincing dummy with a photograph of Sherlock on the front, and Moriarty and Sherlock eloped. That’s exactly what happened.
Gatiss: I won’t name names, but one of the most extraordinary reviews said that we’d clearly been harvesting theories from online, which we genuinely have not. Obviously you’re aware of them. And part of the reasoning behind making the fake explanation at the beginning as outrageous as possible was precisely that: what could be the most ridiculous explanation? But one very respected reviewer actually said, ‘They’ve even put in the popular online theory about the squash ball.’ It’s like, ‘No, that’s how he did it!’ I was gobsmacked by that.
Moffat: There’s only one way not to die, and that’s to hit something before he hits the pavement. That’s it. There isn’t anything else. He’s got to land, essentially, on a big cushion.
Gatiss: We discovered a lovely review of The Empty House, Doyle’s original story, in which of course Doyle says that he escaped due to his knowledge of an obscure form of misspelled Japanese wrestling. And the reviewer basically says, ‘Oh, come on, Dr. Doyle.’ It’s rather thrilling, actually, that it’s the same sort of review now…
Moffat: Down to every detail we get the same reaction. It’s quite extraordinary. And in both cases, in both The Empty Hearse and The Empty House, you are dependent on Sherlock Holmes’ own account of how he survived. Now keep in mind that he’s been lying for two years. Who’s to say any version of Sherlock Holmes has told the truth about how he did it?
Moffat: Do you know what I think might have happened? You might at that point have read the first few pages of [Doctor Who episode] Day Of The Doctor. And I think the fact that I referenced Derren Brown in that…
Gatiss: Yes, quite possibly. But also, Derren’s a friend of mine. “What if someone had hypnotised him? Oh, we might as well just ask Derren!’ Rather than having some person in a black cloak and a top hat and a stage moustache. But he was thrilled to do it.
Empire: Some fans believe that Sherlock has created this video of Moriarty himself…
Moffat: I didn’t even know about that theory. You know, what’s exciting about the theories isn’t the fact that we read them – because we don’t, there are just too many, we’d do no writing if we did – but that people are engaging creatively with the show, and starting to make up their own stories. Which is roughly how we ended up making Sherlock.
Gatiss: The Sign Of Three was a very tough one to get right because it was a very big emotional story, centering around the best man speech, also with attendant crimes. The early idea was that when you tell funny stories, for Sherlock they’re actually cases, which would be very neat.
Moffat: I would say that is the most audacious episode we’ve done – and we have been rewarded with our faith in the audience, to say, ‘No, that’s fine. We’ll spend ages at a wedding.’ And just before Act 3 kicks in, you’ll think, ‘Oh hang on, they’ve duped us. It’s not just a wedding, it really is a case.’ I love doing that, I think that’s a brilliant thing to do. And the audience loved it, so we’re good with that.
Moffat: That was part of a bigger discussion about the shape of the series. In terms of the villain, we couldn’t do another Moriarty, because we’d done it. And he was coming back. If he’s coming back. The interesting thing was the darkness of the fact that, in the original [Conan Doyle] story, Sherlock really hates him, which is unusual. He has a little speech about how he looks like a snake, and he makes him ill. Now I don’t think Sherlock Holmes ever talks about anybody like that. So that was interesting.
Gatiss: The brilliant thing about Milverton as a character, and the reason that story’s so good, is he’s incredibly timeless. In fact, it’s timely, really. That sort of person is out there now, with emails and letters. It’s no accident that so much of it is about him owning newspapers. As he says, ‘I’m not a villain.’ He’s just a businessman. It’s all about power and money and manipulating people, and being able to stick your finger in someone’s pasta and then wash your fingers in their glass of water. And then getting Lars [Mikkelsen] doing it with such effortless cool, and then that wonderful blank-eyed thing, it all came together really nicely.
Moffat: I remember you saying, ‘Is it a problem that he doesn’t actually have a plan?’ But he’s not that kind of person. He’s perfectly happy, he just wants to carry on acquiring things. I think he just plays. He wanted to see what would happen if he went to Sherlock Holmes’ house. He’s a man who thinks he owns everything that he touches and sees and meets.
Moffat: [I wrote a scebe where] Sherlock and John go to him, and Magnussen’s decided to go for a swim so he just takes his clothes off. He gets into his Speedos. So he’s so bored of them, so uninterested, so unaware that they’re there, that he just behaves like that.
Gatiss: It would be like a Roman emperor, where they just didn’t even acknowledge that the servants were there. They just put their hand out for something.
Moffat: That sense of entitlement... It’s what brings him down of course, that it doesn’t occur to him that Sherlock Holmes might just shoot him. He hasn’t factored that in. He doesn’t think people can do that.
Moffat: Most Sherlock Holmes adaptations either ignore Mary or make her adversarial with Sherlock Holmes, which Doyle never does.
