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By Daniel Lammin
1st February 2016

The wait between seasons of ‘Sherlock’ seems to get longer and longer, making its enormous (and recently, confusing) season finales all the more cruel. The series last left us in 2014 with a baffling cliffhanger, but now the acclaimed modern retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character has finally returned. However, for some reason... he’s back in Victorian England again.

Set firmly in the world Conan Doyle had originally crafted, the special quickly covers the first meeting between Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) before we’re thrown into an unusual case, where an undead bride has commenced a murderous rampage across London.

I must admit, I initially expected ‘The Abominable Bride’ would be a waste of time. What would be the point of leaving the modern setting behind for one episode other than amusement, especially when episodes of the series are so few and far between? It’s a lovely surprise then that, initially, the special is actually a lot of fun, returning a series that had gotten far too serious back to the blackly comic wit that had won us over to begin with. It certainly doesn’t hold up against the better early episodes, but it is great to see Freeman, Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast romping around in the period setting - and with so many modern updates of the stories around these days, it’s wonderful to see the world and characters as Conan Doyle intended.


Unfortunately, as the special moves along, it quickly begins to unwind. As it turns out, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss do find a way to link the special to the main narrative, using the period story and setting to inform Sherlock’s interpretation and response to Moriarty’s apparent return in the modern world. The problem is, the link becomes so convoluted that something already confusing becomes even more so, diving us deeper into Sherlock’s "mind palace". As the series continues, ‘Sherlock’ is threatening to become something far too esoteric for its own good.

‘The Abominable Bride’ might be entertaining, but it never rises above being akin to expensive fan fiction, an unusual "what if". It’s an ill-conceived idea with a convoluted narrative, a lame excuse to bring back old faces, and rubbish gender politics that sound like something a teenager would have written in their fan fiction on Tumblr. The fan servicing in this series has become juvenile and insulting, and you can see Freeman and Cumberbatch are starting to lose their patience. The first half of the special allows them to have some serious fun for once, but the second half returns the series to more repetitive monologues from Freeman about how difficult Sherlock is and endless montages of Sherlock’s fractured psyche that we’ve seen before and still cannot understand. It’s not offering any serious development of its characters or offering its astounding cast something new and exciting to do. In the end, I actually would have preferred if ‘The Abominable Bride’ was just a bit of fun. It might have been a bit easier to swallow.

As the series continues, ‘Sherlock’ is threatening to become something far too esoteric for its own good.

After questionable presentations for the first three series, the BBC have pulled out the stops for this one. The 1080p 1.78:1 transfer is very handsome, sharp and rich, especially when it comes to the period sequences. After the greys and blacks of the main series, the colours in the transfer really stand out. In a turnaround from the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks the series got, ‘The Abominable Bride’ comes with a balanced and robust Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 track, probably thanks to its limited cinema release simultaneous to its broadcast. Even for a television show, its extra clarity and punch makes all the difference.

The set includes a second Blu-ray which includes an hour and a half of special features, most focusing on the making of the special. Hosted by Gatiss, ‘A Study in Sherlock’ (29:54) offers a comprehensive look at the development and making of the special, as well as an overview of the series as a whole. All the major players are included and Gatiss always makes a fabulous host. 'A Production Diary' (5:06), 'Writers Interview' (3:50) and set of ‘Creating the Look’ featurettes (30:34 in total) offer more specific discussions of the design and production challenges of the period setting, and the set is rounded off with ‘Sherlockology Q&A’ (20:23), with members of the cast and crew answering questions relating to the series and its appeal. Thankfully, the disc offers a ‘Play All’ function, so you can watch all the features as a single program.

RELEASE DATE: 03/02/2016
RUN TIME: 01h 30m
CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch
Martin Freeman
Una Stubbs
Rupert Graves
Amanda Abbington
Andrew Scott
DIRECTOR: Douglas MacKinnon
WRITERS: Steven Moffat
Mark Gatiss
PRODUCER: Sue Vertue
SCORE: David Arnold & Martin Price
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