The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Season 3 – What Happened?

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Season 3 – What Happened?

Sherlock Season 3Now, it’s certainly possible that I’m clueless (and I do LOVE Without a Clue), but I don’t think I’ve got the following all wrong regarding BBC’s Sherlock.

Except for the grumpy old man contingent (‘Get Sherlock out of modern day!’), fans of Holmes, including scholarly geeks like me who make their own newsletter, overwhelmingly liked this new show and the three episode season one.

I don’t know too many Holmes fans (other than GOM group: see above) who disliked this show. Even those who were moderately approving seemed pleased and intrigued with it and willing to tune in for another season.

So, season two came along, and more huzzahs and approval. I don’t remember Holmes friends of mine thinking it was going south. I certainly didn’t: I thought the first two seasons were brilliant and fun updatings of the great detective. I found cool references to Doyle’s tales all over the place.

Once again, no comments that it jumped the shark. Folks were absolutely looking forward to seeing how Holmes survived his Reichenbach Fall. It was one of my five all time favorite tv shows and probably battling Justified for number one.

And then season three (finally) arrived. Hoo-boy. Not only did I see, I observed. And for the first time, I saw and observed a notable amount of unhappiness with the show. And with the second episode, it was certain that a shift had occurred among the fan base. It continued through the third (season finale) episode.

Watson - What should we do about season four, Sherlock? Holmes - Oh, do shut up, John.
Watson – What should we do about season four, Sherlock?
Holmes – Oh, do shut up, John.

A significant number of folks grumbled about season three. Where there had been very little unhappiness with the first six episodes, an entire contingent of fans did not like season three and it impacted their overall attitude towards the show. It went from competing  for number one to dropping out of my all time top ten.

I will state categorically that the excitement for season four is not nearly as great and certainly isn’t as universal as it was for prior seasons.

Now, a bit of that could be due to the loooong delay (season four has now been pushed to 2017).

But instead of creating an “Oooh, get here soon. I can’t wait!” anticipation, that has just increased the deprecatory comments about the show in the interim.

Now, we will have a Victorian-Era Christmas episode this year, and I am excited about that. I hope it’s excellent and I really am looking forward to it. Though the first clip was released after I began writing this post and I’ve got a concern (read on!).

Season three was polarizing. At least, that’s my assertion: I’d be happy to hear from folks about other reasons the show went from being almost totally loved to having a vocal, split fan base.

And now, on Sprockets, we dance!
And now, on Sprockets, we dance!

And I guess you could argue that there isn’t really a large group that came to dislike/be upset with the show, but I’m pretty sure that group exists. And I’m a member of it.

So, Bob, after all this blather, why don’t you tell us why the show ran into this “alleged” problem? Ok. The show’s creators and producers got swelled heads. They thought that they were bigger than Doyle and they could take Sherlock into their own realm, saying “Look at us. Look at what we did. Aren’t we creative and clever?” And they left a lot less Doyle in the three episodes.


Charles Agustus Milverton is one of my favorite stories in the Canon. Yet I actually had to force myself to watch all of season three, even though he was the villain. Watson as an ex-CIA assassin. Seriously? I mean, really, SERIOUSLY? And Mycroft idly watching Sherlock being tortured. And after enduring a completely un-Canonical Moriarty for two seasons, you make it look like he’s coming back in season four?


For me, season three (which was a bit dull on the story side) seemed like a giant Sherlockian selfie. And as much as I loved the first two seasons, I was disappointed in the third.

Paul Bishop (whose post on Robert E. Howard’s boxing stories you surely read here, right?), had this to say after twice watching the season three opener:

“Sherlock hasn’t jumped the shark yet, but it is in danger of becoming self-congratulatory, self-involved, and worst of all, smug.There were so many in-jokes and obscure references firing fast and furiously across the screen it became impossible not only to keep up with them, but to also follow the main thread of the episode’s plot at the same time – too much wait what was that? What just happened?”

“Self-congratulatory, self-involved and…smug.” I’ve heard variations on this from others. It’s not just all in my head (or Paul’s either). Seasons one and two felt clever with Doyle always in mind. Season three felt like folks pushing their way into the front of the picture, putting Doyle in the back and hard to see.

As I’m sure somebody will say, “Well, what about Elementary? That’s not Doyle.” True. But as I’ve said here before, I think that show is a police procedural with a Sherlockian overlay. And it works. I don’t expect a ton of Doyle, but I like it when it shows up. And Johnny Lee Miller is a far less obnoxious Holmes than Benedict Cumberbatch,, which helps.

Below is the clip released at San Diego ComicCon for the upcoming Christmas special. I think it’s amusing. And I love the Victorian atmosphere. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.


That’s a cute scene and I like it. But imagine similar bits reoccurring throughout the ninety minute episode. And you’ve got exactly what I talked about above: “Aren’t we funny? Look at our cool Holmes stuff.” With Doyle shoved off to the side.

Now, I’m commenting on ninety-ish seconds of a sample. I know. But since that sample is symptomatic of what I think wrecked season three, it’s got me a little worried. I’ll be quite happy if that’s the exception rather than the norm and we get an episode more consistent with the first two seasons.

