Was The Final Problem the perfect last episode for Sherlock?

sherlock the final problem benedict cumberbatch martin freeman steven moffat mark gatiss finale last episode new series series 5 series 4 bbc one sherlock holmes

In many ways, yes. Most immediately, it’s clear that The Final Problem was dedicated to ensuring that all the best aspects of Sherlock got their moment to shine; in that regard, no stone was left unturned. Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson – even Moriarty got to return, bringing with him the same frenetic energy that characterised the show in its early days. There were plenty of classic Sherlock rug pulls too; look at how it was revealed that the prison governor was under Eurus’ control for an example of the quiet intelligence that has always characterised the show. With The Final Problem we got an episode that was as tense and engaging as The Great Game, as intimate as A Scandal in Belgravia, and as intelligent as The Reichenbach Fall – surely this is an episode that, even in its own right, would go down as a classic in Sherlock’s history?

More than that, though genuinely felt as though this was an episode dedicated to completing the story we’ve seen unfold for years – note the call backs to The Great Game and The Abominable Bride, and the subtle allusions to A Scandal in Belgravia. There’s something almost holistic about the construction of this episode, drawing together the sum total of the programme’s almost decade long history, and concentrating it into one 90-minute story.

An article I wrote immediately after The Final Problem ended. Broadly speaking, I do actually stand by it still; The Final Problem was far, far from perfect, and better critics than I have already done a good job explaining the flaws inherent within it. However, I’ll always maintain that as an episode, it was an excellent conclusion to this seven-year journey.

Plus, I finally used “holistic” in an article, so I’m reasonably pleased regardless.

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Sherlock: Why Mary Watson (probably) isn’t dead

sherlock series 4 mary watson the six thatchers rachel talalay alive sherlock holmes benedict cumberbatch amanda abbington mary watson john watson martin freeman mark gatiss

It’s also worth noting that a recurring theme within the episode is the narrative which rejects death; consider how the episode opens with Moriarty’s reappearance, and Mycroft essentially changing the ending of His Last Vow. Right from the beginning, The Six Thatchers is establishing an inherent ambiguity to that which is true; perhaps most significant of all though is The Merchant of Sumatra, oft-referenced throughout the episode, repeatedly emphasising that when confronted with a story that ended in death, Sherlock didn’t like it – and he changed the ending. Both Moffat and Gatiss are far too precise in their writing for that to be simple throwaway dialogue; it’s a clear statement of both theme and intent.

But another recurring theme throughout The Six Thatchers is the idea that Mary is, in many ways, an equal of Sherlock – as he himself put it to John, “she’s better than you at this”. Time and time again, The Six Thatchers presents Sherlock and Mary matching and surpassing one another, establishing Mary Watson as something of a mirror of Sherlock. What is Sherlock’s greatest achievement? What would demonstrate Mary is his equal, above all else? If Mary were, like Sherlock, able to fake her own death. It’s the sort of move that Moffat and Gatiss would delight in – at the same time both loyal to the Doyle canon, but also gleefully subversive of it.

While I didn’t really like The Six Thatchers on first broadcast, I’ve also been totally unable to get it out of my head for the past week – it’s had a far greater impact on me than any television series I’ve watched in a long time. Indeed, it’s the first programme I’ve watched in years that prompted me to sit down and theorise about the next episode, wondering where it was going and genuinely analysing it – it’s been a long time since I’ve even done that with Doctor Who, frankly.

If nothing else, I’ve now got a lot of respect for The Six Thatchers – surely anything that prompts this level of thought and dissection does, ultimately, have some sort of value. (Although I’ll be pretty annoyed if I was wrong.)

(And I did indeed turn out to be wrong. So that was disappointing.)

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Why Sherlock’s return didn’t quite work

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Ambiguities notwithstanding, the presented explanations as to how Sherlock faked his death all had one thing in common: the intention to fool John. It’s all about his perspective – where he’s standing, what he can see, and so on and so forth. It’s understandable in some ways, because in that scene John is the audience surrogate; indeed, there’s a tradition dating back to the start of Watson acting in that role. Convincing John of Sherlock’s death is, in effect, necessary to demonstrate it to the audience. But, here’s the thing: in an instance of dramatic irony, it’s revealed to the audience that Sherlock is alive. Most would have been expecting it, of course, but the confirmation shifts our perspective away from John’s – suddenly, we become a confidante. We’re in on it. John isn’t.

The Reichenbach Fall indicates a need to fool Moriarty’s assassins; The Empty Hearse presents instead an attempt to fool John, with no explanation as to why. The ending of The Reichenbach Fall becomes less about Sherlock outwitting Moriarty against the clock, and more about Sherlock pulling a cruel and elaborate prank on his best and only friend.

Finally drawing a close to my series of Sherlock articles (at least until Sunday), here’s one that expands on some observations I made a few years ago.

