To say the creative team behind the BBC series Sherlock have struck a deep vein of entertainment gold is understating.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Atonement) in the lead role as consulting detective and sociopath Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office UK) as the ex-military Doctor John Watson, the modern-day interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 19th Century stories follows our two leads as they solve baffling crimes around London with nothing more than abductive reasoning and gumption.
Now watched in 247 countries, the show’s third season amassed an audience of over 12.7 million viewers, earning the title of most-watched drama series in UK television history.
The season finale of episode three is also the most tweeted about episode of TV in the social media platform’s history. Basically, a staggering amount of people can’t get enough of Sherlock.
In Australia recently to promote the New Year’s Day special, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, creators and writers Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, London Spy) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling), and producer Sue Vertue (Coupling, Supernova), are nothing but animated when debating why their series is the most popular Sherlock Holmes of all time.
“The absolute truth is because we love it,” said Gatiss.
“I genuinely think that’s what people recognised from the beginning. If you know Sherlock Holmes, you know that we do. It was a passion project from the beginning.”
Vertue agrees: “I think the fear of Mark and Steven making a show that they didn’t want to watch keeps pushing them.”
As well as writing for the series, Gatiss also plays Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother. The sibling rivalry between the two is played with aplomb by both actors, spicing up the many scenes they share.
Much like the Holmes brothers, the chemistry between many of the relationships in the series is captivating, underpinning each episode and adding another level of complexity.
Naturally, one of the most important relationships is that of Holmes and the series’ formidable villain, Moriarty.
For the writers, crafting a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes’ attention is a calculated act.
“We have discussed a lot about what a villain is in the 21st Century,” said Gatiss.
“They do exist. It’s not just in Bond films or Sherlock Holmes, they’re out there. But the great thing is, they don’t know they’re the villain. Unless they have a lair and a volcano, they just tend to be people with huge power.
“[The movie] Spectre did it well; when they’re sitting around the boardroom table, discussing the most heinous crimes – it’s just business to them.”
For Moffat, the mystery of the story is antagonist enough for Holmes.
“The truth is, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t need a great villain,” said Moffat. “Most of the stories don’t even have villains in them.”
This is an undeniable aspect of the series’ appeal: to captivate an audience with the simple act of investigation. You can’t deny the thrill of watching Sherlock in the throes of deduction, his mind reeling with tiny details, the bread crumbs left behind by the mystery.
Considering the popularity of police procedural programs, this series couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The popularity of Sherlock Holmes is the beginning of that,” said Gatiss.
“The Holmes stories are deliberately sensational – it’s a very Victorian thing. People were always interested in what they call ‘the scarlet thread of murder’.
“But in our time, people have gotten interested in the nuts and bolts of it. There’s a huge obsession in Britain with pathology programs. They’re very gruesome, but people don’t mind watching it over their Sunday tea.
“For us, we’re sort of keying into that, but the fact is Sherlock Holmes is always a slightly bigger-than-life thing. As we always say: it’s a show about a detective, not a detective show.”
The team are tight-lipped about what we can expect from the upcoming special, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, which transports our intrepid investigators to Victorian London to follow the trail of a killer ghost.
“There’s one moment that we’ve dreamed of doing forever – you’ll know it,” said Gatiss, with a smile like the cat that’s got the cream.
Whatever the reason behind its stellar success, Sherlock continues to capture the imagination of viewers the world over.
The mysteries, the machinations and the riddles, all make for captivating viewing; strung together by the thread of endearing relationships and the occasional heartbreaking realisation.
There’s still time to catch up on the first three seasons before the New Year’s Day special airs, so go ahead and fall in love with this most excellent program.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is available to watch on Australia’s own Stan and in select cinemas from 2 January 2016.