Af­ter their mind-twist­ing Vic­to­rian ad­ven­ture, Sherlock Holmes and John Wa tson fi­nally re­turn for a full se­ries that prom­ises pure evil, par­ent­hood and a ca­nine com­pan­ion. But is Mo­ri­arty re­ally alive? Crime Scene joins the stars on-set, in search of clu


A spe­cial, six-page Sea­son 4 lo­ca­tion re­port with Cum­ber­batch and com­pany.

Sher­lock­ma­nia – sec­ond only in hys­te­ria and vol­ume to Beatle­ma­nia – is grip­ping the streets of north London. Crime Scene is cor­ralled be­hind a crowd bar­rier in the vicin­ity of Eus­ton Sta­tion. Night has fallen and we’re stand­ing along­side thou­sands of fans, who have jour­neyed from as far afield as China and Ja­pan. Since be­fore dawn they’ve been lin­ing up along North Gower Street which, as all card-car­ry­ing Sher­lock­ians doubt­less al­ready know, dou­bles for Baker Street in BBC One’s global hit drama.

We’re get­ting com­pletely drenched by three mas­sive rain ma­chines, which are pour­ing down out­side num­ber 221B, in prepa­ra­tion for a brief scene out­side the house. How­ever, no one’s ar­dour ap­pears damp­ened. There’s cer­tainly no lack of en­thu­si­asm when Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, clad in Sherlock’s trade­mark Bel­staff ‘Mil­ford’ coat, mag­i­cally ap­pears out of a side street, to com­mence film­ing in front of the con­sult­ing de­tec­tive’s fa­mous front door. The cheer from the as­sem­bled masses can no doubt be heard south of the River Thames. The game is on…

Chat­ting to Crime Scene in a nearby ho­tel be­fore film­ing starts, the cast and crew are equally de­lighted that the show’s re­turn­ing with a full se­ries

af­ter a three-year gap, “The Abom­inable Bride” be­ing a one-off spe­cial. That gap was at least par­tially en­forced by the fact that Cum­ber­batch and Martin Free­man, as Dr John Wat­son, have be­come megas­tars on the back of Sherlock.

Cum­ber­batch con­fesses that he’s hav­ing the time of his life on this fourth sea­son.

“I love it more than ever,” he says. “I also love the char­ac­ter more now be­cause I’ve got to ex­per­i­ment with play­ing dif­fer­ent sides of him.” He then re­veals that the fourth sea­son has been very de­mand­ing yet richly en­joy­able to make be­cause Sherlock is, “trou­bled and chal­lenged, at the top of his game and at the very bot­tom. So there are huge highs and huge lows, and you re­ally find out who he is.”

Louise Brealey, play­ing Sherlock’s friend, spar­ring part­ner and res­i­dent pathol­o­gist, Molly, is also en­joy­ing the film­ing.

“It’s so ex­cit­ing to come back every cou­ple of years and see ev­ery­one,” she says. “You don’t get so ner­vous, be­cause ev­ery­one’s your buddy, from the make-up to the wardrobe depart­ment. Just be­ing part of it is a beau­ti­ful thing.”

Mark Gatiss, the co-cre­ator of Sherlock, laughs as he re­calls how the show’s pop­u­lar­ity has mush­roomed since it be­gan in 2010 – aided and abet­ted by dozens of fan sites around the world.

“In the first sea­son, we shot Bene­dict and Martin in the mid­dle of Trafal­gar Square with no close pro­tec­tion,” he says, “We can’t do that now!”

In fact, Gatiss and co-cre­ator Steven Mof­fat have to write cer­tain scenes that may pre­vi­ously have been filmed on lo­ca­tion specif­i­cally for the stu­dio, to keep their stars far from the madding crowd.

world­wide au­di­ence

Sherlock, which begins its fourth se­ries on BBC One this New Year’s Day, has long since mor­phed from mere pro­gramme to a phe­nom­e­non. Now broad­cast in more than 240 ter­ri­to­ries around the world, the se­ries has won mul­ti­ple Baf­tas and Em­mys plus a pres­ti­gious Pe­abody Award. The show’s Vic­to­rian-era spe­cial, “The Abom­inable Bride”, was the sin­gle most watched show in the UK dur­ing the 2015/16 fes­tive pe­riod, rack­ing up some 11.6 mil­lion view­ers, and beat­ing Eas­ten­ders, the Queen’s an­nual ad­dress and Down­ton Abbey. When “The Abom­inable Bride” was shown in cin­e­mas around the world, to aug­ment the TV broad­cast, it proved more pop­u­lar than Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens in South Korea and topped China’s box of­fice. In ad­di­tion, the fi­nal episode of the third se­ries, “His Last Vow”, broke a Twit­ter record when it trig­gered 10,000 tweets per minute.

