Doc On The Box – Sherlock – The Abominable Bride

It’s never twins.

Victorian London and Sherlock Holmes, looking suspiciously like that wavy haired detective from the 21st century, has a most perplexing case, one which will stump him for a long time. Emilia Ricoletti was seen by a crowd of people dressed in her wedding gown as she shot indiscriminately at a crowd before turning the gun of herself, blowing her own brains own. She was declared dead at the scene… so how, hours later, did she murder her dead husband, again in full view of witnesses?

Sherlock Bride

Sherlock is back for a one-off special with all of the regular cast in place, although as I said, we have a tale of the “real” Holmes rather than the modern one. Obviously, it’s just a way on not continuing the “Return Of Moriarty” plot until the next series comes along – but does the modern cast work in the past roles? And how do I review this without giving the game away?

And the prize for “Hardest Thing To Review Without Spoiling It” goes to Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss for “The Abominable Bride”. Because you seriously need to see this knowing as little as possible about it. I’d avoid reading any other review because you need to see this without knowing… something. And you need to see it because it’s awesome.

So what can I say? Well, the cast is on top form, as ever, as the Victorian versions of themselves. You get to have a bit of the Sherlock we know and love by establishing that the published version in The Strand magazine is an embellished version by Dr Watson rather than the real thing. Oh, and you get a proper impossible mystery in how the bride apparently rises from the dead. Not one I’ve seen before (and the motivation is a little on the iffy side) but damned clever. The thing that I can’t mention is fairly foreshadowed. And you get bits that I really can’t say anything about… Oh, and the very final scene is priceless.

Oh, just watch it as soon as possible. It’s a great episode of one of the finest television shows. Highly Recommended.

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40 comments

  1. Oh, it was exceptionally good, wasn’t it? And, yes, preposterously difficult to talk about, though I will say that the motivation behind the “bride” being rather shifty is surely part of the idea, isn’t it? I mean, it’s also slightly questionable writing in allowing a vague motivation like that to get through, but give the nature of the episode it does work rather superbly. I had a solution of sorts worked out before…the thing that can’t be talked about…happened, but the moment of revelation of that thing was so brilliant that I was more than happy to be about 43 feet wide of the mark. How lovely for a “special” episode of something to actuall be special!

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    • I assumed it when it was first announced (Moffat likes this kind of thing too much), but I admit that as time went on and they stuck steadfastly to their assertion I began to take it at face value. But then the show started and I immediately went back to my first guess!

      In a world where trailers scrabble to give away as much plot as possible, I do like that people are trying for this kind of surprise. I just wish it had been at the service of something more enjoyable. There were odd moments I liked, but overall I thought it was horrendous. Couldn’t disagree more about the final scene, which had us all squirming in our seats.

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      • As I said to Rich, I didn’t think it in advance. I just presumed this was a way to do Sherlock in a one-off before returning to the Moriarty story which would dominate a three-episode series…

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    • I’m glad you liked it, Doc. You’ve given very negative reviews to similar kinds of thing before (to name names would be a spoiler, obviously), and I was worried you wouldn’t enjoy it.

      I think it’s fair to say this kind of thing isn’t my cup of tea. Even so, I thought it was a really bad example of it. To say the “motivation was iffy” seems like the euphemism of the year – I can’t see a sensible reason why anyone did any of the things they did.

      I did enjoy the link between the two cases (as it were), which was both incredibly on the nose but different enough that I didn’t spot it until it was explained, but beyond that I don’t understand the point. What did Sherlock learn? Why was this a sensible way to go about it? If the point is that it WASN’T sensible (skirting the issue to avoid spoilers), then… well what, exactly? Isn’t “this story is nonsense, that’s the point of the story” always a cop out? If the point was just to be a fun homage over Holmes ClassicTM, then I thought it did a really shattershot job of that, too.

      Perhaps it should have been longer. Which may seem like an odd thing to say about something I really didn’t enjoy, but I thought the ratio between the different sections was way off. I’m not completely averse to long jokes at the audience’s expense, even in mystery fiction (Stop, Press! is one of my favourite books, and that’s almost 1,000 pages long), but I need the joke to be in service of the theme, which here I thought was very superficial. Perhaps some extra time could have fleshed things out a bit.

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      • Hmm… not completely sure which negative reviews you’re referring to, Rich, but a shame you didn’t enjoy it. Not convinced that I’d have liked it if it was in prose rather than played out in front of us, but the charm and wit of the writing and performances helped to gloss over any of the plot holes.

