“But why are there only three episodes?” Britain asked, scrabbling around in the schedules, in case there was a Sherlock it had overlooked, at the bottom, or underneath some Coast or something. “Only three? Why would you make only three Sherlocks? Telly comes in six. Six is the number of telly. Or twelve. Or, in America, twenty-six — because it is a bigger country. But you never have three of telly. Three of telly is not holy. Why have they done this? Is this a gigantic puzzle we must deduce — like Sherlock himself?”
But yes. On Sunday Sherlock came to an end after a fleet, flashing run. Like some kind of Usain Bolt of TV, perhaps it finished so early simply because it was faster than everyone else. Either way, it had left scorch marks on the track: in three weeks, it flipped everything around. Sunday nights became the best night of the week.
Martin Freeman went from being “Martin Freeman — you know, Tim from The Office” to “Martin Freeman — you know, Watson from Sherlock.” Stephen Moffat had — extraordinarily — constructed a serious rival to his own Doctor Who as the most-loved and geekily-revered show in Britain. And Benedict Cumberbatch had, of course, gone from well-respected, Bafta-nominated actor to pin-up, by-word, totty, avatar and fame: the frumious Cumberbatch.
“The Great Game” opened with Holmes — slumped in a chair, legs as long as the TV was wide — bored, shooting at the wall without even looking. Popping holes in that lovely 1970s wallpaper at 221b Baker Street; lead-like with torpor.
“What you need is a nice murder,” Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson clucks, sympathetically, in the hallway. “Cheer you up.”
So when Moriarty came out to play, Holmes’s glee at the oncoming chaos is inglorious but heartfelt. He receives phone calls from weeping innocents parcelled up with TNT. Moriarty tells them what to say: they give Holmes a single, cryptic clue about an unsolved crime, and tell him that he has twelve, ten, eight hours to solve it, or they will die.
With increasing dazzle, Holmes busts each case. On the foreshore by Southwark Bridge, with London frosty and grey behind him, Holmes looks at the washed-up corpse in front of him, and in less than a minute concludes that, because this man is dead, a newly discovered Vermeer — going on exhibition tomorrow — must be a fake. His torrent of illation is extraordinary — his mind has anti-gravity boots; he bounces from realisation to realisation until he’s as as high as the Sun. Ten minutes later, and he’s in the gallery, staring at the Vermeer. He knows it’s fake but doesn’t know how to prove it. Moriarty’s latest TNT-garlanded victim calls him. The voice is tiny. “It’s a child!” Lestrade, Watson and the audience cry in horror. “A child!” The child starts counting backwards from ten — Holmes has ten seconds to prove the Vermeer to be fake. The tension is insane — I was biting my wrists with distress — but when the answer bursts on Holmes he almost doesn’t shout it out in time: the pleasure he’s had from smashing the case has him high as a kite. He is wired.
But the whole series has been building up to Holmes meeting Moriarty and, finally, in a deserted swimming pool, here he is: Jim Moriarty. Young, fast, Irish — looks like Ant McPartlin, sounds like Graham Norton. An amalgam of Saturday-night light entertainment hosts. How fiendish.
Sherlock seems oddly relieved at finally meeting Moriarty. Yeah, he’s completely evil — but he’s also the only person who doesn’t, ultimately, bore Holmes. He’s made the past week thrilling. Moriarty makes Holmes come alive — even when he’s trying to kill him. Moriarty knows this.
“Is that a Browning in your pocket — or are you just pleased to see me?” he purrs.
“Both,” Holmes says, during a scene that had an undeniable undercurrent of hotness. But things suddenly turn. Moriarty knows that Holmes is bad for business. And — oh, yeah — Dr Watson’s still standing in the corner, covered in TNT. Moriarty’s threatening to explode him. I’d forgotten about that, during the hotness.
“The flirting’s over, my dear,” Moriarty says, warning Holmes off.
Holmes is in accord. “People have died.”
And suddenly, the awfulness of Moriarty comes roaring out. “That’s what people do,” he screams — eyes dilating so huge and black that I wondered if it might have been done with CGI. “I will burn the heart out of you,” he continues, warning Holmes off his patch, boilingly insane. It was like when Christopher Lloyd shows his evil Toon eyes in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? — truly startling. As Moriarty, Andrew Scott has some serious chops.
And there, five minutes later, we left them, on a cliff-hanger. Moriarty’s snipers shining their laser-sights on Holmes’s and Watson’s hearts; Holmes pointing his gun at a pile of TNT, telling Moriarty he’s happy to blow them all sky-high; The Great Game ended in checkmate.
Not quite as amazing as the first episode — which was the televisual equivalent of someone kicking a door off its hinges, screaming, “I’ve come to blow your minds!” — but a different league from episode two; and still the best thing on all week by several leagues. Sherlock ends its run as a reekingly charismatic show, flashing its cerise silk suit-lining in a thousand underplayed touches: Holmes watching The Jeremy Kyle Show — “Of course he’s not the father! Look at the turn-up on his jeans!” The neat one-two of “Meretricious!” “And a happy new year!” A myriad amazing moments from Cumberbatch, who will surely get a Bafta for such a passionate, wholehearted, star-bright rebooting of an icon.
No one can be in any doubt that the BBC will recommission Sherlock, and that — so long as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are in charge of the scripts, as they were for the first and last episode — it will continue to totally delight anyone who watches it.
But next time, in sixes, or twelves, or twenty-fours, please. Not threes. Threes are over far, far too quickly.