“I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained. Sometimes you expect the audience to put two and two together for themselves. For Sherlock, and indeed Doctor Who, I’ve always made the assumption that the audience is clever.” This is what Steven Moffat said in 2014 when asked about the plot holes in both Doctor Who and Sherlock. But do his plot holes do serious damage to his storylines? Having already discussed his tenure as Doctor Who head writer, this will focus on his writing for Sherlock.
Before I begin picking out the negatives, Sherlock is a fantastic show that has brilliantly reinvented the famous detective in the 21st century. The attention to detail in each story is unbelievable and Moffat along with Mark Gatiss both deserve lots of credit. Each series has been bold and brave but they’ve pulled every one off. No plot holes could ever detract me from loving the show. Even when there are flaws in little details, the bigger picture is still preserved. “The Abominable Bride” is the only episode I’ve disliked of the show (90 minutes were spent while all that happened was Sherlock moving from a plane to a car). The first three series though were phenomenal and totally engrossed me. The genius displayed by Sherlock represented the genius in the writing despite its flaws. The ability to captivate audiences for six years, despite only 10 episodes aired in that time is a measure of how good a job Moffat has done. Fans spent two years pondering how Sherlock faked his own death and not many other shows could create such intrigue.
So a lot of people who like Doctor Who also are fans of Sherlock and vice versa. Most will know that Steven Moffat loves to rely on the most intricate of details to make things work. A lot of the time this makes for fantastic, suspenseful and unpredictable television, but sometimes there are plot holes that just can’t be ignored. One of the biggest comes in Sherlock’s faked death sequence across series two and three. One of the gunmen who was focused on John Watson simply packed up and left once Sherlock jumped to his apparent death. This didn’t seem like a huge problem after series two finished, however this has to be questioned when you consider what we found out in series three. We can’t be 100% sure that Sherlock was telling Anderson the complete truth in “The Empty Hearse” about how he managed to fake his own death, but as we have nothing else to go on, we have to assume he was. Therefore the gunman surely saw the huge inflatable that Sherlock landed on. Yes, his eyes would’ve been focusing on John, but any human would surely have had a glance at a person jumping from a building nearby and looked to study the scene at least before immediately assuming death. Although it doesn’t spoil the method Sherlock used to trick the other gunmen, it does make John’s survival at the least unlikely. Despite the gunmen being “taken care of” by one of Mycroft’s men, we saw him put away his gun after John was hit by the bike. So he would have had enough time to take the shot. The very mention of how the gunman was taken care of seemed like Moffat/Gatiss saw the flaw in that part of the plot and had to just squeeze something in. It’s not the most valid of cover ups though as the gunman definitely had the chance to kill John beforehand.
A less important but still noticeable flaw in Sherlock was back in series one. Not quite as exciting as the last one but still annoying nonetheless. “The Blind Banker” storyline was a strange one. A Chinese crime ring looking to retrieve a tremendously valuable hairpin, so they look to locate the two men who could know its location. Fair enough. But just killing the men rather than extracting the location was very dubious. Yes, this is not anything major, but it puts the criminals into disrepute and indicates a lack of common sense. This might be over analytical and slightly spoil the entertaining episode, however when you think about it, a genius like Sherlock was really way too strong to ever be outfoxed by these second rate fools.
Now like a typical Moffat plot we go from one time to another and then back again. Looking again at Sherlock’s fake death and in “The Empty Hearse” he says that he didn’t know how far Moriarty was prepared to go, suggesting that he didn’t think he’d kill himself. So of all of the thirteen possible scenarios Sherlock had considered, none of them involved Moriarty’s suicide? If he knew that he may have to fake his own suicide, then did he not think that Moriarty might want to just peek over the edge of the roof to make sure he met the ground? A master criminal, so bold and so determined to destroy the famous detective would surely not have merely turned his back while Sherlock jumped. Had he still been alive Moriarty must’ve wanted to ensure that his counterpart genius hadn’t tried to have the last laugh. It doesn’t take away from how breathtaking a finale “The Reichenbach Fall” is for series two, however it does again put another hole in Sherlock’s fake death plot.
Of course Steven Moffat can’t take all of the blame for these flaws. Co-writer Mark Gatiss has to shoulder some responsibility. But as a Doctor Who blogger, the focus had to be on the showrunner for this piece. Of course, most casual fans who simply love Doctor Who and Sherlock will probably discard everything I’ve said as over extreme attention to detail. Look back at the introduction though. Moffat writes his plots to be examined and tries to be clever. This can only then lead to them being dissected maticulously, though to be fair the mentioned plot holes didn’t take much dissection, they were there for all to see. Don’t let the gaps in the writing ruin the show though. If a show was judged solely on writing errors then Doctor Who and Sherlock wouldn’t had been allowed to run for so long under Moffat. Both shows are amongst the most entertaining and thrilling shown on television. Yes, it would be lovely if Moffat cared more for ensuring his scripts were more water tight but it can’t be argued he’s provided us with some fantastic viewing in the last six years.