Gatiss: And because we had Amanda [Abbington] in mind from the beginning, we knew how completely she would sell this wonderful, lively, funny, sparky personality, but it would be brilliant to sort of pull that rug.
Moffat: It’s a great way to conceal a twist. It is so there in plain sight in the first two episodes, but you are so relieved that she is up for the adventure. She can recognise a skip code, she likes Sherlock Holmes, it’s all there, right in front of you. She completely understands Sherlock – that line in The Empty Hearse where she says, ‘Well, he’d need a confidant.’ She’s completely there, with all of it – nobody would react like that. Except you’re pleased. You think, ‘Oh good, she’s not going to be a drag.’ She’s meeting two complete maniacs and she’s fine with it – she’s obviously a maniac.
Gatiss: And the telegram from C.A.M. – there’s a lot of stuff there. It’s nice, isn’t it? No one has actually said, ‘I guessed it. I called it.’
Moffat: But the audience miss it for the same reason that Sherlock Holmes misses it: they like her. And because they like her, emotion does get in the way, it is grit in the instrument, but you don’t want to believe it’s true.
Moffat: We had her doing all sorts of acrobatics, didn’t we? He actually, at one point, goes over and finds the window open and all that. But it was just boring, so we didn’t have it. She got in ingeniously.
Gatiss: She broke in.
Moffat: She’s a highly trained intelligence agent, who’s doing a lot better job of breaking in than John and Sherlock are. And if you actually think this through, suppose Sherlock hadn’t blundered his way in that night? She’d just have shot Magnussen, gone back to being Mrs. Watson – and not only that, they’d have carried on solving crimes together, with this lethal killer nurse wandering along behind them, picking off anyone who might put them in danger. That would’ve been the show.
Gatiss: The Skyfall shot? That was honestly just Jeremy [Lovering], the director’s decision. We wanted a shot over London. It’s not exactly the same place, it is a little close.
Empire: So Mrs Hudson saying, ‘Live and let live,’ calling that a reference is going overboard?
Moffat: But ‘Blunt instrument’ [referring to Casino Royale].
Gatiss: ‘Blunt instrument’ is definitely deliberate.
Moffat: Mycroft’s colleague is therefore M.
Moffat: We tried very hard to get [façaded building Leinster Gardens] into episode one, and then had a short flailing period when we tried to get it into episode two, before we finally managed to get it into episode three, because I think it’s the single most exciting thing in the world. I love it.
Gatiss: It’s the coolest thing in the world. And I love the idea that people are now going to go there. A friend of mine rang me the other night and said, ‘I lived on that road. I never knew, all those years.’ But actually it fitted perfectly – even though episode one is about the Tube – into episode three, because it’s about being a façade. Hiding in plain sight, it couldn’t be better…
Moffat: By that stage we were so frantic to get it in. ‘There must be a way! Let’s turn the entire plot round! We have to have Leinster Gardens in Sherlock!’
Gatiss: Well, it starts with episode one of the first series, that Sherlock has ensured her husband’s execution in Florida. So we just extrapolated from there.
Moffat: I almost forget now that Mrs. Hudson isn’t really a character in Sherlock Holmes at all. I think maybe in The Dying Detective she’s allowed to utter a line — otherwise she doesn’t speak. So Mrs. Hudson is really our creation. Or rather, Una Stubbs. You’ve got Una Stubbs there, so you’ve just got to give her stuff to do because she’s brilliant. And it’s become more and more baroque.
Gatiss: In my head now there’s this sort of Michael Mann version of her, in the sweaty Florida Keys in the mid-’70s!
Moffat: The interesting thing about Sherlock Holmes is he’s entirely human. He’s taken a decision – which is a frightening one – to suppress his humanity to be a better detective. Now that’s what he says in the stories. He says – he doesn’t say he doesn’t have emotions – he says, ‘They get in the way.’
Gatiss: But having said that, we made a deliberate, conscious decision this year. We tried to convince people that he’s almost going soft, because we knew what was coming. You have to go somewhere, in the third series. You want to have progress. And then what I think is properly thrilling and rug-pulling is that you realise that he may have made some progress, but…
Moffat: He genuinely likes [Janine]. We know that from the preceding episode. He’s genuinely fond of her. That makes it, in his mind, ‘Well, at least I’ll be able to tolerate her company.’ The fact that he then crushes her the way he does is no different from how he behaved to John. He adores John, but he was perfectly happy to pretend to be dead for two years, and then think, ‘It’s really funny if I just jump out of a cake and say hello again.’ I think he’s genuinely fond of Janine. And you know, if he needed someone on his arm, to go to a function, he’d probably phone her up and say, ‘Oh, come on. Don’t be a bore.’
Gatiss: There are some lines cut where they had more of a rapprochement, but actually I think it’s rather nice the way that she leaves him feeling a bit shitty about it all.
