Despite numerous references to stories from the Sherlock Holmes cannon, this one seemed to be based much more closely on Die Hard With A Vengeance than anything Conan Doyle wrote…
This owed a lot to the structure, of course – the problem solving format. Rather than being brought the most insoluble problems which had occurred and which others, lacking Holmes’ insightfulness, had failed to solve; Sherlock was instead faced with a series of tailor made tests. To accentuate the detachment of both Sherlock and his adversary (and the create a suspenseful imperative to solve everything FAST) innocents’ lives were the stakes. This artifice was particularly unconvincing: why on earth did Lestrade allow Sherlock to keep that phone if it was just going to encourage further game playing? If this was the setup, why was there so little effort put into tracing the calls, tracking back the contact with the victims… Obviously this was not what it was intended the story was about, but as a setup it seemed very contrived. Rather like Die Hard With A Vengeance , in fact.
The other thing that troubled me was, predictably, Moriarty. He was a dull villain, who appeared in just a couple of stories, and was himself contrived as a way to write Holmes’ noble exit (the reversal of which was, of course, equally contrived). Moffatt and Gatiss also find Moriarty dull (“dull and posh” was how I recall Moffatt described him) so they’ve made him into a psychopath. Presumably this is to counterpoint Sherlock’s own psychopathic (sorry, sociopathic) tendency. The problem is that another psychopath is not really any more interesting than the Chief Executive (sorry, Napoleon) of Crime. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the ending, either. By not killing Holmes and Moriarty, they’ve made it too easy to bring both of them back. Clearly it had to be possible for Sherlock to return, but it would have been excellent to make his “revival” even more of a challenge than that which Conan Doyle presented himself with. And Moriarty, I fear, will be (in contrast to his literary counterpart) a recurring adversary for the lifetime of the show.
Having said all that, I enjoyed the episode hugely. Unlike the middle episode, there’s sparky dialogue and a renewed unpredictability. The varied locations are effective, especially the Reichenbach Swimming Pool; and despite the criticism I’ve read (this seems to divide Twitter) I thought Andrew Scott was superb as Jim Moriarty. Cumberbatch was as good, if not better, than he was in the opener; in summary, more please. And yes, more has been commissioned, but let it please be not just three episodes next time!