Sherlock returned tonight with The Empty Hearse, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were in fine form, consolidating their joint reputation as one of the best, (and, many would argue, the very best), Holmes-Watson duos we have seen..The very title of this episode, The Empty Hearse, is a nice example of the wit that abounds in this series - in the canon, Holmes returns from the dead in a story called "The Empty House".
We were offered multiple solutions for Sherlock's escape from death - the kind of trickery that Anthony Berkeley, rather than Arthur Conan Doyle, delighted in. There was also, almost as a throwaway, an "impossible mystery" - how can a man disappear while travelling on a journey between two Tube stations? The ingenuity and playfulness of this episode were absolutely delightful. Mark Gatiss not only wrote the excellent script, but did his usual imperious job as Mycroft Holmes. All told, it made for a striking example of how detective fiction, old and new, can be both entertaining and enthralling when done well.
One of the highlights of the Crimefest week-end last May was a fascinating on-stage conversation led by Nev Fountain, with the creators of Sherlock, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and producer Sue Vertue. I've mentioned my admiration for Gatiss more than once on this blog, and what struck me about the conversation as a whole was the respect that Gatiss and his colleagues showed for Arthur Conan Doyle's creation.
I do not believe that Sherlock would have been half as successful if it had been written by people who did not have a genuine affection for the character and the stories. Despite updating the basic premise to the 21st century, they have stayed true, by and large, to the spirit of the originals, and when I met members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in the autumn, it was clear that they approve of the show. Rightly so, because if you are going to reinvent fiction's greatest character, this is the way to do it.