I still think the pilot episode was excellent.
I still think the pilot episode was excellent.

I’m hoping to see more Doyle in season four (scripts haven’t been written yet) and for Sherlock to reclaim fans like myself. I’d bet it more likely than not that there won’t be a season five. Cumberbatch (and to a lesser extent, Martin Freeman) are very hot properties and carving out time for a three episode tv series doesn’t strike me as a big return on investment for them.

And personally, I think Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis are getting tired of the all the criticism and the large role the show is playing: for example, they complain about fans hanging all over shooting and sending cell phone pictures (which I find silly: get a life) and will be happy to give it up. Heh: reminds me a bit of Doyle.

So, there you have it. I find the fact that the show was so popular across the board before season three but so criticized (while still popular) after said season quite interesting. And I don’t think anyone can blame the quality of the acting, which was stellar yet again. It got too cute and too self-congratulatory. For me, at least.

I do think we the disaffected want to see a quality season four and will jump back into the happy camp. I’d guess it’s a small minority that are so pissed off they want it to tank. But I do think it’s a significant number that are quite worried it will be more like three than like one and two.

You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.

He founded, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.


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Holmes Fan

As a proud Grumpy Old Man (GOM), I’ve been a serious student of the Holmes Canon since I was a boy in 1975. (Forty years!?! Wow, that went fast!) As such, I feel that I’ve paid my dues and earned the right to have the opinion that Sherlock Holmes belongs in the correct and Canonical time period, and not updated into a cell-phone wielding sociopath. None – not even the first ones – of the BBC “Sherlock” episodes are actually about Sherlock Holmes, any more than House was about Sherlock Holmes. “House”, too, had clever Canonical references, but in the end that meant nothing – Dr. House wasn’t Holmes. A hundred years from now, in the 2115 edition of “The Films of Sherlock Holmes”, the BBC “Sherlock”, with its current nine episodes – and the possibility of only a very few more – will just be another minor entry, along with those other oddities like “Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century”.

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming stand-alone Victorian-era Christmas special, since it will be the first time that Benedict Cumberbatch has ever actually played Sherlock Holmes, as compared to the Alternate Universe character which has gotten him so much attention. Holmes is NOT Dr. Who, and cannot and should not be dropped into whichever or whenever time period has occurred to producers or writers just to change things up or to be clever. If I want to watch a “clever” modern version of Holmes, using the damaged characters that Sherlock has presented to us, I’d much rather spend time with Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Holmes) and his caretaker friend, Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (Watson) of “The Big Bang Theory”.

Like Bob, I fear that the new Christmas special is going to be so full of clever winks and inside jokes that we’ll actually still be unable to see Cumberbatch as Holmes. For instance, just in the recently-released clip, there are several points pulled from the opening of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970). (No doubt it will be referred to as an “homage.”) In the 1970 film, Holmes and Watson are returning from a case, where they are met on the street by Mrs. Hudson, just like in this clip. In both cases, Mrs. Hudson chides Holmes for returning unannounced. Holmes makes a clever throw-away comment, different but similar. Inside, Watson blames the Strand illustrator, Sidney Paget, for misconceptions, although in this case it is for his moustache, and in the 1970 film, it’s for Holmes’s Inverness and deerstalker.

I didn’t mind that they used fragments and suggestions of Patrick Gower’s opening theme music from the Granada series – that had already been announced. And homage in general is okay – after all, in the 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr., there is a scene where Holmes experiments with violin tones and their effect on flies that relates directly to similar scenes in the 1939 Basil Rathbone film “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. Things like this are much-appreciated nods to Holmes fans. But if the new Cumberbatch Christmas special is made up of 90 minutes of those “homages”, strung together with patented Martin Freeman Hobbit Scowls, it may very well be interminable.

This clip doesn’t even look as if they’re having any fun, or that they want to be there. (Based on what I’ve read from real life, they don’t want to be there anymore – especially Martin Freeman.) Additionally, Holmes’s deerstalker looks so stiff and new that it might have just been selected and bought that day in the gift shop of the Sherlock Holmes Museum – certainly not like something that is used day-in and day-out by a practicing consulting detective.

When it was announced several years ago that BBC Wales was going to produce a new Holmes series with more age-appropriate actors, I was thrilled. That quickly turned to dismay when I read that Holmes and Watson would be set in modern times, rather like a couple of poor television films from a few decades ago. In each of those, a cryogenically frozen Holmes – and at least he was originally from the correct time period in those films – was thawed and forced to adapt to the modern world. The first, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” (1987) starred Michael Pennington as Holmes and Margaret Colin as a descendant of the original Dr. Watson, making her the first female Watson on screen, and not Lucy Liu, (unless you count Joanne Woodward as Dr. Mildred Watson in “They Might Be Giants” 1971.) The second of these cryogenic Holmes films is “1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns” (1993), sometimes simply called “Sherlock Holmes Returns”, starring Anthony Higgins as Holmes and Debrah Farentino as Dr. Winslow.

