TV - Sherlock: The Final Problem and Panel Discussion

Ren Zelen went to a preview screening of Sherlock: The Final Problem at the BFI last week which included a panel discussion and Q&A. Here are her deductions from the evidence presented (some spoilers)...

The BBC’s Sherlock is often touted as the 'most popular TV drama in the world' (thanks to a huge following in the USA, Russia and China). The first episode of series four was aired on New Year's Day 2017 and was the season's most watched programme across all channels, attracting 11.3 million viewers. Last year the Christmas special, The Abominable Bride, likewise topped the ratings.

On Thursday January 12th, at the BFI, we were treated to a preview screening of the finale episode of the fourth series of Sherlock, entitled, The Final Problem, followed by a panel discussion. When the episode aired in its usual Sunday night slot on BBC 1, it was simultaneously screened in cinemas across the UK and Ireland.

Amid accusations of the show becoming too action oriented, self-referential and confusing, and a generally less than enthusiastic reception for the opening programme of this fourth series (if the press and social media were to be believed) I was wondering if the post-screening panel discussion and Q&A would be a more incisive exercise than the Sherlock team had previously been used to.

Anticipation levels were high – Mark Gatiss had been moved to confront the show’s critics in the form of a poem during the previous week (in reference to Conan Doyle’s own tactic in a similar situation) and in his introduction, in typical combative form, Steven Moffat gave us fair warning - if the press had criticized their Sherlock for becoming too much like ‘James Bond’, that was less than true, “until now”.

If I had hoped for an unusually lively and varied post-screening discussion, I was to be disappointed. Apart from a smattering of journalists, the screening crowd was composed of a devoted fandom for whom the Sherlock team could do no wrong.

Seated in the front row, I found myself planted amidst an enclave of female fans who gasped, sighed and giggled effusively, and occasionally incomprehensibly, at every little thing that came on screen. There was thunderous applause when, after the show, the panel were seated onstage for the discussion, chaired by author and presenter Matthew Sweet.

We were joined by writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue, director Benjamin Caron and actors Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott and Sian Brooke.

Despite much applause for the actors, it was, as ever, Moffat and Gatiss' show - Gatiss being smart, urbane and charming, Moffat being dry and acerbic, revelling in his 'I'm the cleverest man in the room' persona and having little patience with some of the more banal questions from the predominantly female fans.

There is no question that these men are clever, witty and sharp. They make an entertaining double act. Sherlock scripts are satisfyingly articulate, dense and punctuated with quick humour. It's really rather encouraging that their unapologetically intellectual and challenging show has become such a worldwide phenomenon.

Moffat and Gatiss immediately and easily took on the mantle of ‘the main attraction’, as the actors proved to have little to contribute apart from the inevitable gushing about how 'wonderful it had been to be part of this hugely successful venture'. Andrew Scott looked strangely chary - having made the role of arch-villain Moriarty his own, playing him as a petulant, bored, over-achieving and somewhat melodramatic man-child, and managing to pull off this interpretation rather well. He proved to be an actor who was able to play it large and create an unusual dynamic with Cumberbatch's Sherlock, capturing the public imagination. Along with the two leads, the show has catapulted Scott's career into prominence, giving him the opportunity to play some versatile dramatic roles.

Moffat took care to pay fulsome tribute to producer Sue Vertue, who he declared to be the real prime-mover behind the series (she also happens to be his wife), and criticising so-called ‘feminist’ interviewers who take him to task while ignoring her influential, and even her physical, presence. Although commendable that he should be moved to acknowledge Vertue’s crucial role in the creation of the show, it doesn’t much alleviate the fact that Moffat is notoriously rotten at writing roles for women.

And this leads on to the series finale: -

Conveniently enough, (to ward off those persistent ‘feminist’ critics), Sherlock and Mycroft now have a sister – substantially more talented, clever and insightful than they, but she is also a manipulative, freakish, evil, dissociated and oddly genderless psychopath, that appears to have the superhuman ability to ‘reprogramme’ other adults to do her bidding after only a few minutes of conversation. Needless to say, such a dangerous (and implausible) confection would have to be almost immediately locked up in a secure institution and erased from all memory!

She leads Sherlock, Mycroft and Watson on a merry and sadistic dance, before it transpires that all of this nasty business could have been avoided if she had been given what she needed as a lonely little girl – a bit more supervision and attention from her family and a younger brother’s love!

I’m over-simplifying of course, but this finale seems to have been concerned almost totally with backstory. However, one cannot dismiss the viewers’ abiding affection for the characters Moffat and Gatiss have created and that have now passed into popular culture.

Cumberbatch and Freeman will ever be beloved as Sherlock and Watson, and there was an audible shriek of pleasure from the audience as Scott reprised his role as Moriarty in a surprise appearance (even though it was a cheat). The script as ever, gave the occasional frisson of pleasure, peppered as it is with witty asides and a delightful interplay between the characters. There were tense and surprising turns and it all made for good and original television, even if it was a bit contrived.

Frustratingly for me as a devoted ‘Doylie’, there was only one question from the audience relating to the place that the original Conan Doyle canon had in the creation of the scripts for the TV show. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one that seems to miss the early incarnations of the show, that dealt so imaginatively with Conan Doyle’s characters and looked to him for source material.

My personal feelings regarding The Final Problem (if there was ever a more appropriate title!) was encapsulated in one of the questions from the audience: A young girl stood up and asked where the relationship between Sherlock and Watson might go if there was a fifth series?

Looking rather put-out Moffat answered somewhat brusquely “They will solve crimes! They’re detectives – that’s what they do!” At which point I was almost moved to shout out “Yes, and it would be about time! If only they bloody would!” The only thing that stopped me was the sense of my close proximity in the front row – I was too easy a target for Moffat’s water bottle...

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2017 All rights reserved.
Follow Ren on Twitter at @RenZelen

Images - BBC/Hartswood Films/Robert Viglasky

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