The show has in­spired fan art all over the world. On the set, a Ja­panese fan shows Crime Scene a graphic novel he’s lov­ingly made, while 2013 saw Korean pop group SHINEE en­joy a hit sin­gle, “Sherlock”, which was in­spired by the drama. In­deed, when David Cameron went to China on of­fi­cial busi­ness in De­cem­ber 2013, lo­cals asked the then Prime Min­is­ter if he could con­vince the BBC to make more episodes.

Gatiss, who also stars as Sherlock’s de­vi­ous older brother, My­croft, re­mains as­tounded that the show has be­come such a sen­sa­tion all over the world.

“As huge Sherlock Holmes fans, Steven and I find it amaz­ing that we have the priv­i­lege of hold­ing the keys to Baker Street for a while and of mak­ing a show that has struck such a nerve,” he says. “We could never have pre­dicted the scale of it. Ever since the pi­lot, we’ve al­ways been proud of it, but the in­ter­na­tional scope of it is mind-blow­ing and daunt­ing.”

With al­most child­like glee, Mof­fat adds, “Like Mark, I used to ob­ses­sively buy books about Sherlock. I was fas­ci­nated by him. I found him ex­otic and un-claimable.” The 55-year-old writer and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, who’s also the showrun­ner on Doctor Who, con­tin­ues, “So now I find it be­wil­der­ing, but de­light­ful that when­ever one of those books comes out now, our pro­duc­tion will prob­a­bly be on the cover. That’s amaz­ing.”

The cre­ators try to ac­count for the fact that Sherlock has chimed with au­di­ences right around the world.

“Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle was baf­fled by the suc­cess of his cre­ation to­wards the end of his life,” says Gatiss, who’s also writ­ten for Doctor Who and Poirot. “We are not com­par­ing our­selves with Co­nan Doyle, but we’re not baf­fled – we’re just grate­ful.

“It’s like bot­tled light­ning. Some­thing hap­pened the mo­ment the writ­ing and the cast­ing came to­gether. It’s just one of those shows. It will never hap­pen again. We’ve all had hits be­fore, but this is a phe­nom­e­non that sparked at just the right time.”

Mof­fat takes up the theme. “We’ve prob­a­bly got the mo­ment on tape,” he says. “Among sev­eral Wat­sons, Martin had a chance to au­di­tion with Bene­dict. The mo­ment we saw them act­ing to­gether for the first time, we knew that was the show right there.”

The cre­ators of Sherlock are touched by the pas­sion of the fans. “I was ac­tu­ally an­swer­ing some fan mail this morn­ing,” says Gatiss. “Some of it was so old, I was ashamed. I had to start telling lies about how pack­ages of let­ters got mis­laid! But from China to Rus­sia, the de­vo­tion is as­ton­ish­ing. You get some very mov­ing

let­ters about how the show has af­fected peo­ple’s lives. Some have had de­pres­sion that has lifted or made friends through it. It’s very grat­i­fy­ing to have had that ef­fect – just by mak­ing 10 episodes.”

How­ever, as is their wont, Mof­fat and Gatiss are much less keen to talk about how the new se­ries will de­velop. Part of the show’s pop­u­lar­ity de­rives from the fact that every episode comes as a com­plete sur­prise to its au­di­ence. Con­se­quently, ev­ery­one in­volved in the show is very strict about not giv­ing away any spoil­ers – the code of omerta pre­vails on the Sherlock set.

“We could give you three words de­scrib­ing it that ac­tu­ally have noth­ing to do with a se­ries,” Gatiss teases.

“Wolver­hamp­ton. Peanut. Throt­tle,” Mof­fat adds, with a mis­chievous grin.

