Sherlock's back and this time we all have some idea of what to expect! We know that the first series of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat's contemporary take on Conan Doyle's classic was quality television. We also know that we've been promised adaptations of what are arguably the best known Sherlock Holmes stories ever committed to print. And then, the Doctor Who Christmas Special aired and I panicked...
There really was nothing to worry about. On the contrary; this new episode of Sherlock was so good that I have banked the dire waste of time that was Doctor Who Xmas 2011 from my mind. It didn't happen. Sherlock is back and that's what matters.
Beginning where we left off last series - at the side of the swimming pool, gun pointed at bomb, Moriarty, Holmes and Watson about to die - it was none other than The Woman, Irene Adler, who saves the situation (with more than a little help from the Bee Gees) and our story begins - with a montage. Sherlock has gathered a following thanks to the popularity of John's blog and the cases are pouring in. Most are "boring" but some tickle Sherlock's fancy: The Geek Interpreter, The Naval Treatment and The Speckled Blonde to name but a few (wink, wink). And it's on one of these cases that Sherlock gains his "public image" while trying to hide his face from the paparazzi using a theatrical prop - a Deerstalker hat.
But! The story! A dominatrix has compromising photographs of herself and a young female royal being naughty. The Palace, understandably, want them back and enlist Sherlock Holmes to track them down. The dominatrix is Adler.
Fans of the canon will know that Adler is the only woman to beat Sherlock Holmes. This modern take on the tale is no different. Well, not much different, surprisingly. Sherlock acquires the phone containing the images but it would seem that there is something else on there, something more important, more dangerous, that the Governments of two countries would like recovered. I won't give you a blow by blow account of the episode, but I will say that Adler is a fantastic character. More than Sherlock's match.
Through fake deaths, brain work and more than a little flirting from Ms Adler a plot is uncovered that deals with terrorist attacks on aeroplanes that, despite having cracked an enemy code to learn about, the Governments allow to happen in order to keep the enemy in the dark about just how close on their tails the good guys are.
Planes full of dead bodies (with a clever little call back to some of the cases in the opening montage) and a pretty obvious mystery featuring "Death by Boomerang" make up the 'story' part of this episode, but it's the relationship between the main characters (and the supporting cast) that makes A Scandal In Belgravia far more than an average detective story. Sherlock/Adler, John/Adler, Mycroft/Sherlock, Sherlock/Molly and Sherlock/Mrs Hudson; relationships between all of these characters force the viewer to look at all of them in a completely new light. Gatiss' performance as Mycroft Holmes in particular makes for utterly spellbinding viewing. He's given far more screen time and we're treated to a darker and less omnipotent side of this wonderful character.
But it's Martin Freeman's John Watson that acts as the point of relation here. All the other characters - from Andrew Scott's horribly chilling turn as Moriarty (the most effective and effecting two minutes of screen time ever, in my opinion) to the CIA agent's almost-hammy-but-not-quite appearances to Adler's sexy and dangerous verbal spanking - they come across as existing just outside this plane of reality. But John Watson's down to earth, caring, competent sidekick-cum-babysitter is a pleasure to behold. When Paul McGuigan's ultra-cinematic direction whisks us away to Sherlock-land you can count on John Watson to remind us that the dangers these characters are facing are happening in a very real world. And it's this reminder that carries the show for the whole 90 minutes. Even the quiet, slow, thoughtful moments within this episode - and there were a few - have a gentle undercurrent of very real threat.
A Scandal In Belgravia is nothing short of a masterpiece. It's clever and exciting, very funny, very sexy and takes the characters we met in the first series just a little further. Far enough to know them better and find more to both love and hate about them, but never so far as to make them any less interesting or wondrous than they are now. Sherlock is still a mystery, John is still a gent. Mycroft is still camp. And yet, we know them all a little more... And, if only for the tension, I want to see Adler again (but hope I never will).
Sherlock, as a show, looks like nothing else on television. Just two things disappointed me about this series two opener; the frankly misjudged "eleventh hour rescue" of Ms Adler from the centre of a Karachi terrorist training camp (implausible) and that my screen wasn't big enough for me to fully appreciate the epic scale and richness of visuals in this otherwise perfect piece of television. I've never sat so still in my life as when this was on. Now, what about those Hounds?