The Six Thatchers

I’ve warned about spoilers a few times before, reviewing Doctor Who and Class, but never has the warning been so potent. Three years after series three ended, series four returned with one of the most jammed packed, thrilling and intense episodes of Sherlock we’ve ever had, and it was well worth the wait. From little Easter eggs, such as Toby Jones’ face plastered over a bus stop, to game changing deaths, this series opener had everything.

It’s clear that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are trying to alter the genre of the show. Having started as a crime solving show, it’s changed to a mix of dark action and family squabbles. I was concerned after watching the trailer that this series might have wandered too far away from its roots and what made the show so brilliant when it first came onto our screens. However, the writers achieved the perfect balance. LeStrade was such a key character in this episode, as he’s the gel that keeps Sherlock and solving crimes together. The death of the young boy, Charlie, who died of a seizure just before he was about to surprise his dad was a great way to start the series. It felt like classic Sherlock and after a three year gap since series three aired, I felt comfortable watching the show as if it had never been away. Sherlock’s trademark deductions on the family’s shrine to Thatcher were magnificent and it felt like the show was back to its brilliant best as seen in series one. The first half hour was a complete thrill. There was even some uncharacteristically funny dialogue from Moffat and Gatiss thrown into the script. Sherlock’s “Game is On” line changed the tone of the episode after the first half hour of quirkiness, but the quality still remained.

When we finally discovered what the connection was between the six Thatcher heads that had been smashed up, the episode took a darker and more action packed turn. One of A.G.R.A’s pen-drives being hidden in one of the busts was very clever indeed and it set up the second half of the episode very well. Mary’s disappearance halfway across the world begged more questions about her character and it was all the more reason to take a dislike to her. In fact, dislike was what everyone who watches the show should have felt prior to her death. She was untrustworthy, unreliable and her love for John was easy to doubt. But that’s what made her death all the more dramatic, all the more shocking, and all the more heartbreaking. We had been led up a path by Moffat and Gatiss. A path that blinded our view of Mary and made us close to loathing her. And by the time we looked back and saw that she did love John and she did love Sherlock, it was too late and she was dead. It was genius writing from the pair and they both deserve enormous credit for introducing, developing and ending Mary’s character so well. And even in her death, there’s still so much more to learn about her.

Mary’s death scene itself was perfect. Reminiscent of Sherlock’s first meeting with Moriarty in the swimming pool back in series one, this had all the eeriness and tension to grip the viewers. The aquarium was the perfect place to shoot such a dramatic ending for John’s wife. The lighting was apt and director, Rachel Talalay, who also directed Doctor Who’s “Heaven Sent” & “Hell Bent”, did a tremendous job. When Miss Norbury pulled the trigger, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought it was Sherlock who was going to be on the receiving end. The scene was shot so well though, that the twist of Mary jumping in to protect Sherlock was one of the most breathtaking moments of the show ever. Martin Freeman’s performance, as John, in that scene was also tremendous, and only added to how gut-wrenching a twist her death was.

There were a few little things I didn’t quite get. John’s “sort-of” fling with the woman he met on the bus was a bit strange. Was it really necessary? Was it in there so he feels even more guilt in the coming episodes? At the moment, I didn’t really see it as something that needed to be included in the episode, but that could easily change and that side plot could turn into something important as the series goes on. The pursuit of blood using a dog was another little five minutes that again felt like a filler and it never really amounted to anything. But those two little asides didn’t take anything away from the rest of the episode.

It’s been a long three years waiting for Sherlock to return properly. Last year’s New Year special fell a little flat, but this year, the show returned in style. Amanda Abbington and Martin Freeman were both terrific, as was Benedict Cumberbatch. Writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss deserve huge credit too for an incredibly clever, yet easy to follow script. Mary’s DVD to Sherlock has set the rest of the series up for more of the same. I really hope there’s more of what we got in the first thirty minutes though. Seeing Sherlock and John solving mysteries and staying close to what made the show such a phenomenon is important if the overall tone of the series is to alter. I can’t complain this week though, because the balance was perfectly struck.

Episode Rating: 9/10