Of all the adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, Sherlock, the BBC TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, is arguably the most critically and popularly successful recent take on the tales, thanks in large part to the series' novel choice to set the stories in contemporary Britain while honoring Doyle's vision of Holmes as an ingenious sociopath. As Doyle’s original tales were set in the Victorian era, transporting the story to contemporary Britain might seem like an unlikely choice. However, after three successful seasons from 2010 through 2014, the series has become one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows today, and its ratings have made it the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001. The show will not return until Series 4 premieres in late 2016 or 2017, but, this holiday season, fans are in for a treat – a special, one-off episode titled The Abominable Bride.
After seasons of witnessing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in contemporary Britain, the new special will feature the series' most unique trick yet: telling the story in its original Victorian setting. Cumberbatch and Freeman will both reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, providing some assurance that not everything will change in the upcoming program. Teaser posters and a few trailers of the upcoming special episode have been released: they feature Cumberbatch's Sherlock with a trimmed haircut, smoking a traditional pipe and wearing Victorian clothing (including the trademark deerstalker), with Freeman's Watson similarly attired in a top hat and a 'monster' moustache. While some fans have praised these teasing glimpses of the special, others have been less enthusiastic.
For many viewers, a crucial element of the show’s current success is that it maintains the original personalities of the characters, while placing them in a milieu to which viewers can relate. The show has earned acclaim for its detailed character development, and the way in which it draws on details of modern life: for example, the series touches upon John Watson’s experience as a former British Army Officer and his current position as a GP in a surgery. With contemporary Britain engaged in war, the details of Watson’s past create a portrait of a morally sensitive individual with trauma-fuelled “trust issues” in a way that is familiar and immediate for modern audiences. Sherlock is among those adaptations that have transposed a classic source into a contemporary framework, much like the James Bond films starring Daniel Craig and modern versions of Shakespeare plays. The series uses aspects of today’s modern society, like contemporary technology, while drawing from classic sources of inspiration. In The Abominable Bride, however, the show will attempt to pull off the unique balancing act of taking a Victorian text, setting it in the present date, and then taking it back to the Victorian era. Is it an experiment on part of the show’s creators to see how audiences react? Is it something that the characters transport back to in Series 4? Or is it simply a stand-alone special episode that will entice our excitement for Series 4, following the cliffhanger ending of Series 3?
The show's co-creators Mark Gatiss (who also plays Holmes’ brother Mycroft) and Steven Moffat are also well-known as screenwriters of the latest seasons in Doctor Who, another successful BBC series built on an enduring legacy. Whether or not the Victorian style of The Abominable Bride relates to any forthcoming episode, it will be a clever nod to the duo's history of updating classics and an exciting build-up to the upcoming fourth series. Whether a Victorian Sherlock will deliver the richly drawn characters and enervating style of the contemporary series remains to be seen - in the meantime, audiences can only wait until The Abominable Bride hits television screens in the UK and US on New Year’s Day 2016.