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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Chris C
    October 1, 2018 @ 1:21 pm

    The real story of this episode is Douglas Mackinnon, of Time Heist fame, attempting to deliver an interpretation of the Sherlock visual style and severely overreaching himself.

    There’s one point where he rotates the camera 360 degrees during a scene transition for no good reason and you can see it wobble midway through.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      October 1, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

      As there’s a small contingent that whines inconsolably if I mention Mackinnon’s mediocrity, I tried to get to 2000 words without ragging on him here and succeeded.

      But yes, the direction does this no favors whatsoever.


  2. UrsulaL
    October 1, 2018 @ 4:13 pm

    Perhaps the addiction is a metaphor for Moffat’s own writing career over those last few years? Because between Doctor Who and Sherlock, the quantity of television he created was amazing, and the quality indicates an obsessive focus on this work.

    The effect on his family must have been similar to an addiction as well, as the demands of work in Cardiff pulled him away from his family. I suspect that one of the motives for creating Sherlock was to have a reason to work with, and see his wife on a regular basis while they made it. How often do addicts draw their loved ones into their addiction, or do loved ones enable addicts?

    So the addiction is a metaphor for intense, obsessive creativity, and the way it can be both exhilarating and harmful in the long term.


  3. Kat
    October 1, 2018 @ 6:10 pm

    On the subject of addiction not coming up elsewhere in Moffat’s oeuvre:

    I was never a big watcher of Press Gang but a friend of mine is and she showed me the final episode “There are Crocodiles” which contains this speech:

    “Okay, it’s like this. There’s a tribe living by a river, and in the river there are crocodiles. The tribe has one particular piece of wisdom passed down through the generations. It goes like this: if you happen to meet a crocodile, don’t stick your head in its mouth. Every now and then – and who knows the reason – people ignore this advice. Which is sad. Because they die. But very stupid because they were warned. They had a choice. The moral of the story is this: you can’t afford to be stupid. There are crocodiles.”

    This comes after a character is found dead of an overdose. Apparently Moffat is said to have written this in reaction to Dexter Fletcher’s struggles with drug addiction.

    Anyway, just wanted to share that. Great post – looking forward to both your thoughts on series 11 and the return of Eruditorum in the new year.


  4. mx_mond
    October 1, 2018 @ 6:14 pm

    I watched this episode on New Year’s Eve, a full year after it aired. It was half an hour of stuff we’ve seen, just in costumes and funny mustaches, half an hour of very effective gothic horror, then half an hour of “Sherlock”.

    Out of that, I can say that I liked the second act, when the focus was firmly on the conspiracy of women, best. Because even unromanticised, the asshole genius thing was utterly worn out for me at this stage and Sherlock was always less malleable than the Doctor, more… well, rigidly male. Women, while important supporting players, were always in the background of the main brotp, or cases to be solved. And Sherlock felt completely tied to his concept, even when learning to be less of an asshole. There was no hope of a reinvention that Twelve underwent in the course of his three series – not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch regenerating into Jodie Whittaker.

    So while I personally quite enjoyed series 10 of Doctor Who, pervading sense of exhaustion and all, Sherlock at this stage felt utterly unnecessary to me.

    Though the murderous conspiracy of women was properly great.


  5. Scriptscribbles
    October 2, 2018 @ 6:22 am

    The structural decision to hold off the dream until revisiting the falls is bizarre, because it’s so obvious the show felt compelled to revisit it’s moment of frenzied cultural response, but didn’t actually have a natural place to fit a moment with that much gravitas, so Moffat and Gatiss put it there hoping the iconic nature is enough. It isn’t, it’s too disconnected from the rest of the episode, and had the unfortunate side effect of convincing viewers predisposed to believe such things that the episode is about how it’s always the two of them, Holmes and Watson, rather than about the lovely feminism. Obviously the readings that were convinced in Sherlock and John eloping in gay love were off the mark, but the muddled structure here is the closest thing to accounting for that within the text.


  6. Przemek
    October 2, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

    I enjoyed this episode while it aired but have found little motivation to rewatch it since. Good fluff with some very nice ideas like the female conspiracy.

    As for the addiction angle, I’d say Moffat and Gatiss are at their worst when they just use old tropes without examining them (which is arguably true for most writers). Here it seems like Sherlock’s magical drugs are just this – an old, discredited trope lying on a shelf somewhere beside the Yellow Peril tropes – a shelf that “Sherlock” should have forgotten a long time ago. Alas.

    I like how “the worst context from which to look at this story” gave us some very interesting insights here. Indeed, if your show is this good when it’s just trying to be average there’s no other way to call it but the golden age. To paraphrase a meme, you may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.


  7. Daibhid C
    October 2, 2018 @ 4:58 pm

    “but the part of it’s that a problem is the part the show lampshades anyway by having it be part of Sherlock’s fever dream, namely the idea of such a near-universal conspiracy in the first place.”

