Saturday Waffling (January 4th, 2014)

(54 comments)

Normal blog service will be restored Monday as TARDIS Eruditorum starts in on the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I have the cover art for the print version of the Hartnell Second Edition, and am engaging in final checks there. Sometime next week, probably? I should probably wait until I have a day I can spend dealing with the logistics of fulfilling all the Kickstarter pledges. Then it's on to starting revisions on Volume Five: Tom Baker and the Williams Era, the Logopolis book, Volume Six: Peter Davison and Colin Baker, and a Secret Project, which should form my 2014 output.

While we wait for Monday, then, Sherlock. How did people like The Empty Hearse? And, for later in the weekend, how did people like The Sign of Three?

Comments

Kit 3 years, 7 months ago

The complete failure of almost any plot element to make sense (in The Empty Hearse) has made me fearful that none of the previous episodes I liked did either, but that I was enjoying the style too much to notice.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

V for Vendetta meets The Web of Fear!

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

I enjoyed the Empty Hearse.

I think the manner in which in which Sherlock survived the rooftop fall was brilliant, and the best way they could have played it --- and it makes me kind of upset that The Wedding of River Song wasn't as articulate, despite playing with the same themes of the unreliable narrator etc.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

What didn't make sense?

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm not even sure that what we saw was truly what happened -- at the very least, Anderson believes that Sherlock was lying, and he makes some good points. On the other hand, Anderson is generally wrong about everything! Also... that sequence is bookended by focalization on John, which suggests it's in John's imagination, as he prepares to die.

All of which goes to say, the show isn't actually interested in the mechanics of cheating death, but the impact Sherlock's choices had on the people around him.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Am I right to have seen an implicit claim that the Holmes / Moriarty slashfic was just as valid as any other engagement with the show? (That is, Anderson dismisses it as not taking things seriously, but his opinions aren't serious in a more important sense.)

Mark Lawson writing in the Guardian argued that both Sherlock and Doctor Who are engaging too much with the fans at the moment. In Doctor Who's case by basing a plot point on the regeneration limit; in Sherlock's case by spending too much time on how Sherlock survived. Which given that the Guardian's coverage leading up to the new series was pretty much devoted to how Sherlock survived is a bit pushing things.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

"I'm not even sure that what we saw was truly what happened"

I rewrote this post so many times that, rereading it I realize that I'd missed something important off. I don't believe that was what happened either - and of course, the point is about the people - not the trick!

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Abigail Brady 3 years, 7 months ago

The entire Underground plot was nonsense.

Underground trains have cabs at each ends but not on the intermediate cars: a detached end-car would have been the *first* thing the guy would have said. There's also *no way* that he would have been unaware of an *pointed* and *electrified* branch.

It's like writing horses with 6 legs.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 7 months ago

As I noted, this is all easily explained by placing Sherlock in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Greenwich is three stops from Charing Cross.

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Sean Case 3 years, 7 months ago

I suspect Anderson dismisses it because he ships Sherlock/Molly (Sholly? Merlock?), as seen in his own version.

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Sean Case 3 years, 7 months ago

Sumatra Road? Really?

And the motive for Watson's abduction seems rather, ah, inscrutable.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

All of which goes to say, the show isn't actually interested in the mechanics of cheating death, but the impact Sherlock's choices had on the people around him.

Which, fun though the joke was, is inherently unsatisfactory in a set of stories built around solving bizarre puzzles.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

"In Doctor Who's case by basing a plot point on the regeneration limit; in Sherlock's case by spending too much time on how Sherlock survived."

Neither of which actually happened, so it's good to know that he was paying attention.

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Galadriel 3 years, 7 months ago

Squee! SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, here I come!

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Dave 3 years, 7 months ago

Well the Watson bit was intentional. Hence the thing about how Sherlock doesn't know and doesn't like not knowing at the end, and the tie-in to Magnussen. So I'm sure we'll find out about that later.