It’s weird, I guess; I feel like pivoting away from the technicalities to focus on the emotional aspect was the most sensible – indeed, even essential – choice to make. But I don’t feel like the emotional aspect landed, given the above; I suspect that’s part of why so many people struggled on the technicalities of it. (Though it didn’t help that the technicalities were a bit ridiculous anyway.)

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What Doctor Who can learn from Black Mirror

Black Mirror TARDIS Doctor Who Charlie Brooker Steven Moffat Chris Chibnall Netflix Channel 4 Science Fiction What Doctor Who can learn from Black Mirror

Black Mirror is known for being a show that offers commentary on the world around us; Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator and writer of most episodes, has called the show a warning about how we could be living if we’re not careful. Stories have tackled ideas as widespread as social media to populism in politics to how society approaches justice and retribution; in many ways, it’s this that makes Black Mirror so impactful.

Doctor Who doesn’t quite follow the same vein, and it doesn’t always succeed when it does try to offer commentary on modern issues. However, when it does do it right, it soars; one of the strongest episodes of series 9 was The Zygon Invasion, which alluded to ISIS, extremism, and the refugee crisis. It proved that Doctor Who could successfully engage with the real world, and provided an argument for why it should do so more often – when it does, it’s bloody good.

I’ve been really getting into Black Mirror lately; as a British sci-fi drama, it reminded me of one of favourite TV shows – Doctor Who. So I’ve put together an article with a few things that Doctor Who could perhaps emulate from Black Mirror…

Re-reading the above now, it’s a bit… I mean, I definitely wouldn’t write it now, and I suspect even then there was more than a little bit of an element of writing it for the headline rather than anything else. It weirdly undersells Doctor Who, too, in a way I wouldn’t do now – and I’m surprised I did then, even.

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Could the BBC make their own Bake Off replacement?

great british bake off baking show paul hollywood mary berry bbc one britain's best home cook claudia winkleman

Ever since the news that The Great British Bake Off would be moving from BBC One to Channel Four, there’s been one question raised – could the BBC make their own, very similar, replacement? The question has only been strengthened with the news that Sue Perkins, Mel Geidroyc, and Mary Berry won’t be returning to the show; why not bring the three of them together once more, for The Great British Cake Off, perhaps?

What Channel 4 bought was the broadcasting rights for the concept – essentially, they paid £75 million to be allowed to show people baking in a tent. It’s not exactly the most innovative and unique concept, though; television is proliferated with talent shows and competitions, linked to a variety of different idiosyncratic skills, with a lot of crossover between them. MasterchefThe Great British Menu, and so on and so forth have all been able to meaningfully co-exist, so presumably another baking show could be thrown into the mix.

I’ve written a new article for Yahoo, with a bit of analysis about whether or not the BBC could make their own Bake Off replacement, looking at various precedents, the relationship between the BBC and Love Production, and a little bit of wild speculation too.

(I wrote this pretty much entirely because of the frankly bizarre about of hate comments my original Bake Off piece garnered.)

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The Great British Bake Off Disaster, and what it means for the BBC

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Bakexit means bakexit, or so they’re currently saying.

By this point, we’ve likely all heard the news – the BBC’s popular teatime show The Great British Bake Off will be moving to Channel 4 for its next season, and in the move it’s going to lose presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. At time of writing, there’s no news as to whether Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood will be making the move – the new deal with Channel 4 didn’t include them, and so their contracts will need to be renegotiated – but it’s already becoming clear that The Great British Bake Off, when it does return next year, will be returning in a significantly different capacity.

This speaks of a larger, systemic problem in terms of attitudes to the BBC, though – the manner in which it is so criminally underfunded, and the lack of care given to it. In 2010 we saw the licence fee frozen; the television centre in London was closed not long after that; earlier this year, BBC Three was forced to become an online only platform. Most pertinent in terms of Bake Off was the regime change instituted recently, stating that 25% of the BBC’s content has to be guaranteed to independent companies, and a further 25% open to competition between independent companies and BBC producers. It’s essentially this stipulation – and further meddling from the current Conservative government – that leads to the BBC losing programs such as The Great British Bake Off or The Voice.

Tragedy struck yesterday, as no doubt everyone heard. Bake Off is moving channel! Mel and Sue are leaving! It’s the end of the world! More importantly, though, it reveals something worrying about how the BBC is treated…

(“Criminally underfunded” is probably a bit much, and I suspect I was reaching for things without the fullest understanding of the bigger picture. Still, though, I am very pro-BBC.)

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BBC One to adapt Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses

Noughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman Noughts and Crosses Levi David Addai and Matthew Graham Vivian Oparah bbc one tv adaptation

If you’ve never read it, you absolutely must; Noughts and Crosses is a rather nuanced and thoughtful YA story about racism and prejudice, with a very clever ‘twist’; the society depicted is one wherein black ‘Crosses’ are the ruling classes, who previously enslaved the white ‘Noughts’, who are now second class citizens. This allows for a subtle, clever representation of racism, with several strongly drawn characters, and an emotionally compelling plot. The book was met with particular acclaim, and has been the subject of a radio adaptation in 2012, as well as a play toured by the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Richard Madden and Ony Uhiara in 2008.