    That’s an interesting point, because I always thought we were meant to understand, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that Sherlock’s solution to the Ricoletti case is – however improbable – the correct one.

    (Although I agree that it’s very improbable. This is probably as good a place as any to share Professor Ian Stewart’s take on the famous maxim: “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, remains improbable. There’s probably something completely different going on and you missed it.”)

    “Given the way in which The Six Thatchers is going to open with a predictable ‘let’s ignore this cliffhanger and do something completely different’ start, establishing firmly that Moriarty is dead really doesn’t change anything. You could still pull The Abominable Bride out of the running order and have a clear narrative trajectory.”

    I dunno. I mean, I’m sure that in the absence of Bride, there would be some sort of “This is why we’re not actually looking for Moriarty and just waiting to see what he does next” explanation, but “Because he’s still dead” is a pretty solid one.


  8. Allyn Gibson
    October 2, 2018 @ 5:45 pm

    I felt at the time, and still feel, that Sherlock‘s interest in Sherlock’s drug addiction from “His Law Vow” onward was the Moftiss’s response to the other “modern day Sherlock Holmes” series, Elementary.

    Of the key Sherlock players (Cumberbatch, Freeman, Moffat, Gatiss), the one known to watch Elementary is Cumberbatch; Cumberbatch has said he’s invested in the character of Sherlock Holmes and interested in what Jonny Lee Miller does with the role, and Miller has said that Cumberbatch will call him after watching an Elementary episode so they can discuss it.

    A key facet of Miller’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock’s addiction to drugs; Miller’s Sherlock is a recovering heroin addict, he attends support support group meetings, and he wrestles with his sobriety, even failing as he did at the end of season 3. The addiction shapes Millerlock’s character in a variety of ways, from his relationships with support group members and mentors like Alfredo or his paternal/mentor relationship with Kitty to his companionship with Joan, his relationship with the NYPD, and his relationships with his brother and father, all of which humanize the character.

    Sherlock as self-destructive addict wasn’t a facet of Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock… until it became one late in the series overall, and the final four episodes of Sherlock all deal with that addiction in some respect. The question is: why take an element of Sherlock Holmes that has been uniquely Elementary‘s, and why use it now?

    With Moffat or Gatiss explaining their reasoning, answer answer will be speculative. But there are two possibilities I’ve considered.

    One. Cumberbatch could have gone to Moffat and Gatiss and said, “My friend Jonny is doing this with his Sherlock. I’d be interested in exploring the addiction angle, too.”

    Two. Moffat and Gatiss, seeing that Elementary played with Sherlock as addict, decided that whatever Elementary did, they could do better, so if Elementary portrayed Sherlock as an addict in recovery, Sherlock would portray Sherlock as an addict absolutely off his face.

    Or, it could be a little from column A, a little from column B.

    The “anything Elementary does, we can do better” view seems to be broadly applicable to Sherlock Series 4, however; Sherlock adds a non-Canonical family member to the cast, and the series’ big bad is a woman close to Sherlock with a personal connection, as though Moftiss took Elementary‘s irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty and Morland Holmes and combined them to create Eurus Holmes.

    As a fan of both shows, it’s interesting to speculate whether they were in dialogue with each other. In some ways, they deliberately avoided each other, such as Elementary‘s portrayals of Moriarty and Mycroft. Other times, there seems to be a conscious or unconscious influence, like the treatment of Sherlock’s addictions. And then there are puzzling things, like Paul Cornell writing for Elementary instead of his friend Moffat’s Sherlock. (I really liked Cornell’s episode of Elementary, by the way, but I wondered after if Moffat and Gatiss had ever asked him to contribute to Sherlock.) At the time there were two, now there are three, modern day Sherlock Holmes television series, and none of them exist in a vacuum.


  9. Matthew Parsons
    October 3, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

    Just wanted to pop in and say that this trip through Moffat’s past few years and his long goodbye to Doctor Who has made me intensely and unexpectedly excited for something new this coming season. Can’t wait to see your take on it. Thanks for your writing, El.


  10. Roderick T. Long
    October 8, 2018 @ 7:15 am

    “even by a writer for whom addiction is a substantive issue they feel passionate about, little yet someone who is using it out of a sense of continuity fetishism”

    I continue to be puzzled by this recurring phrase “little yet.” Is it a mistake for “let alone”? Or is it some extant phrase I’ve just never encountered outside of this blog?


  11. Paul Cockburn
    January 29, 2019 @ 12:37 pm

    “This is an element the show ignored for the better part of three seasons before bringing up in a big way in His Last Vow.”

    I assume you mean chemical addiction; didn’t the first episode ultimately hang on Sherlock’s “addiction” to working out puzzles? Oh, and nicotine patches.


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