Easing into ‘Sherlock’

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the wiley new”Sherlock” in the current series on “Masterpiece Mystery” on PBS, said the Holmes character was a bit daunting to try.

“It is the most played literary fictional character,” he says, a bit dazed. “It’s in the Guinness Book of Records for it. I follow in the footsteps of about
 230-odd people, in many different languages, and different ages, different times as well. And while that is daunting and I think for any actor to play an iconic character there’s a huge pressure that’s associated with delivering something that everyone knows culturally.”

It may have been the same risk for the makers, which include Steven Moffat of “Doctor Who” fame.

But, he said at the TV critics’ press tour, “we were absolutely convinced that this was the right thing to do, to update ‘Sherlock,’ because we’re huge, huge, fans of Sherlock Holmes. We’re fan boys. We’re true zealots. And we absolutely believed that this was going to work, updating it would work.

“The only thing greater than our belief that we were right was our surprise at discovering we were right when the show was transmitted on the BBC, which has just been an absolute storm, a sensation.We sort of expected people to object. We had a good big book of excuses,” Moffat says. “But we didn’t have to work from it all, people have accepted it.”

“The Sherlock Holmes Society of London came to a screening, and, you know, you have an impression that they’re going to be incredibly fossilized in their opinions,” co-producer Mark Gattis says. “And they absolutely adored it, because we tried to be very, very true to the original characters, and there’s so much in there for real die-hard fans to like. But for us, it’s about getting back to the characters as written, rather than about the trappings of Victoriana.”

Gattis says it wasn’t tough to turn Holmes into a modern character because he was always modern for his time.

“We live in a
’CSI’ world,” he says. And “Conan Doyle effectively invented forensics with Sherlock Holmes, and, in fact, for many years, the books were prescribed reading for police forces around the world.”

Moffat says it’s not really just about Holmes, who as the cleverest man would otherwise be seen as a kind of Spock.

“It’s a partnership. Those two characters –
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — are not only of equal stature in the original series, Watson is arguably the main character. He’s the one who’s telling the story. It’s all happening to him.”

But, he adds, “It is that friendship — you take this cold, remarkable, difficult, dangerous, borderline-
psychopath man, and you wonder what might have happened to him had he not met his best friend, a friend that no one would have put him with, this solid, dependable, brave, big-hearted war hero.

“I think people fall in love, not with Sherlock Holmes or with Dr. Watson, but with their friendship. I think it is the most famous friendship in fiction, without a doubt. It is a moving and affecting one, and best of all, it’s a great portrait in the original stories of a male friendship, by which I mean it is never discussed at all. They never mention it. They never have one moment of articulated affection. Neither have we. Why would we? We don’t do it. We’re men. We have no emotions.”

Two remaining “Sherlock” capers run Sundays on “Masterpiece Mystery!” on PBS at 9 p.m.

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