What is the future of Sherlock?


At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, a trailer for the fourth season of the acclaimed BBC show Sherlock was released. The traditionally enigmatic three teaser words were announced as well – “Thatcher”, “Smith”, and “Sherrinford”. Sherlock season 4, set to be transmitted in early 2017, boasts a series of exotic locales, an appearance by Toby Jones, and perhaps most excitingly of all, an episode directed by Rachel Talalay. The show is thriving, the fans can’t wait, and the new series seems set to be a hit.

However, also at SDCC, a trailer for Benedict Cumberbatch’s new movie Doctor Strange was released. It’s a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and quite an important one too; there are reports that, as actors like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans gradually begin to move away from their roles as Iron Man and Captain America respectively, Marvel Studios intend to make new characters such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange a focal point for their universe. It seems, then, that Benedict Cumberbatch’s time is going to be stretched quite thin – indeed, he began filming Doctor Strange the day after having finished with this year’s Sherlock filming. The same is true of Martin Freeman, of course, who also has a significant role in the MCU, with an appearance in this year’s Civil War and more to follow in the Black Panther franchise.

Both of Sherlock’s headline stars are increasingly becoming blockbuster movie stars – it’s not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course, it’s also things like The Hobbit or The Imitation Game, and so on and so forth. With Hollywood ventures taking up more and more of the duo’s time, and Sherlock itself being no small commitment, it does beg the question – just what is the future of Sherlock going to be like?

Interestingly, the idea has been floated that this fourth series may well be the last of Sherlock’s run; in the press release for this series, Steven Moffat stated that “This is the story we’ve been telling from the beginning and it’s about to reach its climax”. Some have leapt on the word “climax”, assuming it meant that the Sherlock story would be drawing to a close; of course, the term has many meanings, and in this context it is quite ambiguous as to what it might suggest. While I wouldn’t rule it out for this series to be the last, it does seem just a little bit unlikely, particularly when you consider what both Moffat and Cumberbatch have said on the matter before…

In discussions with The Telegraph last year, Moffat said of that Sherlock “could go on forever, coming back now and again”, and Benedict Cumberbatch has expressed largely similar sentiments:

“I’d like to see [Sherlock] getting older. We’re starting quite young. It’s rare to see Holmes and Watson at the beginning of their relationship; we usually join them in their mid-to-late 40s or 50s. I’ve got a way to go. I mean, I’m only [in my mid-30s].”

There’s something I find quite exciting about this prospect, I have to admit, because Cumberbatch Cumberbatch is right; we do typically only see Holmes and Watson at a particular stage in their lives. Can you imagine spending decades with these characters, getting to know them across the years, exploring them at different points? There’s something quite compelling about this possibility, I think; it presents the opportunity for some quite unique drama and storytelling. This sort of approach to the Holmes mythos has succeeded before – Mr Holmes, featuring Ian McKellen as a retired Sherlock Holmes was critically acclaimed last year – but we’ve never seen it as one continuing story. To watch an iteration of Sherlock growing and developing across the years would be something quite unique – but, at the same time, quite close to the style of Conan Doyle’s original stories, which began publication in 1891 and continued until 1927.

In some ways, Sherlock is already particularly well suited to this sort of model. It’s already set up to be ‘event’ programming, with delays built into its scheduling – there are few shows you could imagine being to take, say, a ten-year break and then reliably drum up the same levels of anticipation and support as it did when it was last on the air.

Personally speaking, this is something I’d quite like to see happen – it’s an exciting new venture for Sherlock to undertake, and a great way for one of my favourite shows to remain fresh and compelling for years to come.


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