Sherlock in Retrospect: A Study in Pink
By David Selby.
I was absolutely ecstatic when I sat down to watch the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock. Being a fan of crime dramas in general and eccentric, complex characters, I saw a show with the potential to be the best detective series since Life on Mars. It also had the foundations of Conan Doyle’s terrific short stories; several characters and an intriguing setup to explore in more depth than ever before.
The episode opens with macabre shots of John’s life on the battlefront. John is initially presented as a shell-shock sufferer; a complex, dark man, yet Stamford’s short exchange with him proves that he lives a fairly humdrum life (take John’s simple, few-word answers). Everything is superficially as expected.
Throughout the episode, however, he develops in his darker, less innocent traits. When John first meets Mycroft, the latter remarks how John isn’t scared by the war; he ‘misses it’. John’s killing of Jeff is a dénouement which allows the viewer to draw a parallel to what is said about John: killing a man is not one of his qualms. Arguably, this colder aspect of him is a contrast to his original characterisation, but it’s something which makes Moffat’s take on the show have its own identity.
Likewise, Sherlock being loathed and distrusted because of his intellect isn’t something which is unfamiliar, but, especially as the series progresses, it’s taken into more detail than in Conan Doyle’s novellas. Anderson and Donovan could be considered ‘normal’ personalities; they’re not deep or philosophical, nor are they characters who excel beyond then norm in the specialist areas. Could it be that their hate of Sherlock stems from their own shortcomings (in other words: jealousy)? Sherlock is also reluctant to accept gratitude, despite the fact that he is most comfortable when being portentous and self-indulgent. This could imply that he’d rather build an image in people’s minds than become the stuff of gossip.
There are a lot of similarities to its novella counterpart, A Study in Scarlet. John’s pocket-watch is replaced for his phone; as is the ring: a sign of Moffat drawing comparisons between the two distinctive eras. Amusingly, the suggestion that ‘Rache’ is German for revenge is dismissed by Sherlock ([sarcastically:] “No, she was leaving an angry note in German!”); a humorous take on the unlikely accuracy of Sherlock’s deduction in A Study in Scarlet. I also appreciate the cabbie dying of an aneurysm; it was exploited in a disconcerting, perverse manner (the ‘outliving’ motive is a new and ingenious conception, and I’m astonished it hadn’t been used before).
A Study in Scarlet is my favourite of the Conan Doyle stories, and although I love A Study in Pink, I think the revelations are more powerful and unexpected if read without prior knowledge of the story. A Study in Pink is wonderful, but it’s wonderful because it’s the same story but better. I’d say, on this one occasion: watch the episode before you read the book. Both are excellent narratives, but the latter is better at handling the central surprises, especially thanks to its superlative directing and cinematography.
The characters are all well-cast; especially the leads (Cumberbatch, Freeman and Davis). Mark Gatiss’ delivery of Mycroft’s dialogue was perfectly sharp and calculating, though it’s a shame that they didn’t play around with the Moriarty misperception some more (especially considering both have the same initial). Una Stubbs gave a lovable, amusing performance as Mrs Hudson; one which is consistent throughout both series.
Chryon (on-screen text) is well-adapted for Sherlock’s deductions; a testament to the quality of the episode’s directing and editing. And, perhaps most importantly, A Study in Pink is enormous fun: like its origins, it is entertaining, thrilling, suspenseful and often hilarious (take Sherlock’s first scene; the Molly-romance misunderstanding). It’s a story that I’d happily watch over and over. It never gets old.