Moffat: Is Sherlock Holmes a virgin or not? You can’t ever establish it. Oddly enough, they did the same in [1970 Billy Wilder film The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes]. They had a scene which established that he had done the deed, but they cut it. Same thing. We just don’t know. I personally can’t imagine that he is, but you can’t ever confirm it.
Moffat: We knew where we were going: that all of Magnussen’s information would be in a huge Mind Palace. So how do we remind people what a Mind Palace is? In the first episode you get the reference to it. In the second one, we get a proper scene in it. And then in the third one you have the whole sequence where he’s shot, which is just to remind you that mind palaces can have lots of rooms. So an idea that a few weeks ago you had never heard of becomes, ‘Why didn’t I see that coming?’
Gatiss: I first came across [the Mind Palace concept] in Hannibal, the Thomas Harris book, and the idea of it is so thrilling. But in a way it’s an extrapolation from Doyle from Sherlock’s quote about a man’s mind being like a lumber room. It doesn’t have elastic walls. There comes a point where for everything you put in, you have to delete something. And that became in the first series comparing it to a hard drive, and really, that’s what it is.
Gatiss: Who can say whether that’s an idea or just yet another of our throwaway bits of mischief? It may be the thread of a rug. It’s fun, isn’t it? It’s fun.
Moffat: Sherlock works out that the only way to stop Magnussen is to shoot him in the face, so he does. Most people can’t do that. Most people wouldn’t just go bang.
Gatiss: You don’t want to get bogged down in some dreary procedural about it all. It’s got a sort of operatic quality to it, which is what makes that ending, I think, very powerful.
Moffat: Also, if you read [The Adventure Of] Charles Augustus Milverton, Dr. Watson in the opening paragraph tells you that he’s about to tell you a porkie. He says, ‘I even now must be very reticent.’ I think what Doyle is hinting at is that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sat in Baker Street and said, ‘Right, we’re going to have to go and kill him, aren’t we? That’s the only way we can do this.’ So they break in, kill him, and then Dr. Watson writes up a version of the story that puts the murder [on someone else].
Gatiss: They’re hiding in their burglar masks behind the curtain, and this random woman comes and shoots Milverton in the face and then grinds her heel into his face. It’s odd, isn’t it? So I mean really, it’s just an extrapolation of saying, ‘Well, he probably did it, I think.’
Moffat: If Sherlock Holmes decided that somebody should die, he would kill them. I don’t think he’d have any problem with that.
Gatiss: He regards Milverton as a sort of plague, something that should be eradicated.
Gatiss: To be honest, I put [an explanation of Redbeard] into the first draft of episode two, and actually explained it – the reason that Sherlock was behaving like a child was because he’d once upon a time fallen for that story that your bunny rabbit has gone to live on a farm somewhere. And then we thought, ‘No, let’s hold it back because we can tease it a bit.’ And we genuinely thought, ‘We can keep this running for years.’ But then actually…
Moffat: It’s nice to have resolved it.
Gatiss: So the truth is that when he was little – and obviously Mycroft tormented him about it – is that his dog died, and he totally fell for the idea that Redbeard had gone to live in a happy valley somewhere.
Moffat: We kept that secret successfully, didn’t we? That was a strange one, I have to say, because our little boy is actually very good. He was in school shows, and he kept saying to me, ‘Can I ever be in things?’ and I’d say, ‘No you can’t. You absolutely can’t.’ So we did get to a situation where we said, ‘Okay, you can audition for this one, but your mother and I will not be involved in the decision.’ We had mixed feelings about sending a child into the acting profession. And we told everyone else, ‘You choose the one you like best, and we’re not voting.’ I remember telling him, ‘You’ve got a one-in-five chance — the chances are you won’t get it. And I’m not going to help you.’ And he said, ‘You are the worst dad.’
Gatiss: Remarkably, once you put the blue contact lenses in and his naturally curly hair dyed and styled slightly differently, he’s actually not a bad likeness…
Moffat: There’s a moment when it cuts from Louis looking round to Benedict looking round and it’s really completely believable that it’s the same person.
Moffat: Well, we’ve said that we’ve got ideas for [the next two series of Sherlock] — that’s not exactly the same thing as announcing them. Look, so long as Benedict and Martin want to do this, and given that the third series has out-rated the first two – which is an extraordinary sentence, because that doesn’t happen in television, it always goes the other way – of course the BBC will keep wanting to do more Sherlocks. But we’ve got schedules to arrange, and all that. And, frankly, starvation works.
Gatiss: Everyone’s very keen. And it’s a fascinating prospect, where we might take it next. But it is genuinely very difficult – and that’s not for want of trying – to get everyone together. Actually we’re meeting on Friday, aren’t we, to talk about the next one?
Moffat: We’ve had certain aspects of what we’re going to do mapped out for quite a long while. [The return of Moriarty] is not a last-minute whim. You’d have painted yourself into the most ludicrous corner. No, no, there’s been… it was discussed ages ago. The ‘Moriarty Plan’ is known by a few others, but a lot else of the next two series is just me and Mark.