The man who thrust our esteemed Sherlock Holmes into modern day on PBS’s version of Sherlock is guilty of regressing him back again to Victorian times.
When next we see Sherlock Friday, he’ll be in top hat and waistcoat with the intrepid Dr. Watson sporting a handlebar mustache and bowler.
Steven Moffat and co-writer Mark Gattis decided to make the change “just because we can,” says Moffat. who also writes Doctor Who.
“Mark and I were having a fun day on set because he was doing some second-unit shooting with some evil monks … Because I think we found an old prop that was on the original Titus, so we were having a geek day. Gosh, what a surprise. And then we just thought, ‘Could we ever just do Sherlock maybe one scene or some dream sequel or something (in the Victorian era)?'
“And then we just thought, ‘Why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we just do a Victorian one?' We never bothered to explain what we were doing in modern-day London. So why do we have to bother explaining what they’re doing in Victorian London, when that’s where they’re supposed to be? So can we increase our normal massive run of three episodes to a record breaking four, and do the special, which is separate from the rest of the series, and done in the correct period?’”
They did just that, as a 90-minute special, The Abominable Bride.
There were few difficulties acclimatizing to the late 1890s, says Moffat. But one of them was dealing with the female characters. “Suddenly we realized, the women, the women don’t speak. They don’t speak. Mrs. Hudson, I think has got one line of direct speech in the whole bunch of stories. And we sort of got to the point where we thought she was always like Una Stubbs (who plays Mrs. Hudson on the show). She is nothing like that at all,” says Moffat.
“So what were we going to do with our female characters? You know, Mrs. Hudson doesn’t speak, so we brought the ‘Una Stubbs’ version, as it were. And Mary, after her first story, really doesn’t say anything, except for in one story, where she gets her husband’s name wrong in one of the great continuity errors in history. And of course, there is no Molly Hooper. There is no Molly Hooper in the original, a tragic omission on their part. One of our problems was to try and see what we were going to do with these very important characters, who actually don’t really have a place in the original,” he says.
When they were planning the show they were always determined to place it in contemporary, bustling London. “It was just Mark and I sitting on the train, really (talking) about how much we like the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce updated versions of Sherlock Holmes back in the day. And we kept saying to each other, ‘Somebody will do that again, and that will be a huge hit.’”
They didn’t really do anything about the idea until Moffat mentioned it to Sue Vertue, who is the producer on Sherlock – and also his wife. “She said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?' We kept saying, ‘We will be really cross when somebody else does that.’ And then, like men, did nothing at all about it. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Got off the train and wandered off and looked like derelicts. That’s sad and true … It was much more recent, the idea of doing a Victorian one, because we can.”
Moffat says the most unexpected problem with modernizing Arthur Conan Doyle’s books was that spooky stories seem much more suited to the murky shadows of the late 1800s.
“Ghost stories work better in a Victorian setting,” he says. “Doyle’s original stories that are creepy and scary, and the chillers, we haven’t done much with in the modern show. But putting it back into Victorian times, you think it’s a chance to do a ghost story, really a creepy, a scary one. Other than that, it’s remarkably similar.”
And will Sherlock himself (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch) be any different? Only as far as his comportment, says Moffat. “Sherlock Holmes has the manners of the Victorian gentleman, which he doesn’t have in the modern version. So he is a lot less brattish when he’s back then … and Dr. Watson is a bit more upright. They’re the same people, seen through the prism of a different time and fitting into a different society …
As for Cumberbatch, he admits that playing the analytical Holmes has affected him. “You get hypersensitive to detail. You do get sort of tuned into it ...
On the first series when I was going to and from London on the train, I got very interested by smudges on people’s lapels and indents where rings should be and scuff marks and bits of mud on shoes. I knew (nothing) about what that meant, but I thought, ‘Well, there’s a clue.’”
‘Sherlock’ airs at 9 p.m. Friday on KET.