Ah, the winter months. Filled with the relaxation of semester break, warmth of Christmas, excitement of New Year's, and—did you say new "Sherlock" material?!
That's right, "The Abominable Bride," re-reset in Victorian London but retaining our wonderful character adaptations, is nigh, and well overdue. Fans of the BBC show have known about this one-off episode, premiering worldwide on January 1, for some time now, and the excitement surrounding its release is enough to make us forgive show-runners Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss for the two years that have passed since Series 3.
You're hard-pressed to find anyone today with internet access who does not know of "Sherlock" or its stars. Since its inception in 2010, "Sherlock" has expanded and gathered an internet cult following in addition to its casual fans—9.2 million of whom in the U.K. alone tuned in for the Series 3 premiere.
Because of its online presence, a steady flow of new information about the special, such as promotional stills or trailers, has been trickling through social media sites since the beginning of summer. Tumblr, the most popular blogging platform for fans of the show, has been especially keen on the distribution of teaser info.
Major information about the special first hit the presses during this year's San Diego Comic-Con. "Sherlock" had its own panel at the convention, where Moffatt talked about the plan for the special and this preview was shown:
(For reference, from here the names "Watson" and "Holmes" refer to the Arthur Conan Doyal canon "Sherlock Holmes" series, while "Sherlock" and "John" refer to the modern BBC adaptation. Likewise, "Holmesian" is a descriptor for the ACD canon and "Sherlockian" for the BBC.)
So let's talk about what we learned at Comic-Con: That it is still set in London, but unlike the normal procession of "Sherlock" material, the special takes place in the year 1895. Gatiss has teased that this year specifically is of great importance, but for what reason, he will not say.
Theories have been thrown all over the place: In the ACD canon, 1895 is the year that Watson and Holmes have to leave London under mysterious circumstances. The blog that John runs on the BBC show is in fact a real blog, and although it has since been taken down, there used to be a hit counter widget on the sidebar that was stuck at the number 1895.
Also, the most popular piece of Holmesian poetry, "221B" by Vincent Starrett Week, concludes with the lines, "Here though the world explode, these two survive / And it is always eighteen ninety-five." (Which, all bias aside, is absolutely beautiful. Read the whole thing here.)
And, you know, 1895 just so happens to also be the year Oscar Wilde was put on trial in London for homosexuality. I mean. Not implying anything, just saying.
Of course, Tumblr exploded with analyzes and explorations of the trailer, drawing predictions based on different ACD stories and other "Sherlock Holmes" adaptations. That kept the fandom going for a while, plus strange interviews and cryptic tweets by the cast and crew.
Then, two months ago, the internet was hit with another trailer: a full minute and a half of new information and largely, new footage.
Even only hours after this trailer release, Tumblr was already breaking apart the dialogue and scenes. Moffatt and Gatiss are masters of subtly; we can already see tiny echoes of ACD stories and previous "Sherlock" material in the promos. One of these references is so obscured, I don't know how anyone managed to notice it.
Okay, so see this still from the trailer?
The painting behind Sherlock and to his left is a painting of the Reichenbach Falls, the waterfall where Holmes and Moriarty have their encounter in the ACD story "The Final Problem." The painting also makes a nod to the Sherlockian "Reichenbach Fall," the Series 2 finale based on this story.
Make no mistake, years of hiatus have given the fandom time to train their eyes to look for little details like this. Moffatt and Gatiss are so intentional about everything they put into the show, and the fans notice. Remember the deer antlers hanging on the wall of 221b?
Yeah, another person on Tumblr noticed that they have been replaced in the special with a full deer head.
If we have already gotten so many easter eggs in the little material we've been offered, imagine all the others that are scattered throughout the whole 90-minute episode! Supposedly, it features a lot of the ACD canon. Moffatt told an interviewer, "It's a new story, but if you know the original stories, you'll see that it's fashioned out of quite a few others. As ever with us, we've chosen several and there are loads of references. One of them you have to be able to speak Chinese to get."
The merging of Holmesian and Sherlockian canon is not foreign to Moffatt and Gatiss, but it is riveting to hear that this episode, because of its reimagined setting, will give even more props to Doyle. In this way, it is absolutely amazing and kind of frightening how much thought goes into each shot of "Sherlock," especially, it seems, this particular episode. So why, exactly, is it set in 1895?
Another Tumblr blogger considered this with regard not to specific references such as Week's poem or Wilde's trial but to the actual arc of the show, and she thought up something brilliant.
In the final scene of Series 3, which is speculated to have taken place in the "Sherlock" timeline sometime early in January of 2015, Sherlock is flying on a private plane to a suicide mission after saying goodbye to Mary and John on the tarmac. He is in the air for roughly four minutes before Moriarty makes a reappearance in London, and Sherlock is called back from his mission.
Moffatt and Gatiss have been adamant about the Victorian setting for the special being a one-off and the impending Series 4 reverting back to the modern time period. The idea of an episode outside the series is not new to "Sherlock." A Christmas episode aired in on December 24, 2013 called "Many Happy Returns," but it tied back to the coming series by showing John during the time he believes Sherlock to be dead. This prepared the audience for what was to be John's explosive anger at Sherlock because we were allowed to see part of his grief.
Therefore, it follows that this special episode should do something to "prepare" the audience for Series 4, even more so because this episode is longer and more publicized than "Many Happy Returns." It is also airing significantly before the following season is expected to premiere. So the speculation is that the special takes place in Sherlock's mind palace during the time he is on the plane at the end of Series 3. That scene is totally pensive, right? It is not hard to imagine Sherlock hiding in his brain while he stares out the window of the plane.
This theory not only ties the special to the modern day for Series 4 without going all "Doctor Who" on viewers, but it also allows the audience to fully understand Sherlock's thoughts during the concluding scene of Series 3, which was largely shown from Sherlock's point of view—especially the last episode—so it follows that this special would proceed in that same direction, being filmed entirely from his point of view.
And as for the year, well, it's just totally random that Sherlock chooses Victorian England to file away memories of himself and John. Of course, it's not because both he and John are emotionally repressed and homosexual persecution peaked in Victorian England. Of course not.
As a disclaimer, this is all speculation, so take it with a grain of salt if you want. But a pretty good argument exists if you're intrigued. Read the whole theory here.
On a lighter note, the special is being shown in theaters on January 5 and 6 through Fathom Events! Last month, exact theaters and showtimes were released along with a new 30-second promo.
Exciting, right? BBC Three certainly thought so, as they posted this on Tumblr immediately following the release:
(As a Virgo, I can attest that this breakdown is extremely relevant.)
The BBC hasn't released much of anything else, but do not doubt that the month of December will be filled with sneak peeks and even more cryptic tweets. Oh, how the cast and crew are fond of those cryptic tweets.
The fandom continues to post theories and discuss thoughts about what the special will be. GIFs and edits of scenes from the trailers are popping up on Tumblr by the boat loads. People are writing fanfiction based on the information we have already been given, sculpting their own episodes. It looks like this winter, many fans of the show are more eagerly anticipating "The Abominable Bride" than the holidays. This year, Santa plays second fiddle to Moffatt and Gatiss.
It is nothing that has not happened before. I remember spending Christmas Day in 2013 on my laptop, blogging about the 7 minute, 12-second episode that had aired the day before. (To all of my family: I am still sorry about that year.)
At least this time around, the only holiday "Sherlock" will completely overshadow is New Year's Day, which doesn't matter a great deal to me anyway. Mom, Dad, and I can just eat our black eyed peas and pork in front of the TV, right? As far as we've already seen, it's going to be worth it.