Having said all of that, I’ve watched all of the BBC “Sherlock” episodes, some more than once – even from the abysmal third season, which is actually my 23-year-old son’s favorite season of them all. He loves “His Last Vow”, in which Holmes commits flat-out murder to save master assassin Mary Morstan Watson. (Good grief.) I’ll watch with great interest the upcoming Christmas special, hoping that it will be the one Cumberbatch and Freeman episode that I can count as legitimate. (If you want to hear Cumberbatch in his only current portrayal of the REAL Sherlock Holmes, give a listen to “Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries” by John Taylor, a series of four stories presented as audio readings on CD.) I’ll even watch a Season 4 of “Sherlock”, should it ever actually get made. Like Bob, I think that will be the last inning for the Cumberbatch Holmes Era. Maybe by that time, we’ll be ready for a return to the TRUE Holmes set in the correct period.

FYI: Bert Coules, he of the amazing involvement with the BBC’s Complete Holmes Radio Broadcasts from a few years ago, has a pilot and series of scripts for a correct-period Holmes television show, set with both men in their twenties and just starting out. If you read this little reply and know someone who knows someone, have them look at Bert’s website and then someone should start making some calls and get this show on the road. Personally, this GOM is anxiously waiting for something like this to be produced!

Well, once you’ve seen the train wreck of the third season, the clues in the first two are there. At least, I smacked myself on the head for having had faith in the storytellers after rethinking the earlier seasons. Have you noticed that the middle episodes of each of the earlier seasons aren’t nearly as strong as the openers, and that both cliffhangers are poorly resolved?

The third season was so self-indulgent and irritating and, frankly, pleased with itself, that I didn’t even bother watching the third episode, which I heard was another cliffhanger. I didn’t want to endure another.

Sean Stiennon

Slightly off topic, but am I the only one who absolutely loves the Robert Downey Jr. Holmes, and is still hoping for a third movie in that series?

R.K. Robinson

I watched one episode, and found it a painful experience. Give me Jeremy Brett and the canon any time, every time.

Sean Stiennon

Bob — It’s partly that I’m also a huge fan of kung fu movies and martial arts in general, and so a Holmes who practices wing-chun and applies deduction to combat struck me as brilliant.

They felt like movies made with me in mind.


I have loved the Sherlock series with Cumberbatch and Freeman so far. I’m sorry that they have stopped filming it. I truly believe that’s what has contributed to the disappointing turn that has been described, that they’ve lost the momentum that they had and the direction that they had that were so pivotal to its success, intelligence, and great humor. I only hope to see that that wonderful “sense” will continue when it begins again and finish what will have been a fun ride in the Sherlock genre.


Watching that first episode of season three, I could not believe what I was seeing. They actually weren’t going to explain what really happened, they made a series of jokes about it, and then they rubbed my nose in the fact that they did not pay off what they had set up.

Utterly obnoxious.

Even worse than the final season of Lost.

It makes me angry every time I think about it. I was so into that show, too. Argh!

[…] and what I think went wrong in season three to divide what had been a pretty happy fan base. Here is a link to the full post and you can read an excerpt […]


Somewhere on the Internet is a poll done after the third season which showed that the least favorite episode was the second episode ever broadcast: “The Blind Banker”. I know I almost never watched another although I did like the first one very much (I assumed they had used up all their clever ideas in that first episode). It is true that the fans of the show are divided between thinking the second episode of the third season was bad (“The Sign of Three”) and those thinking the last episode of the third season (“His Last Vow”) was bad. But you are one of only two people who I have heard say anything good about “The Blind Banker” which you implied liking when you said that the first season was “overwhelming liked” (overall it definitely was since the other two episodes in that season just blotted out the blandness of “The Blind Banker”.


“Sherlock”‘s versions of Irene Adler and Moriarty both irritated beyond measure. Plus I don’t find either of the leads particularly likeable. Which is probably why I gave up on the series by the second season. Give me “Elementary”, Johhny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu any time. Plus Natalie Dormer as Adler and the genius twist on Moriarty

C - Foxessa

I quite liked season one, found season 2 disappointing — the way Moriarty was played was a large part of that.

Disliked the way Irene was played enormously though. Naked? That just sux.

I hated season 3.

And now Moriarty back again? Won’t bother.

I have only seen season 1 of Elementary, which I was liking enormously by the end. So far only have seen a part of season 2, but I also like it. Most of all I like it for Liu and her character. Without that it wouldn’t work nearly so well. I also have liked so much Holmes’ ideas about sex, and how that particularly attitude of Holmes’ does not faze Liu at all. It’s refreshing, and in no way interferes with Liu’s own agency. I love seeing how smart she is, how quickly she learns. I hope hope hope hope the writers WILL NOT SHIP THE TWO. Friends and mentors relationship is fresh and unpredicatable.

[…] of Sherlock Holmes continues to plod along every Monday morning over at  This post on season three of Elementary turned out to be the most viewed post for the entire month of July. […]

[…] in July, what seems to be the most popular ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ post appeared here at Black Gate. I looked at what I think went wrong with season three of the BBC’s Sherlock. I […]

[…] in July, what seems to be the most popular ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ post appeared here at Black Gate. I looked at what I think went wrong with season three of the BBC’s Sherlock. I […]

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