Contain spoilers for Sherlock The Reichenbach Fall, and possibly spoilers for Doctor Who series 6 finale The Wedding of River Song.
Not without grounds, the second series finale of Sherlock has been accused of echoing the finale of series 6 of Doctor Who. The comparison between Sherlock Holmes and The Doctor, is one that has crossed this fan's, and I’m sure many others’, minds long before they shared a televisional creator. It is not surprising to find crossovers amongst fandom as well as within the Doctor Who canon or other, past and present. It is particularly easy to find similarities between the current Doctor and Sherlock even before reaching either’s finale. I, and I know many others, think Matt Smith would have made a brilliant Sherlock just as Benedict Cumberbach, an excellent Time Lord. I have even suggested in The Terrible Zodin group discussion, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock as the Doctor’s companion, although I fear for my heart should that ever happen.
In the final analysis, however, the great detective has preceded the Time Lord. So, and I am being annoyingly petty here, if accusation must fly, it is the Doctor Who finale that echoes the books of Sherlock Holmes and not the other way around. As someone who loved both finales very much and thinks echoes are fun to play with, this doesn’t really bother me. I enjoy the similarities as much as I enjoy the differences, and they are quite dramatically different ways, but that’s another kind of article.
The Reichenbach Fall is an interpretation/adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story The Final Problem; one of the most difficult stories, in my opinion, to transfer into screen. Not a lot actually happens in the story and what does happen is quite vague. All we have to go by is Watson's account, but most of the story happened before he came in to it and, of course, he misses the most crucial event of the story.
The background story of The Final Problem is as big as the story itself and its impact on the story in hindsight was and still is as big as the story's ending. Famously this was meant to be Sherlock Holmes’ last story; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intended to let go of his hero and move on to a different kind of writing. Furthermore, what many seem to wave off, forget, or not know is that Doyle has changed quite a lot from when first wrote of Sherlock Holmes. His world view has changed and turned radically different to that of the hero he created. Nevertheless, Doyle not only brought Sherlock back from the dead, but remained true to his character and never forced his own views upon him. Writing, for me, is so hard even when I am trying to write views, thoughts and stories I wish to broadcast, I can not imagine how difficult it must be for a writer to maintain and fuel a character so different, yet bigger than its author. It requires the kind of discipline I could only aspire to, and the kind Sherlock Holmes had.
Consequently, The Final Problem became a more complex story than that of the battle between Sherlock and Moriarty or good vs. evil; it is the story of a struggle between a conflicted storyteller and the hero that he can’t let go of. That, I think, is the driving force behind Sherlock’s series finale The Reichenbach Fall.
The idea that Sherlock might be delusional and insane is not new in the Holmes universe. Shortly after the episode aired a friend pointed out The Seven Per-Cent Solution to me, a novel by Nicholas Meyer, which was made into a film directed by Herbert Ross. Further conversations with another fellow Holmes enthusiast has revealed an earlier film, based on a play by James Goldman, called They Might be Giants. After watching the first film and reading about the second, I am quite positive that at least one if not both have been a point of reference in The Reichenbach Fall episode, and thus continue the general affinity of the series to incorporate everything Sherlock Holmes; books and beyond.
However, The Seven Per-Cent Solution, which I expected to have a slightly more interesting use for its potentially clever title, turned out to be, at least the film has I haven't read the book, merely a tabloid- like take on Sherlock’s drug problems and the root of all his other characteristic. The Reichenbach Fall uses the uncertainty of Sherlock’s sanity as a much more exciting device in the storytelling of a storytelling (oh dear, what have I got myself into).
Sherlock, the man and his reputation, like Matt Hill wrote in his review of The Reichenbach Fall, rises and falls metaphorically as well as physically in the course of the episode. His transformation from working alongside the law to running away from it, not only plays with the common perception of Holmes as morally ambiguous, but also raises the question, and I am trying very hard and clearly failing to stop myself adding “hidden in plain sight” here, who is the real Sherlock Holmes? Is he the hero or the villain he was build up to be by different kinds of storytellers?
Adding fuel to the fire of speculations, the future of the series was unclear and no official statement has been made until immediately after the last episode. The choice of The Final Problem to be the story of the series finale could have easily meant the death of Sherlock on TV. This vibe around the series with the added flavour of the Grimm’s fairytale and all that is attached to them, has contributed wonderfully to the feeling that The Reichenbach Fall has created of a constant battle between the authors and their hero.
Unlike Matt Hill, I don’t think the question of whether Sherlock really died would have been a good question to end the series with. An announcement of a third series would have destroyed any effect that kind of ending may have had. I could, and have already, come up with at least two theories to how Sherlock faked his death in the episode (Sherlock would have had eight) and who really is buried in his grave, but other than a nice brain exercise I don’t think this question is the most interesting of the episode. I am sure it would be explained within the first ten minutes of Sherlock and Watson's reunion, maybe even before. The question I ask myself, and the one which present the most challenge for the storytellers is, where do we go from here? A question, I am sure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle faced more than once, and every serial storyteller of any medium should constantly ask.
I can not complete this review without mentioning the fantastic Watson, superbly played by Martin Freeman. The Reichenbach Fall’s Watson denotes the feeling amongst Sherlock Holmes fans: “Don’t be dead” he asks, just like the fans pleaded with Conan Doyle. What is more, and I don’t think he knows that, but in his end speech Freeman's Watson described my Sherlock, the one I described in a lengthier and less tear jerkery way. It is almost like Watson tells the public, you didn't really know Sherlock.
Watson’s tragedy, both in the original story and in The Reichenbach Fall, is that his existence depends on that of Sherlock. Without Sherlock what is Watson? It is incredible to me just how brilliantly Freeman captures the essence of Watson; always the loyal soldier never even a flinch of doubt in his best friend, ready to put down the pen which will stop his tale as well as Sherlock’s. It was Watson who made me cry in the book and Watson who made me cry on TV with his uncharacteristically emotionality. In the books, and more subtly in the series as well, it is Watson rather than Sherlock, in my view, that lacks an emotional side and it is when his emotion suddenly show that the book, and the series really pinched my heart.
For now, I will say goodbye to Sherlock's grip on my heart and mind, or at least to its public display. For this is the joy of readers and viewers, unlike the writers, we don’t have to let go.