I'm not sure what exactly the expectations were for this year's Sherlock special The Abominable Bride. All the promotional material made it clear than unlike the regular series it was going to be set in the Victorian era and thus just a stand alone stocking-stuffer. And that's how it proceeded for let's say the first 60 minutes of its running time (I didn't use a stopwatch I may be off by 3 seconds). At which point it got, complicated.
Okay let's step back. Opening with a "previously on" was an interesting technique that actually worked really well because it gave the audience an easy way to compare and contrast modern Sherlock with this Victorian pastiche Sherlock. And just on that level it was quite fun. Of course it turned out to have another purpose as well, but we'll get there.
So the early sequences are basically a fun romp showing us Holmes and Watson meeting and establishing their relationship in an echo of what we've seen before and taking advantage of that fact and the period setting to throw a few barbs in there. There's a lot of humor in this episode. At times it verges on being too much and becoming a parody of itself, but I think it just stays on the right line of things.
There's also an interesting line of feminism running through the show for much of its run though it is a feminism that by the very nature of the source material is mostly talked about by men. Some people are going to have a problem with that but I'm really not sure how it can be avoided without completely throwing out the format both of this show and of Holmes stories in general.
So there's lots of fun to be had seeing familiar characters in familiar yet unfamiliar guises (Mycroft is a particular treat) and there's a creepy, spooky, gothic sort of mystery building up nicely. Along the way there were a few minor inconsistencies but I was mostly so wrapped up in enjoying things I didn't care. And then Moriarty appeared.
Now I love Andrew Scott's interpretation of Moriarty so I have no problem with the characters inclusion, but this was the point at which it became clear we were playing in the "Mind Palace" again. I'm not a big fan of the mind palace. I think it was overused in the last season and was not happy to see it appear in Doctor Who. But, once it became clear how it was being used, I found it very clever.
I imagine the switch to a more surreal mode of storytelling (jumping between present and past from one location to another) will not be universally popular though. For a start if your primary interest was the mystery of the titular Abominable Bride, they did kind of brush that off. I mean we got a solution and it stands up okay, but by that point the walls of reality had thoroughly crumbled so the denouement of the mystery was a surreal spectacle in its own right.
Would the episode have been stronger if it had just stuck to the original narrative? I think it would as a story. On the other hand doing this did enable a really deep dive into what makes Holmes who he is and his relationship with Watson. So, it's a bit of a trade off really. I think it comes down to which you think is the more important, the mystery element or the characters. There were really very few elements of the episode that I disliked, it's just that the two parts smashed together rather messily.
Between the sharp dialogue, the Victorian setting, the brilliant moments and some really good camera work I spent the entire time I was watching The Abominable Bride really enjoying it. The questions and pocking at it mostly came afterwards. So by that definition it's a success, but I fully expect to see a lot of reviews from people who hated it.
Also published on Medium.