After a delay of a couple of years, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in Series 3 of the BBC's Sherlock. The show is still visually striking, exceptionally well written, and expertly executed. They've moved away significantly from the mystery of the week type format, into much more standard drama territory, with plenty of quirkiness and murder thrown in.
At the end of Series 2, Sherlock had apparently plunged to his death, so a large part of the first episode of Series 3 is all about how he did it, survived that is. There is some business about a planned terror attack in London as well, but mostly that's just a skeleton to hand the real dramatic stuff around, particularly Holmes' and Watson's relationship. Watson is quite upset that Holmes never bothered to let him know that he was alive, and this frustration and anger is mined to comedic effect.
Much of the focus of the series is how sociopathic Holmes really is, even though brilliant. He's willing to manipulate and use almost everything and everyone to meet his ends, what he sees as justice. This makes him a very intriguing character, if not a really sympathetic or likable one. But somehow, Cumberbatch manages to make this cold blooded, hyper logical jerk relatable. A lot of it has to do with the warmth of his relationship with Watson, and the lengths he is willing to go, and the sacrifices he will make, for his friend. That friendship reveals some deeply buried humanity in him.
While the first couple of seasons really focused on a different, contained mystery in each episode, Series 3 is different. This is most exemplified by a quote from Mark Gatiss in one of the extra features. Gatiss said, "It's a series about a detective, not a detective series." Series 3 is much more focused on the characters, their interactions, loyalties and quirks than with solving crimes. Oh, there definitely crimes to be solved, and terrorist attacks to be averted, etc. But there is also Watson's wedding to pull off, with his beautiful bride Mary (Amanda Abbington) at his side, and other sorts of mundane activity, that is engaging precisely because the anti-social Sherlock Holmes is involved. This being Sherlock, there is of course an attempted murder at the wedding reception.
Below are short synopses of the episodes:
The Empty Hearse
Sherlock returns from the dead, recalled by his brother Mycroft to stop a major terrorist attack. But before he can handle that, he has to calm the anger of his old friend John Watson.
The Sign of Three
Sherlock faces the greatest challenge of his career, giving the best man's speech at John's wedding. But also has to solve the case of the girl who dated a ghost, and the soldier who died in the shower.
His Last Vow
Lady Smallwood asks for Sherlock's help when she is blackmailed by amoral news magnate Charles Magnussen. And there may be more to Mary Watson's past than anyone suspected.
Sherlock remains a tightly executed show, with dazzlingly good performances by everyone, with the relationship between Cumberbatch and Freeman being the strong highlight. Sharp plots, perceptive characterizations, and elegant and inventive camera work make this one of the best shows on television today. Episodes 1 and 2 don't really have an emphasized main villain, but Episode 3 has Charles Magnussen, subtly played by Lars Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen's understated but dead on portrayal of the powerful blackmailer is superb.
Overall, Series 3 continues on the excellence of the preceding two series, and improves on them. As Gatiss said, it's so much more than a detective show. Highly recommended.
Video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks very good. The Blu-ray presentation is bright and crisp, with strong colors and good contrast. This is a very good looking show.
Audio is DTS-HD 5.1 channel, and also sounds very good. The viewer feels up close and within the action. There is no hiss or other interference. The dialogue is always clearly audible. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
There are a few extras included. They are:
At just under fourteen minutes, this featurette explores the seemingly fatal fall that Sherlock took at the end of Series 2. Series creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat discuss the numerous fan theories of what happened, and how they managed to get all of the shots for the fall sequence done.
Fans, Villains and Speculation
This featurette clocks in at 16:33, and features interviews with Gatiss and Moffat, as well as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Lars Mikkelsen and others. It discusses the wide fame that has come to the actors because of the success of the show, how they work out the deductions and the themes of Series 3.
This one runs just over fourteen minutes, and is focused on the sequence in Episode 3 in which Sherlock is shot. The visual effects and in camera practical effects are discussed. This is quite interesting.
From its inception, Sherlock has been a strong show, slickly produced and expertly acted. The realism of the exasperating friendship between Holmes and Watson, and the transporting of the characters to present day London has been handled extremely well. It's as if these characters in this setting are how they should have been all along. Series 3 keeps going strong, even with the potentially destabilizing element of Watson's girlfriend / wife Mary added in. This is an extraordinary show, and one hopes they'll keep making them for a long time.