For her part, Louise Brealey even begins our in­ter­view by ad­mit­ting, “I’m just go­ing to look at the list of things I’m not al­lowed to say to you. Bear with me!”

What we are per­mit­ted to know about the fourth se­ries, which opens with an episode writ­ten by Gatiss and en­ti­tled “The Six Thatch­ers”, is that Sherlock is un­sure about the con­tin­u­ing in­volve­ment of his ap­par­ently dead foe, Mo­ri­arty (An­drew Scott). The im­age of Sherlock’s arch neme­sis was seen end­lessly re­peat­ing “Did you miss me?” at the end of the last se­ries. In the new sea­son, Sherlock is seen mus­ing, “Some­thing is com­ing. Maybe it’s Mo­ri­arty, maybe it’s not.”

What is cer­tain is that Sherlock will be con­fronted by an­other se­ri­ously de­vi­ous bad­die, Cul­ver­ton Smith, as played by Toby Jones ( The Wit­ness For The Pros­e­cu­tion). He was orig­i­nally the trop­i­cal dis­eases ex­pert and poi­soner in Co­nan Doyle’s story “The Ad­ven­ture Of The Dy­ing De­tec­tive” which, for the sec­ond episode of the new se­ries, has be­come “The Ly­ing De­tec­tive”.


Cul­ver­ton Smith is “com­pletely dif­fer­ent”, ac­cord­ing to Mof­fat. “He’s the dark­est vil­lain we’ve had,” he adds. “There was al­ways some­thing charm­ing and en­gag­ing about Mo­ri­arty. There was some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing and ac­tu­ally amoral, rather than im­moral, about Charles Au­gus­tus Mag­nussen. But this guy is the purest evil. Sherlock is ac­tu­ally ap­palled by him. He’s the most evil vil­lain we’ve had. I don’t think that, when you see it, you will dis­agree. He’s hor­rific.”

An­other el­e­ment of the new se­ries which is al­ready in the pub­lic do­main is the fact that John’s wife Mary, who was re­vealed to be a ruth­less as­sas­sin in the last se­ries, gives birth to their baby daugh­ter. And how does Mr. Holmes re­spond to this new mem­ber of his ex­tended fam­ily?

“I can’t talk about the ef­fect that the baby has on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mary and John be­cause there is an im­pact,” says Cum­ber­batch, apolo­get­i­cally. “But Sherlock re­acts in a very Sher­lock­ian way. How­ever Sherlock would re­act, that’s what he does.”

Gatiss re­veals more about how this se­ries con­nects to the last: “It started to rain when we were shoot­ing ‘His Last Vow’ so Stephen and I took shel­ter in the pro­duc­tion of­fice bus and spun a few ideas around. By the time we got off the bus, we had plot­ted this en­tire se­ries. We’re like mag­pies, tak­ing bits from dif­fer­ent Co­nan Doyle sto­ries – ‘Oh, that bit could fit here’. Do­ing it only every two-and-a-half years means the scale of the story has to be pretty big. It can’t just be a story of the week. It has to be ma­jor stuff re­ally.

“But it’s par­tic­u­larly epic this sea­son. At the end of ‘His Last Vow’, Sherlock is ap­par­ently go­ing into ex­ile. He’s killed a ter­ri­ble man, but what’s go­ing to hap­pen next? The last Christ­mas spe­cial took place in a five-minute gap, but we knew where we were go­ing af­ter that be­cause Mary is preg­nant, which changes ev­ery­thing. The unofficial ti­tle of the first episode is ‘The Three Wat­sons’ be­cause the baby al­ters the dy­namic, not in a cutesy way but be­cause it’s a dif­fer­ent place to put the char­ac­ters.”

There will also be a dog in this sea­son, which may or may not be Toby from the Co­nan Doyle story “The Sign Of The Four”. As ex­pected, the team are re­main­ing tight-lipped re­gard­ing all things ca­nine. All that pro­ducer Sue Vertue will say is, “Things we’ve learnt dur­ing this se­ries: don’t shoot with a baby and a dog!”

“The old­est rule of show­biz, bro­ken again,” sighs Gatiss, in mock ex­as­per­a­tion.