        I always assumed from the pre-publicity that the reason for the Victoriana was that Moffat & Co needed more that one episode to resolve the return of Moriarty and this was the easiest way to do a one off. I only started thinking otherwise during the early stages of the episode…

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      • Having written the end to His Last Vow (an episode which I really enjoyed, except the ending), I can see that this was probably the best way to get out of it. But it would be far better to pledge to only write a cliffhanger if you immediately know how to resolve it!

        (And I find it doubly disappointing now, because if Last Vow had just ended with Sherlock being sent to Eastern Europe, which would have been a logical and effective ending, they wouldn’t have found themselves in this mess AND that episode would have had a much more satisfying character arc, rather than whitewashing Sherlock’s culpability for the sake of a joke.)

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  2. Intrigued by the above comments, I read the message board at IMDB. I find that there is a lot of dream sequences, dreams within dreams and drug hallucinations which would confuse the viewer. Also some viewers complain that there is feminazism and misandry !

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      • If you hunt around, it seems that a number of viewers (and reviewers) missed the point about the episode completely. And there’s a great line in a Telegraph article saying something like “suffragettes didn’t wear KKK-style hoods but wide-brimmed hats.” Obviously yes to the first point (although the article also claims the date is too early for the formal suffragette movement hence shooting their own argument in the foot) but why the hat comment?

        The reason viewers should be confused though – how does modern day Sherlock know about The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle and The Hound If The Baskervilles?

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      • Never mind the Blue Carbuncle, how could he have been present to witness the Pepper’s Ghost? Since there was no-one else to consult, there would have been no-one else there to make a record of it, no reason to do it…so why does it fall within his solution? I mean, if you really want to pull it apart (and it appears some people really do) then you can pick almost anything of any fictional undertaking.

        *shakes head* Some people…

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      • I’ve read a book that details Pepper’s Ghost. So might modern-day real-world Sherlock. Hence imaginary Holmes would know about it… Indeed when it was first demonstrated by John Henry Pepper, he explained it there and then so even a real Victorian Holmes could know about it.

        Let’s face it, anyone reading a mystery who sees a vanishing floating ghost should be thinking Pepper’s Ghost as the first explanation…

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      • Oh, no doubt he would know about it, but there’s no call for it in the context of what’s really going on in the story: Holmes isn’t actually there, so it wouldn’t be something that occurred at the time for there to be a record of for that data to be in his hard drives… Not that it matters to me in the least, but once you know what’s going on it’s a niggle you could pull at.

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      • Interesting; I took it that the other murders all happened and he was placing himself amongst them in an attempt to to give them a narrative and hence explanation – especially as the other murders (including the ‘copycat’ ones Lestrade comes to him about) are a necessary part of the explanation given.

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      • I think the bigger issue is that not only was Sherlock not actually there (in the sense that he wasn’t alive at the time so is just extrapolating), he wasn’t actually there in the imagined scene. In fact there were numerous scenes from the past not from Sherlock’s POV, which is a huge departure from how the mind palace conceit has been shown to work in previous episodes. Which, I know, I know… but I think there’s a threshold where it’s impossible to dismiss it as just nitpicking – I really don’t see how ANY of it made sense in retrospect, even on the show’s own terms.

        And I suppose there’s something to be said for the “just enjoy it argument”, but it seems like the show has thoroughly undermined its own premise (explicit in several episodes and stated outright by the creators) that rationality is king and everything matters and has an explanation.

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      • Yeah, when you put it like that your frustrations make a lot of sense! The essential narrative structure and the use of the mind palace aren’t really conducive to each other, so in that regard it’s a bit of a cheat and doesn’t abide by its own previous logic. I suppose I’m quite happy to let that go, even while I admit the problems it presents, purely because I love how the conceit was used to wrong-foot everyone.

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      • Well, sure. I just don’t think a single line is enough to spackle over the cracks. But I guess this a case of different tolerances for what counts as a cop out. I don’t think Sherlock needs to be brimming over with clues, but I do think it shouldn’t contradict itself. I acknowledge that the mind palace isn’t the best example, because it’s basically magic anyway, so what’s a little more? (Although it does seem to set a dangerous precedent, because now literally any scene can turn out to not be real.)

        But things like “it’s DEFINITELY not twins, but it IS another corpse that’s almost indistinguishable from the first” feel like… not cheating exactly, but complete indifference to the mystery side of things. And while I get that it’s “not a detective show, it’s a show about a detective”, I feel there’s a base level of mystery rules that need to be observed for the whole thing not to collapse.