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Dave 3 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, both of those things were heavily subverted.

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mengu 3 years, 7 months ago

"he ships Sherlock/Molly (Sholly? Merlock?)"
Sherlolly. Yes, really.

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Martin Porter 3 years, 7 months ago

Didn't V for Vendetta nick the exploding tube train from Thunderbirds?

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Martin Porter 3 years, 7 months ago

What if Richard Brook really was just an actor and our mysterious villain is the real Moriarty?

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

I know at least one person who wou;d argue Lawson is simply allergic to adequate research into anything he's critiquing. Of course he gets annoyed when stories involve things what have happened before.

Though as J Mairs says, he's not even right regarding the parts he did watch. Reading Lawson is almost as aggravating as listening to his "interviews", which generally rather more resemble him trotting out his pet theories and asking his guests to validate them.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

Which, fun though the joke was, is inherently unsatisfactory in a set of stories built around solving bizarre puzzles.

I had a similar thought. The "the show is more interested in the effects on the character's reactions" idea strikes me as pretty unsatisfactory, failing as it does to consider the possibility of covering both. If there's time for Sherlock to pretend to be a stereotypical French waiter, there's time to provide an answer to how the eponymous character faked his own death. "The Empty Hearse" doesn't treat the solution as less important than the reactions, it treats the solution as unimportant full stop. And frankly, If a bizarre puzzle is important enough for you to base a two-year (almost literal) cliffhanger around it; it's important enough for you to explain.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

"Reading Lawson is almost as aggravating as listening to his "interviews", which generally rather more resemble him trotting out his pet theories and asking his guests to validate them."

I've been trying to find a clip from one of his interviews that I *know* exists - because I agreed with him at the time - in which he comments about [that old chestnut] that television is dumbing down because it panders towards making everything as simple as possible and assuming that nobody is willing to invest in a story long-term.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

That would be... interesting. Not sure if I'd be 100% behind it though.

I was struggling to work out where they could go from Moriarty. Moriarty obviously has a weight that an original character could never have, and certainly not in the amount of space they have to develop them into a threat. Either that or this individual will be deliberately an anti-climax and someone who uncuts the notion of a "supervillain" to Holmes.

An another alternative could be Sherrinford Holmes. ;)

Now THERE'S a twist I could get behind - we've already had what it is, in my opinion, the best Holmes Brothers scene in any SH story ever; one that really gets to who the characters are with humour, whilst keeping both of their characters firmly in tact, why not reveal the mythical Holmesian Third Man?

Sherrinford Holmes comes with his own power in the SH 'canon', and I think the only person who has ever utilized the character effectively has been in All-Consuming Fire, where, as an unreal character, he is positioned in the same narrative spaces as the Lovecraftian creatures and it able to bring that same unsettling sense of wrongness to any scene he's in.

And let him be played by John Hurt. ;)

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Not reading most comments because I've been away and haven't seen Sherlock yet.

However, I have now seen the first episode of The Enemy of the World for the first time since I was three years old (when I only found the monsters memorable and so blanked this story). And it was utterly lovely. Looking forward to episode 2 later in the week.

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 7 months ago

100% agree with SpaceSquid on this. I also suspect that, unable to come up with a satisfying explanation, they decided rather cynically to imply that anyone who wanted one should get out more. Given that I'm not fannish about Sherlock, it was weird to feel like other viewers were being insulted by the writer when it's usually me! As a result the episode was slow and irritating to me, and I don't think I'll bother with the rest. Oh and yeah, the actual plot was a load of silly rubbish.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Over and over again, the lesson Moffat seems to want to teach is "You are wrong for caring too much about what happens in my shows. Please stop."

