Normally, one does not need almost superhuman capacity for observation to realise that taking a set of classic books involving a great literary character and transposing it to 2010 for a three-part television series tends to be a bad idea.
However, on learning that Mark Gatiss and current Doctor Who helmsman Steven Moffat are the brains behind the programme, one can deduct that it might not be the desecration one would expect. In fact, their re-imagining of Sherlock is about as classy as television gets.
Moving the action from Victorian London to 21st Century London appears to have no detrimental effect to the story or the characters. Although modern technology has a role, it is a small one, taking nothing away from simple detecting, and the show somehow feels like a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
Benedict Cumberbatch (isn’t that just the Best Name Ever?!) is the charismatic and enigmatic Sherlock Holmes, the man with the legendary powers of observation and deduction; while Martin Freeman shows his slightly more serious side as Doctor John Watson. This pairing makes for a delightful complement and contrast, with Cumberbatch as a classically elegant and refined Holmes, and Freeman as the weary yet willing former army doctor.
They are introduced by a mutual friend, who knows that Watson is looking for a flat, and Holmes is looking for a flatmate. After their first meeting in a morgue where Watson finds Holmes whipping a corpse, they combine to form the perfect Holmes-Watson duo.
Their first collaboration in “A Study in Pink” focuses on a number of apparent suicides, to which Sherlock is summoned by DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) to cast his unique eyes over, and he soon realises they are anything but suicides. “The Blind Banker” is the mystery of the murders of two people just returned from a trip to China, from where one of them has unintentionally stolen a treasure that some would kill to own.
“The Great Game” is the complex finale to this frustratingly short first series, although mercifully it is left wide open for a second.
Despite the dark themes running through the episodes, there is plenty of light and dark humour to counter this; from the banter and domestic arguments between Holmes and Watson, to the quirks of Holmes and Watson’s reactions to them. Never before and never again will a severed head in a fridge be laugh-out-loud material.
The whole thing is an intelligently written, witty, entertaining, beautifully shot and exquisitely acted piece of television. Sherlock is a rare thing: a modern adaptation of a classic that actually works.