Big Screen: Friday's TV Panel

Sherlock and Merlin sessions in full

Mark Gatiss at Big Screen

The Sherlock session kicked off with a couple of clips from season one. The first went all the way back to the beginning and possibly the smartest meet-cute in telly detective history. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock explains to Martin Freeman’sWatson that he knows everything about him, from his army past in Afghanistan to his favourite colour of Skittle, just by looking at him, and would he care to flat-share? If only Gumtree was this much fun. Then, without much more ado, Sherlock creator/writer Mark Gatiss took to the stage to share some nuggets about season two, currently “a week and a bit” away wrapping down in Cardiff.

As the former League of Gentlemen-er explained, things got a little Royston Vasey on the set this week: “We were stopped briefly by the riots which was very scary indeed.” It’s a bold call to visit the set of a programme called ‘Sherlock’ to commit crime, you’d think. Here’s hoping they were disarmed by a few well-placed Holmes bon mots and a well-timed cane to the looter-hooters.

Interruptions aside, season two is coming together nicely says Gatiss. He’s promising a visit to some of the greatest moments in the Holmes canon over the three 90-minute shows. They form what the creator shorthands ‘The Woman, The Hound, The Fall’ trilogy, although we know them better as ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ and ‘The Final Problem’. For the spoiler-weary, those are the Wikipedia pages to avoid between now and session two’s airing. As Gatiss explained cryptically, “We get to the cliffhanger somehow…”

So what’s different about this season? “It’s the second one,” Gatiss deadpanned. “Also we’ve completely recasted.”

“It’s a rare chance to do the early days of their friendship, right from the beginning, so everything you know has not yet formed. Sherlock’s attidue to women and to crime is still forming, so it’s much more plastic. The only heresy [about the show] is that it’s modern day. After that it’s one of the most faithful versions there’s ever been, because Stephen and I just love it. Sherlock Holmes had become all about the hansom cabs and the fog, rather than about the friendship of this unlikely couple. It’s very much inspired by the Basil Rathbone’s version.”

So the big question: will there be a Moriarty presence? “Wait and see!” laughed Gatiss. So is that a yes? “It’s a nnn yes.”

Gatiss explained that Sherlock was beavering away frantically solving cases, so the elves could continue to their journey across Middle-earth. “The Hobbit is working around us,” he grinned, “and I never thought I’d say that. They shut the while film down so Martin (Freeman) could come back to us but we’ve got to finish sharpish so he can get back. My only regret is that Martin and Benedict are in it, but not the rest of the Sherlock cast.”

Next up: Arthurian England’s own Derren Brown, Merlin. Fans of all things wizardy and fire-breathing would have been stirring their metaphorical cauldrons in delight at the sight of footage from the forthcoming fourth season (airing on weekend spots before Christmas, fact fans). Then Merlin creators Johnny Capps and Julian Jones, as well as Prince Arthur himself, Bradley James, took to the stage to answer questions devilish enough to have Beowulf howling at the moon.

First things first: would the show be taking a leaf out of Harry Potter’s book of spells and heading in a darker direction? Yay, and indeed, verily. “Season four looks at the mythology, so in that sense it gets darker,’ explained Capps, “but there’s still comic moments in there.” So giant wooden rabbits and tap-dancing Knights of the Round Table are out then? “Well, the stand-out comedy episodes we’ve had before won’t be there.” Sure enough, the crunchingly visceral trailer for season four was a world of John-Boorman-Excalibur bleakness as well as all the swordsmanship, swashbuckling and hag-faced witches we’ve come to know and love in the series.

“Everyone’s very aware of the familiar King Arthur legend so that part of my research was already done,” James joked. “Without being presumptious enough to think that this would run and run, I knew Arthur’s journey was to go from this idiot at the beginning to the heroic figure he becomes at the end of the show.”

So, wondered Big Screen’s moderator, why ‘Merlin’ and not, say, ‘Arthur’? “Merlin the magician was something that no-one had explored for a long time,” Jones explained. “At the time [of creating Merlin] we were all obsessed with Smallville so we started to explore the idea of a ‘young Merlin’. Then we thought, “Why not bring in Arthur? Why not bring in Guinevere?”

The creators came back time and again to the show’s “five-year plan”, a rare luxury in TV writing that’s enabled them to construct longer-reaching arcs and plot threads. “There’s a very specific idea of how season five ends and how to move onto season six,” says Capps. “We’re looking to move deeper into the mythology. The great thing about it is that everybody has a Merlin - there’s a very famous Croatian Merlin – and we’ve read everything!” Auntie Beeb likes to keep its scheduling info under its bonnet, but look out for Merlin season four on a Saturday evening slot sometime before Christmas.