I find myself more and more obliging.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

I enjoyed the Sign of Three. Very clever structure, some lovely character pieces and an fantastic murder piece, and to cap it all off, extremely funny.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

Discussions on satisfactory/unsatisfactory resolutions to mysteries on TV always remind me of the very first episode of Jonathan Creek. Creek performs a mindboggling trick on Maddie in the restaurant, seemingly out of the blue. She pesters him to tell him how it was done, and despite his protestations that she doesn't really want to know, and the answer will be truly banal, he tells her. Sure enough the answer is terribly boring, and her sense of wonder is suitably punctured. I felt Sherlock trod a perfect line between "here's how it was done, and you're underwhelmed now" and "here's several ways how it could legitimately be done, but we'll keep the mystery by not telling you exactly which one (if any) it actually was."

A cliffhanger could never last 2 years off the air unless it was almost impossible to figure out, and then whatever solution was given would inevitably be seen as a letdown (possibly followed by faint cries of "Deus Ex Machina!" from the online community).

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Spacewarp 3 years, 7 months ago

He's also wrong about the influence the fanbase has on both programmes. In the case of Doctor Who, RTD and Moffat have continually gone their own way and flown in the face of established "fan opinion", because they both recognise (unlike the media, and a lot of fans themselves, it is sad to say) that it isn't fandom that brings in the viewing figures, it's the "Not-We". We've already had examples of what happens when you produce Doctor Who to the fan recipe, in the late 80s. It becomes incoherent to the 90% of viewers who aren't regular subscribers to DWM. The Master, the Daleks, the Cybermen, weren't brought back to please the fans, they were brought back because millions of ordinary viewers remembered them. As for the "chatroom for afficionados" rubbish about Regeneration and Sherlock's survival from the Reichenbach Fall, Lawson ignores the fact that both of them are not confined to online fandom but have been continually dredged up on prime-time TV talk shows and interviews (watched by his beloved ordinary viewers) for at least the past 2 years in Sherlock's case, and probably 4 years in Doctor Who's.

When we see Graham Norton et al asking Matt Smith/David Tennant/Steven Moffat how on earth they're going to get past the Doctor only having 13 lives, they're not speaking for fans, they're speaking for every one of the 8 million viewers who regularly watch the programme. The final hole in his argument for me is his lumping Sherlock in with Doctor Who in the "rabid fan" stakes. We know there's an established (and quite rabid at times) fanbase for Who, but Sherlock? The damn programme's only been going 3-4 years and consists of (so far) 8 stories. Not much to base a coherent fan community on is it? It's fair to say there's some overlap between viewers of both programmes, but I'll wager not that much. Does Lawson think Moffat continually trawls the threads of the "SherlockBase" online forum looking for inspiration? The man's an idiot.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

I think the Underground plot was a metaphor. And a pun.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

@liminal, @SpaceSquid: Covering both "puzzle" and "people" equally implies, well, an equivalency in importance. The show is very much firmly in the camp that people aren't merely puzzles, and are furthermore much more important than puzzles. It's a moral position, and the right one.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

@Spacewarp: There's a difference, I think, between engaging the fanbase, and producing to their recipes. 80's Who is the latter, but today's Sherlock and Who are certainly the former. They recognize their rabid fans, and they acknowledge those fans, but they're more than happy to mock them while they're doing so.

Loved the obit for Stella Fells nee Bentham, btw.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Sherlock is River Song -- he's not a wedding person -- but he's also the Doctor, really in it only for the dancing.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

Covering both "puzzle" and "people" equally implies, well, an equivalency in importance. The show is very much firmly in the camp that people aren't merely puzzles, and are furthermore much more important than puzzles. It's a moral position, and the right one.

My point was that the problem isn't considering people as more important puzzles is bad. It's that considering puzzles as unimportant is bad, or at least it is in a show of this nature and a puzzle of this narrative importance.

Which is why I said I found your position unsatisfying, and why your response seems to be essentially a restating of the same problematic formulation. You still seem to be pushing the idea that providing an answer must somehow come at the expense of character development, which at the very least is something that needs to be argued, rather than just stated. I do not want a solution above character interaction. I want a solution above pissing around with "comedy" moustaches (ha ha ha! A french waiter with tiny facial hair and an outrageous accent! Don't we all know what those are like, eh? Eh?). Or, for that matter, I want a solution above the show telling me, as peeeeeeet suggests, that obsessing over the cliffhanger they themselves set up is somehow missing the point.