        I also find it a bit odd that Sherlock’s suddenly on a massive cocktail of drugs, when so much of A Study in Pink/His Last Vow was dedicated to him very definitely NOT abusing drugs (Pink had a lot of fake out stuff about him using drugs, with the joke being it was just cigarettes, and his drug use in Vow was very specifically part of a case). I get the feeling I’m supposed to disregard the mystery side in favour of character stuff, but I don’t see how that’s consistent either. There’s just a general pattern of upending established stuff for the sake of a joke or cool scene.

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      • Ha, the more you write, the more I find myself agreeing with you 😛

        The drugs thing did come a bit out of nowhere, didn’t it? And, yeah, I’m totally with you on the “suspiciously similar corpses” following the protracted disdaining of twins. My own solution (before the ‘reveal’) was a similar idea just the other way around: like, say, AB’s NTN the manner of dress is so distinctive than it can be almost anyone. I mean, it pretty much turned out to be that, but that was how I had the central mystery of her resurrection working; either way, it’s a cop out, I agree.

        Have you considered politics?

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  3. Yes, all of that … 🙂

    I also enjoyed the show for all those clever production tricks, values and sets. The “outside” room with action all around, the rotoscoping (or whatever the correct name is). The lady as a gent. Watson’s “I wasn’t fooled at all.” A splendid entertainment made – perhaps – a little messy to confuse us. Which “could” be described as a cheap trick … But wasn’t. A just sit back and enjoy and let the writers do their work moment.

    And of course the homage that was the line Sherlock has notoriously never said but which we all repeat!

    All the cast were superb and the production stunning. The “twist” was slightly jarring but had it’s place in the canon I suppose.

    And let’s not forget, this was a highly anticipated and, what’s more, better than just about all other Christmas TV this year! 🙂

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  4. I loved the first 55 minutes but hated everything thereafter as it spoiled a thoroughly entertaining romp. Moffatt abandoning the story – just like he does in DW so often, see ‘Listen’ for an example – and making me wish I hadn’t bothered.

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    • I don’t want to say why for fear of ruining it, but I’d be very interested to know what you think, Sergio! I think you’ll know of a lot of interesting things to draw comparisons with. I hope you do a review.

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  5. Like others I enjoyed it up to a point, and then it kind of went off the rails a bit. I did notice a small homage in the establishing shot of Victorian Baker Street, the music came close (without quoting) to the theme from Jeremy Brett’s series. Also (this is more of a stretch) but the wrap up to the case, with Mrs Watson leading them to a secluded area where a bunch of conspirators were found, reminded me of the conclusion of ‘House of Fear’ (which also used used orange pips in the plot).

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  6. The above episode was shown here yesterday (January 9) at 9 p.m. on AXN India.
    Well, I couldn’t make head or tail of it ! Of course, I haven’t seen any previous episode.

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    • … which would be a massive problem. The flashback bit at the beginning is nowhere near enough to help out newcomers. But I do recommend the series in order – this will make at least some sense then.

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  7. I liked it but not nearly as much as you.

    The good parts were the acting, production values, some great dialogue and a mystery which was intriguing. I am not sure how to explain what I did not like without spoilers but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

    What makes it not great was that the solution was partly a letdown I thought. Parts of it was to easy to guess and other parts did not really make sense or were not clued enough. I did not guess the mirror trick but I got the glass/window distinction and had a strong guess on the criminal in the Eustace case. As for the central mystery the first guess anyone would make (a look-a-like of some sort) turns out to be too close to the truth for my liking. I am not sure that there are any clues to disprove it either, until we are told the correct solution. Also, the wider plot that explains the murders was incredible silly and I thought there was some gaping holes, but maybe I was not paying attention. Did they really need to do a double-switch of the corpses? And the first corpse, was she also murdered or did the murder just get lucky that someone appropriate had died? (I imagine it has to be the latter, but it really should be explained.)

    And as for the political motivation, it was stupid, since they were not actually advancing their cause, just engaging is a personal vendetta. And I did not care for the political preaching, while I am sure that the modern day ideological descendants of the movement in question will not be pleased with the portrayal either.

    I also did not like the whole dream-or-not-dream thing in the end. Just letting it all be a dream, fine I can live with that, and I do note that it was clued. But don’t use the dream/hallucination thing just as an excuse to do lots of things that don’t make sense, which is what it degenerated to in the end with the repeated shorter dream sequences. And having an ending where you undermine what was the dream and what was the reality is the oldest and lamest plot device in the book. Finally, it would appear that there actually was no connection between the old mystery and the present day, which was a little disappointing.

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