Written by Holly Aylward
In the summer of 2010, a time which increasingly feels like the distant past, the first episode of Sherlock aired on BBC One. Upon its release, critics and audiences alike praised the show for its clever writing and innovative use of television as a medium for storytelling. As an adaption of the classic works of Arthur Conan Doyle, it is undeniable that the show helped breathe new life into the tales of the ingenious detective and introduced a new generation to the world of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
However, as years pass and the initial spark of excitement that the series gave begins to die out, perhaps it is time to ask if the series can still appeal to a modern audience, and if it would even have the success it did if released today.
The concept for the series was devised by writers Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, who gave the classic tale a contemporary twist, which, for a story that has been brought forward by more than a hundred years, works remarkably well. Sherlock Holmes is reimagined as a nicotine patch wearing, tech using, self-proclaimed ‘high functioning sociopath’ played with by a pre-fame Benedict Cumberbatch. This is complemented by Martin Freeman’s John Watson, who acts as the everyman figure with a strong moral compass, blogging about his and Sherlock’s bizarre adventures.
One of the show’s biggest strengths is the dynamic between Sherlock and Watson, providing the show with an emotional core to contrast the cutting dialogue and the battles of intellect that the characters take part in. Their friendship appears to lack the typical toxic masculinity seen in many male-led dramas, and many of the most touching moments across the series stem from their relationship.
It wasn’t just the story of Sherlock Holmes which received an update—it was the medium of television itself. Visual storytelling became a key element of the show and one of the things it has to be credited for. Sherlock was one of the first shows to portray text messages with the writing appearing on screen beside the characters, instead of an awkward shot of a phone. This may seem like a small detail, but elements such as this added to the elegance of the series. Sherlock was not held back by the traditions of other tv shows, and that is what made it so popular with audiences.
That being said, reflecting on the show reveals some aspects which are at best questionable, and at worst condemn the whole series as an overhyped, convoluted mess.
Certain elements haven’t aged well, whether it is the lazy stereotyping of Chinese culture in the episode The Blind Banker, or the general side-lining of female characters as disposable plot devices occupying cliched roles. Even the ongoing jokes throughout the series in which people mistake Sherlock and John for a couple seem unnecessary and unfunny in hindsight.
The show also seemed to get progressively worse, as the initial formula which drew people in was abandoned in favour of spectacle. This is most clearly shown in its bombastic final series with ludicrous plot twists, secret siblings, and melodrama aplenty.
It is also questionable whether Sherlock would be a success if it was released today. TV trends have moved on, with shows becoming shorter and more suited to streaming. With its bulky hour-long plus run times and only three episodes per series, nowadays viewers may not have been so engaged. Looking at Moffat and Gatiss’ latest venture, it’s perhaps quite telling that it fell under the radar. A three-episode long adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula released last year on the BBC, outshone perhaps by the shorter and sharper media available elsewhere.
Watching Sherlock 10 years on is a mixed bag. It is undeniable that it had its strengths; clever writing and great performances, which still hold up. Watching it without the initial fanfare and mystery of the dramatic ‘whodunnits’ though, only highlights its flaws. Whilst it had its moments, the series favoured style over substance and ultimately failed to live up to the hype.
Holly Aylward is a second-year English student and the treasurer for Leicester Student Magazine.