This is not a moral position (nor is it asking for equivalency of importance; any more than asking for more sugar in my tea is asking for a 50:50 ratio of sweetner to liquid). It is show construction that takes the most cynical approach to television possible and then mocks people for buying into that cynicism.

To be honest, I'm not entirely bothered by the lack of a single resolution, mainly because I only watch Sherlock because my girlfriend loves it, so I wasn't tremendously invested (though also because Arthur Conan Doyle's original "Holmes resurrection" was significantly more unsatisfying, so at least we're seeing progress). If you're not going to supply a definitive answer, then "The Empty Hearse" probably found the best way to do that. But it strikes me as problematic in the extreme to suggest that people who do want the answer is to ask the show to take the wrong moral position.

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Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

Spacewarp: We know there's an established (and quite rabid at times) fanbase for Who, but Sherlock? The damn programme's only been going 3-4 years and consists of (so far) 8 stories. Not much to base a coherent fan community on is it?

The lack of steady televised content is no obstacle for fandom now that the Internet is here (in fact, Sherlock's scarcity seems to drive its fandom - with many not coping with the fact that new episodes are now being aired).

And its fan community, at least from the outside, seems much more "coherent" than Doctor Who's - which comprises several generations of fans who fell in love with completely different shows for completely different reasons.

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 7 months ago

@liminal, @SpaceSquid: Covering both "puzzle" and "people" equally implies, well, an equivalency in importance. The show is very much firmly in the camp that people aren't merely puzzles, and are furthermore much more important than puzzles. It's a moral position, and the right one.

It's not a zero-sum game. The latest Elementary, for instance, integrates puzzle and character development without either feeling that they're getting in the way of the other.

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peeeeeeet 3 years, 7 months ago

... As an example of what I mean, there was as much character revealed in the one shot that showed Spoiler1 had done a big-ass painting of Spoiler2 as there was in the whole of The Empty Hearse. Sometimes, an image and no dialogue is all it takes.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

(though also because Arthur Conan Doyle's original "Holmes resurrection" was significantly more unsatisfying, so at least we're seeing progress)

I dunno. I always thought that the resurrection itself was fine; it was the death that felt cheap, since it's practically told third-hand and the only reason anyone would ever read it and not think "He's not really dead" is that cheap certain-death escapes weren't quite such a universal trope yet when Doyle did it.

(I really dug the adaptation they did for 'Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century', since it relied on the fact that acceleration due to gravity is a constant)

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

I dunno. I always thought that the resurrection itself was fine; it was the death that felt cheap, since it's practically told third-hand and the only reason anyone would ever read it and not think "He's not really dead" is that cheap certain-death escapes weren't quite such a universal trope yet when Doyle did it.

Yeah, fair point. I don't actually remember the death itself at all, probably because as you say it was so far removed and undramatic. Indeed all I really remember is the Jeremy Brett version of the Final Problem.

I vividly remember reading Doyle's version of the return, though, and not enjoying it at all.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

"I vividly remember reading Doyle's version of the return, though, and not enjoying it at all."

What I enjoyed most about this adaptation of the story is that Watson responds like a normal human being, instead of... you know... just fainting and accepting it.

More importantly, I like it because you see that Sherlock recognises almost straight-away that he's crossed a line but can't admit it.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

What I enjoyed most about this adaptation of the story is that Watson responds like a normal human being, instead of... you know... just fainting and accepting it.

Definitely. That was probably my favourite piece of acting I've seen from Freeman. John immediately dismissing any interest in how it was done - as oppose to why - felt absolutely spot-on. It's only later that we run into problems...

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

It was good to see the LINDA crew reassembled in The Empty Hearse.