Now, then, it’s going to be a television series. While there isn’t yet word on the length of the series, or exactly when it will air, the two writers in charge of the adaptation have been announced: Levi David Addai and Matthew Graham. Levi David Addai is an accomplished playwright, having written plays such as I Have A Dream and Oxford Street, as well as being nominated for an Olivier award in 2009 and winning the Alfred Fagon award in 2011. His most prominent television credit is E4’s Youngers, but a look at his CV reveals several drama awards and nominations across the years. Matthew Graham is similar accomplished, known for Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, and episodes of Doctor Who under both David Tennant and Matt Smith; interestingly, it was also recently revealed that Graham was tapped to write for a Star Wars television show, and worked closely with George Lucas for several months.

Some very exciting news here, as the BBC will be adapting Malorie Blackman’s rather fantastic YA novel for television. Very exciting!

(Haven’t heard any news about this since then. I know Vivian Oparah wanted to be in it, that’d be pretty neat.)

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Why Doctor Who should be a little more worldwide

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In The Eleventh Hour, Matt Smith’s Doctor quite famously said “all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”, giving us one of the most eminently quotable lines of his era. It’s also one of the best ways to encapsulate the sheer potential of Doctor Who as a program; part of its magic, and indeed part of why I love it, is the fact that it’s a show that really can do anything.

Unfortunately, though, “everything that ever happened or ever will” has, more often than not, been portrayed more as “anything that ever happened or ever will in British history”. However, Doctor Who should strive to become a little more worldwide; the Earth based stories should diversify, spreading out across the globe.

In part, that’s simply a desire for something new and different; as I’ve mentioned already, we spend a lot of time in Victorian England, for example, or indeed contemporary London. Isn’t it far more exciting to go somewhere new, to see something different? Is that not the entire purpose of Doctor Who? Wouldn’t you love to see, say, an episode set in feudal Japan? Or perhaps a time travel episode centred around Ancient Egypt, the Rosetta Stone, and Napoleon’s army? Maybe it’s time to go to India, and meet Gandhi and Nehru? A personal interest of mine is communist Russia, so I’d love to see a story involving, say, the Bolshevik revolution or the Kronstadt mutiny. Not long after he first got the role, Peter Capaldi said that he’d love to see the Doctor meeting Martin Luther King Jr, and getting “involved in the civil rights struggle” – something that would require a TARDIS trip to America, really.

My most recent article for Yahoo, which is all about Doctor Who spreading out across the globe. It’s something that we’ve managed to do outside the programme – that wonderful picture of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in Seoul is from the 2014 Doctor Who World Tour – but not quite so much in terms of the actual TV show itself, which is (albeit allowing for a few notable exceptions) still quite anglocentric.

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What is the future of Sherlock?

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Both of Sherlock’s headline stars are increasingly becoming blockbuster movie stars – it’s not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course, it’s also things like The Hobbit or The Imitation Game, and so on and so forth. With Hollywood ventures taking up more and more of the duo’s time, and Sherlock itself being no small commitment, it does beg the question – just what is the future of Sherlock going to be like?

In discussions with The Telegraph last year, Moffat said of that Sherlock “could go on forever, coming back now and again”. There’s something I find quite exciting about this prospect, I have to admit, because Cumberbatch is right; we do typically only see Holmes and Watson at a particular stage in their lives. Can you imagine spending decades with these characters, getting to know them across the years, exploring them at different points?

Another recent article for Yahoo, containing some speculation as to the future of Sherlock, as well as something of an outline as to my own personal hopes for the future of the show.

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Doctor Who: Looking back on Doomsday, the Doctor, and Rose Tyler

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Inspired by Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, and wanting to provide a cataclysmic event that would keep the Doctor and Rose apart forever, Russell T Davies decided to leave Rose trapped in a parallel universe that the Doctor could never revisit.

Doomsday, then, saw the culmination of a two-year plot arc, and it is heartbreaking. All of us in the audience had watched these two characters travel together, and grow together, ever since the show returned; it was with the Tenth Doctor that we really saw the depth of feeling these two characters had for each other. Notably, however, their feelings had never really been expressed to one another on screen before; though we all talk about the epic love story between the Doctor and Rose, it’s actually far subtler and much more understated than that.

Expanding somewhat on my recent review, I’ve written a Yahoo article about Doomsday, talking about the Doctor and Rose’s relationship, the bond the two shared, and that final scene where they’re ripped apart forever. It’s great stuff, really; rewatching these episodes, I was quite keenly reminded of just how much I love Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who work.

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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