The Abominable Fanservice

Sherlock – The Abominable Bride


Tea: Date Chocolate Tea


Since Sherlock’s seasons are stretched so far apart you will tell your grandchildren that season five will come out some day and they will roll their eyeballs and leave you to your senile dreaming, the writers of the show gave fans a little treat with an intermezzo of the special sort: a Victorian style Christmas special that takes the beloved sleuth back to his literary roots. However, if there is one thing in the Sherlock Holmes canon we have enough of, it is Victorian themed shows, movies and books. So what does the BBC version bring to the table and can it surprise Sherlock fans even in the most oversaturated setting possible?

The Top-Hat-Cumberbatch-Chronicles start with the introduction of Watson to Sherlock which amounts basically to the same scene and dialogue only with a Victorian Instagram filter draped over it. Shortly afterwards the main case is introduced: A slightly creepy bride was shooting randomly at men passing under her balcony before she pointed the gun at herself and ended the little spectacle. This would not arouse the coat-lacking sleuth’s attention, however, were it not for the fact that the same bride showed up later that day to shoot her husband with a shotgun and vanishing shortly afterwards. The parallel to one of the main storyline cases should be rather apparent by now and as the episode goes on it becomes increasingly obvious that this is not an interplay but strongly linked to the present day Sherlock. How this is done will remain a mystery to you until you watch it, however.


– Actually, this is false advertising, since if I remember correctly, Sherlock never wears the top hat, only that gastly deer-stalker. –

There are a lot of problems with this episode, but let’s get the praise out of the way first: The costumes and general sets (except one) all look amazing and the actors once again give it their all. There is one stand-out performance which I will not spoil, but you will recognise it once you see it. It is the one actor who, in my book at least, outshines the rest of the cast in every appearance. Another touch I quite enjoyed was the canonically correct Mycroft, a glutton with an utter distaste for legwork and an insatiable taste for anything that is closely related to food. Mark Gatiss does an amazing job with the character, no matter his weight. Sherlock and John are on point again, or should I say Holmes and Watson in this context. While the soundtrack is short, it is great as always with the appropriate amount of tension tossed in between. I do not have a problem with the Victorian setting per se as it is true to the source material, to some extent, and generally has a strong atmosphere and while the language is far from being Victorian in any way, it still has an immersive quality to it that is hard to deny.


– Mycroft is criminally underdeveloped in the main show so it is always nice to see some more of Gatiss’ excellent version. –

The first problem I need to address is the case: While the parallel case in the present day Sherlock is intriguing, the Victorian one is not and remains unexplored. It is a plot device and feels like that in every scene it is present. It is a substitution and feels underdeveloped. The lack of any resolution just adds to this. It did not help that figuring out how the bride killed herself without dying is laughably easy, should you see the scene of her death yourself. I felt robbed of the Sherlock I admire who is so far ahead of everyone else. That being said, the consequences for smartphone-coat-bearing Benedict are far better executed and in a way make up for the disappointing case in the past. As an added bonus, the audience gets a bit more insight into the character of Mycroft who was previously a bit underdeveloped, which is sad since he is one of the most intriguing members of the show. Sadly, one of my least favourite characters also gets more screen time: Mary. Mrs Watson simply feels too powerful, her connections and skills make her appear laughably overdone. Strong female characters are the new norm and I would not mind that at all if they’d have any character and not simply “strong female character” as the beginning and end of their role.


– Nice outfits, nice setting, great make-up. The case itself? Not so much. –

I did not enjoy the Victorian rehash of the meeting of the two main characters. It felt unnecessary as nothing was changed at the core. I did not see the point of it. The same thing goes for the re-use of a lot of line from previous episodes which are less of an enjoyable reminder than a painful wake-up call that the writers may be running out of witty dialogue. But why write new one, if you can just re-use old line and sell them as fanservice. And this is exactly what it feels like: an episode for the fans. Which is baffling since every episode and every iteration of anything ever related to Sherlock would be devoured in seconds by the fans, so dedicating an entire episode to it just feels like a boring re-tread. And given my well-documented distaste for fanservice, I have to whip the episode for it until it may bleed some original content. And after a good amount of it, some may drip from the fanservice carcass but this does not mean that it is full of it. The intermezzo feels bloodless and drawn out, the little “previously on Sherlock” only adds to it, as if they had difficulties filling 90 minutes.


– I really miss the old Sherlock-hair. –

There are a lot of small details I would like to nit-pick such as the horrible CG effects near the end which look like a school production. In general one of the later set where I thought I could see the lamps arranged in the back since they were so bright and prominent. The fact that the episode curls itself up into a ball near the end and tries to bite its own tail in a very intelligent way but only ends up chewing on its own arse a bit. With one laughably overdone scene about 2/3 through the episode serving no purpose whatsoever and only being there for the sake of painting the episode more intelligent and smart than it actually is. I will sound like an old man when I say that “the old Sherlock” (meaning Season 1+2) was a lot better, since they did not focus so much on the characters but on interesting cases with characters developing alongside it. Now the character focus is so strong, the cases get completely side-tracked. Season 3 is most notable in this regard with the first two episodes having practically no interesting case and only serving as a set-up for some fun and whacky character moments.


– Sadly, the Victorian setting remain entirely unproductive. –

 Bride is just as the subtitle of intermezzo might imply a cheap tool to carry you over until season 4. It is entertaining while it lasts, but you will feel the runtime and by the end you will not crave more of this but more of the Sherlock you felt more comfortable with. It is perfectly serviceable, but feels rushed and underdeveloped. Just like I surmised at the start, the Victorian setting does not add anything. It is nice to look at but serves no other purpose than to show some characters in a different outfit which once again is only fanservice. The lacking main case cements this as a one-watch affair and a setting we do not need to return to. After this and Season 3, I am struck with the increasing feeling that Sherlock peaked with the finale of the Reichenbach Fall, a greatness it never managed to recapture and we have only been going downhill from there. Perhaps the next season can pull the cart out of the deep swamp of fan-appealing homosexual overtones, but as for now the wheels remain stuck and a horse is nowhere in sight.



Image sources in order of appearance:




4 thoughts on “The Abominable Fanservice

  1. My feelings exactly and I am happy that you, as a die-hard fan of Sherlock, are able to take on a more objective viewpoint and recognise the fan-service for what it is. I, too, was quite disappointed, even more so because I watched the episode rather late at night, staying up just for the sake of Sherlock and my beloved Mycroft, although I was very tired. Staying awake during this rather mediocre episode was an ordeal. Totally not worth a good night´s sleep in my opinion.
    One question: the horribly artificial scene you´re referring to: Is it the one at the waterfall? That one looked a bit strange to me, at least…
    The one thing I truly loved and which came as a pleasant surprise was the sudden switch to the modern time Sherlock. Absolutely didn´t see that coming. It gave some relevance to the episode, but on the other hand it only made the huge difference between the Victorian and the modern Sherlock all the more blatant.
    If there is to be another special, I would like to see an alternative universe in which the roles are inversed and Sherlock is the dangerous and brilliant serial killer, just as in your fanfiction! (I am still waiting impatiently for the next chapter, by the way!)


    • Yes, exactly that scene. The lighting was so odd and direct that it seemed like a really bad studio set and when Sherlock plunged into the depth below the uncanny value sky-rocketed.
      I’d hope for more seasons rather than specials if they are all this self-referential. But hey, season 4 is coming eventually…right?
      I still want the spin-off for Moriarty’s rise to power in his typical Jim fashion. Would make a great show in my opinion.
      It might exist somewhere and may or may not be published in the near future. Who knows…


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