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Jesse 3 years, 7 months ago

I liked it too. Now: Who will do the first mash-up between the closing scenes of The Sign of Three and The Green Death?

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

"My point was that the problem isn't considering people as more important puzzles is bad. It's that considering puzzles as unimportant is bad, or at least it is in a show of this nature and a puzzle of this narrative importance."

The show is taking the piss out of a genre convention; it's subverting a trope. But it's not cynical, because it's absolutely invested in its characters -- the "real" cliffhanger at the end of Season Two isn't "how did Sherlock escape?" but "How's this going to affect his relationship with John?"

The Empty Hearse is taking a stand that what makes us human and what resolves our deepest problems is other people, not the ability to work out puzzles. That puzzles are nothing in the face of connection. Indeed, Sherlock's solving of the bomb plot hinges on the connection he's made with the train geek guy, something Mycroft would never do. And to make that particular stand, you *must* devalue the puzzle along the way; otherwise the stand ends up being hollow.

And of course for people who are invested in their genre escapisms, it's going to be a slap in the face. You've been openly mocked.

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

And to make that particular stand, you *must* devalue the puzzle along the way; otherwise the stand ends up being hollow.

That's the piece of the puzzle (the irony!) I was missing, so thanks for explaining.

I suppose a great deal of how solid this theory is depends upon the degree to whether it was plausibly "baked in" to the end of Sherlock's second season. I'm dubious, but a) I've only seen it once, and b) aware that the puzzle was what I was focussing on at the time, so I may well have missed clues.

Either way, it might have more weight had John not ended the episode explicitly stating that he'd like to know how it was done. If the aim is to "openly mock" those who don't consider puzzles to be nothing in the face of other people, it's a strange move to have one of those other people we're supposed to be most invested in ask to have a puzzle explained.

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J Mairs 3 years, 7 months ago

If anyone is looking for names for the characters, I think the Goth Chick should be called Mary Russell. :)

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SpaceSquid 3 years, 7 months ago

The more I mull this over, the less convincing I find the idea that the whole episode is geared towards devaluing puzzles in favour of people. The "resurrection" puzzle I can buy supporting this line, but the empty carriage? I don't see it.

First of all, the empy carriage is clearly important to the narrative. It's a vital puzzle. Hundreds of people will die if it's not solved, and significant time is given over to it. So the idea that the show is demonstrating Sherlock is making emotional connections in contrast to his cold-blooded brother has to do a lot of work to carry the overall thesis, and I just don't see it being able to bear the weight.

First of all, the difference between Holmes and Mycroft that proves invaluable isn't any direct variation in approach; it's a variation in occupation. Howard approaches Sherlock because Sherlock is a detective, not because he's cuddlier than Mycroft. Obviously one could make the argument that it's Sherlock's more empathic nature that led him to be a detective whilst Mycroft entered the world of politics, but really it would be just as easy - easier, perhaps, though I'd need to rewatch the first ever episode to be sure - to suggest Sherlock simply favours the immediate puzzle, whereas Mycroft is drawn to the strategic and holistic.

Moreover, trying to paint Howard's use to Holmes in solving the puzzle as resulting from an emotional connection skips over the fact that a) Sherlock isn't at any point particularly nice to Howard (his approach can fairly be described as mockery, impatience, and then fascination over what Howard has given him), and b) he only knows Howard because Howard found a puzzle interesting. There is every indication that Howard continues to help Holmes despite their interactions, rather than because of them.

I suppose all of this could be squared away by the idea that a puzzle is only as inmportant as the effects it then has upon actual people (which; OK, fine) but if one is to take their comments at face value, it might actually be Mycroft who would agree with that principle more than Sherlock.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

That puzzles are nothing in the face of connection.

When connection is portrayed as as "Sherlock realises John is angry at the whole faked death thing, thus lies to him and tricks forgiveness out of him because Sherlock knows exactly how to push John's buttons", I think the puzzle is healthier, frankly.

