The Times – The Reichenbach Fall Review

Sunday, BBC One

The thing about Sherlock is that we have seen it all before, not simply in the endless adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, but in every other show that puts a premium on deductive thought yet finds it freakish: Poirot, Jonathan Creek, Dexter, House and, particularly since the show’s takeover by Sherlock’s co-creator, Steven Moffat, Doctor Who. What’s the difference? Only that it has never been done better. I watched last night with an increasing sense of privilege as the detective story so transcended its genre by virtue of its acting, casting, direction and, above all, writing, that it deserved to be considered alongside British TV drama’s highest achievements.

As its title, The Reichenbach Fall, warned, this was the episode in which the great detective was (apparently) killed alongside his great foe Moriarty. Given this was only the sixth episode of Holmes’s App age re-invention, it seemed shockingly early to subject Holmes to “a final problem”. Yet this finale was of a piece with the rest of the audacious second season’s stories, the first of which assaulted the sleuth’s chastity and the second his reason. Almost metaphysically, this third tore into his identity, as he was exposed as a fraud who solved crimes of his own making and had hired an actor as his enemy. One of the most unsettling of the brilliant Andrew Scott’s scenes as the loathsome Moriarty was when the villain pretended to be a cowardly Irish thesp named Richard Brook (a translation of Reichenbach)

The evidence against Holmes’s authenticity accumulated like an avalanche and became so heavy that the episode threatened to turn in on itself and expose the last two seasons as a practical joke. Moffat, who traditionally writes the first episode of a Sherlock series, has with his Gallifreyan protagonist brought a hero back from the dead before. He must still be glad to have a year to work out how to explain Sherlock’s resurrection. Topping Steve Thompson’s script, clever, witty yet so heartfelt, will be an equal challenge. 

Andrew Billen