Thanks to the malev­o­lent pres­ence of Cul­ver­ton Smith, this sea­son has been ad­ver­tised as the dark­est yet, but the cast as­sert that it’s also the best.

con­tin­u­ing plea­sures

Amanda Ab­bing­ton, who plays Mary and is Free­man’s real-life part­ner, says that they take great plea­sure in work­ing on the scripts to­gether at home.

“We get the scripts and then we read them to­gether in the sit­ting room,” she re­veals. “So we’re find­ing out to­gether, which is lovely. With this se­ries, es­pe­cially, we got the first script and we were like, ‘Crikey, this is in­cred­i­ble!’; and then we got the sec­ond script and we were like, ‘This is even bet­ter than the first one!’; and then we got to the third one and it was – ‘How are we go­ing to do this? How are we go­ing to pull this off?!’ But I think if we do pull this off, it will be amaz­ing.”

Cum­ber­batch ex­pe­ri­ences sim­i­lar plea­sure when he’s col­lab­o­rat­ing with Free­man. “It’s been a joy to us, as ac­tors,” he ex­plains. “We al­ways have that mo­ment where we read the script and ring each other. We have that com­mu­nal mo­ment be­tween the two of us, of go­ing, ‘Oh my God, this is so ex­cit­ing! We’re so lucky to be do­ing this!’”

So what of the fu­ture? Can we look for­ward to Se­ries 5 in the next few years? Cum­ber­batch, who re­cently starred in the Marvel block­buster Dr Strange, is hope­ful.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he says. “But yes, of course, it still main­tains a fas­ci­na­tion, oth­er­wise I wouldn’t come back for more. I’ve got a lot go­ing on in my life at the mo­ment, thank­fully. I’m very lucky as an ac­tor. So it’s not just about em­ploy­ment; it is about want­ing to do it, and I’m very lucky to be in that po­si­tion. And also to have a char­ac­ter like this, who I still re­ally want to play.”

Free­man, who’s also taken leads in The Hob­bit films and Se­ries 1 of Fargo, agrees with his co-star, who he knows as ‘Ben’.

“My feel­ing is al­ways that if you en­joy some­thing, then let it breathe and give it a chance,” he says, “but stop some­thing when you’re no longer en­joy­ing it. But at the mo­ment, I’m hav­ing a re­ally good time.” With a wry smile, Free­man adds: “But the show is called Sherlock. The show isn’t called any­body else’s name, so you know, next time, we’ll prob­a­bly all be dead and it will just be Ben. Be­cause, ul­ti­mately, he’s the thing that it can’t go on with­out.”

Ab­bing­ton, who was also in the BBC po­lice drama Cuffs, has her own thoughts: “It’s about Sherlock and John, and I don’t want Mary to be­come the third wheel. I want the show to be about them, re­ally. And I think the fans do as well. If it was called Mary, it would be a dif­fer­ent thing. That would be a spin-off about her life as an as­sas­sin and how she got into it.”

Ac­tu­ally, that isn’t a bad idea… “You’re right! Tell Steven and Mark. It should be called Mary! – ex­cla­ma­tion mark!”

Af­ter hav­ing a ball on “The Abom­inable Bride”, Free­man can also see an­other spin-off se­ries work­ing: “We just re­ally en­joyed be­ing in the 1890s. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I would look at Ben and then look at my­self in the mir­ror, and go ‘Thank God we’re fi­nally play­ing Holmes and Wat­son, in­stead of John and Sherlock’. So we played them as Co­nan Doyle in­tended, and it was a lot of fun to do that.”

So what other era would Free­man like to see the duo trans­ported to? “I’d like to do 1066. It would be about how Sherlock and John han­dled the Nor­man In­va­sion!”

Sherlock Se­ries 4 is sched­uled to start on BBC One this New Year’s Day.

Things we’ve learnt: don’t shoot with a baby and a dog!

Gatiss pulls the strings, both on and off screen. ‘Do you miss him?’ Well, Mo­ri­arty may not re­turn. Ab­bing­ton,c um­ber­batch and hound on lo­ca­tion. Rachel Talalay di­rect­ing the first of the new se­ries. Where would Holmes be with­outmrs. Hud­son?

Cop­ing with Holmes may well turn your hair grey. Toby Jones plays “the dark­est vil­lain we’ve had”.

The Sherlock fam­ily now has an­other mem­ber.

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