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 7 months ago

(Also, l'esprit d'escalier strikes: given the Doctor's attitude towards "the only mystery worth solving", I think this is a false dichotomy like most intellect-versus-emotions conflicts.)

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Just caught up with The Sign of Three (which turned out to be a kind of Richard Curtis style Murder Rom Com - Three Cases and a Wedding perhaps) and found it thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, possibly more so than The Empty Hearse, which I absolutely loved.


I understand that Doyle wrote his own Holmes comeback story under some duress and in response to his own fandom's demands for the Great Detective's resurrection. It is fitting then that Moffat and Gattis have presented us, within a week of each other, with two meditations on 'The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of a Fictional Character'. In The Time of the Doctor , responding to fandom, Moffat reconciles the 'regeneration limit' for our renegade from the Land of Fiction and has the Time Lords gift him with thirteen new lives from beyond death, from behind the crack in the fourth wall that the Doctor created by exploding his magic box. It's fitting then that Gattis in The Empty Hearse, also responding to fandom's theories, has Sherlock suggest there are thirteen ways he could have faked his own death. And, by inference, ask us to believe that they are all equally valid.

I think what I get from Sherlock is an idea of what 'casual' viewers of Doctor Who must get from the Moffat era. Not being invested in Holmesian lore any further than recognising some of the story titles and being aware of the character only through the various versions, parodies and sketches that film and TV have produced over the years I must be in the same position as the viewer who knows Doctor Who only as a British cultural icon. I find therefore that I can take Sherlock and John Watson's 'antics' at face value and not worry unduly about canon, continuity or reverence for the source material. This leaves me less concerned than some about the believability of the logic games, the practicality of Holmes' solutions and yes even the veracity of the mise en scene, the heightened meta fiction of the 'London' where the narrative takes place.

I think we could all take this detached critical gaze to Doctor Who and enjoy it in the way Moffat obviously intends - as a series of metaphorical imagery and Romantic narratives, inspired and informed by its source texts but not a slave to them.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

On the most recent 'Atop the Fourth Wall', Linkara addressed the final issue of the execrable miniseries 'Marville', which included the author-insert moral "Fans should care about the characters, not about the stories that writers make up for them."

This felt like a perfect summary of Moffat's approach.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

I'll check that out. I'm not sure I agree that the stories have less importance than the characters. They each have different functions in a serialised narrative.

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encyclops 3 years, 6 months ago

I doubt anyone is still reading this, but I finally found the time to watch "The Empty Hearse." Life has been that insane. But rehearsals are done, our show opens tomorrow night, and I should have a couple more evenings over the next few weeks to finish the season.

Anyway, I was prepared to be irritated by the non-solution to the fall, and sure enough I was (Moffat trolls us just as Sherlock does John in the train carriage, and it's no less sociopathic), but not as much as I expected to be. In the end I found I didn't care. It's utterly disingenuous to create a cliffhanger like that and then mock people for trying to work it out, and not terribly interesting to explore John's reaction to Sherlock's survival (apart from Martin Freeman's dependably fresh acting choices, John really does not react in any way that anyone could fail to have predicted -- if you learned something about the characters you didn't know, then perhaps you've never seen a television show before), but it was really, really fun to watch, and that's all that mattered to me.

The highlights for me were the Mycroft/Sherlock stuff (the Operation game!), meeting Sherlock's parents, and meeting Mary. Ever since the first episode -- which foreshadowed what we could expect from this crew by making the mystery not about people, but about a passionless motiveless game -- it's been clear that none of the writers are really going to unite people and puzzles like the best mysteries do. It's not a dichotomy: it's a braid, and it's the heart of the genre. Without that, no wonder the whole thing is a knot of 'shipping. Luckily everything looks fabulous, and the cast are matchless. The mysteries are shite (blowing up Parliament? c'est à rire) but sheer charisma carries it through.

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