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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. MattM
    April 8, 2019 @ 10:20 am

    At the time this struck me very much as a counterpart to Hell Bent (which I disliked but I know you loved, was half surprised to see you disliked Final Problem in that context!) Both were very self indulgent, messy, incoherent finales that were divisive in fandom, with both going full-on into the interiority of the main character to find them wanting rather than actually tell a story.

    Is there a reading of this, like Hell Bent, that can be seen as redemptive (and I always prefer a redemptive reading)? Or is this the evil twin?

    I remember a lot of Sherlock fans were convinced there was going to be a secret fourth episode as they couldn’t believe the season would end with that episode!


    • mx_mond
      April 8, 2019 @ 11:53 am

      Admittedly it’s been a while since I watched it, but I don’t understand why people call Hell Bent messy, when the structure is all about the Doctor attempting to gain enough control on Gallifrey to save Clara, and then him and Clara discussing the ramifications of that. Sure, there are flashes and surprises along the way because Moffat knows he has to entertain as well, but it all serves that simple story.


      • ScarvesandCelery
        April 8, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

        I’ve said before, and will continue to say, that Hell Bent really is one of Moffat’s most meticulously structured and carefully put together scripts. There’s really nothing in there I’d call “messy”


        • Chris C
          April 9, 2019 @ 1:02 am

          I think you can make a case for either the bit where the Time Lords are stood dithering in a doorway for several minutes, or the bit where Me enters the TARDIS and is then seemingly forgotten about, being less-than-tidy.

          (Which are really both just cases of the Doctor and Clara having a great scene between themselves in which we ignore the other characters inconveniently sharing a room with them at the time.)


        • Dan L
          April 9, 2019 @ 11:06 am

          Hell Bent does contain a lot of feints and red herrings to misdirect the viewer as to what the story is about, and I can see how some people might see that as messy. Of course, if we’re defining “messy” that broadly, it ceases to be something inherently bad, and for all that Hell Bent’s feints are not all individually necessary to the overall plot, they all make sense and are entertaining in their own right (something you couldn’t say about, for example, Time of the Doctor – I love that story but blimey, THAT is messy).


    • Leslie L
      April 9, 2019 @ 3:47 am

      Ahh, the Apple Tree Farm theory, which, in reality, a mini series adapted from a book, which was ho-hum


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  2. PM
    April 8, 2019 @ 10:32 am

    Another thing to note about the story is that it hinges on the existence of not one but two forgotten children from Sherlock’s past, which is really pushing the episode’s revelation quotient. Worse than that, the Redbeard reveal actually diminishes its impact – surely an audience is going to be more upset by the loss of a childhood dog than a friend we’ve hitherto heard nothing about? It’s a weird choice for Moffat and Gatiss to make, and is a rare misstep in their (usually pretty on point) understanding of how an audience views and reacts to television.


    • Przemek
      April 9, 2019 @ 7:45 am

      Exactly my thoughts. Redbeard as a dog has a MUCH bigger impact. It’s as if Moffat and Gatiss are forcing as many plot twists as possible into the finale because twists is just what this show does. Even if they actively make the story worse, the writers just can’t stop themselves.


  3. Bedlinog
    April 8, 2019 @ 12:25 pm

    This episode is like playing ‘Spot the Dr Who reference.’ Maybe more than anything else Moffatt or Gatiss have written.
    The plot is pretty much Pyramid of Mars Episode 4, complete with static omniscient villain.
    The pre-recorded video messages remind us of Blink.
    Eurus is presented to the audience by virtually quoting the Master from Utopia (Didn’t you ever occur to you, not even once …?)
    The plane full of catatonic passengers from Bells of St. John.
    The vulnerable girl stuck in a fake reality from Silence in the Library …
    And we even get to re-use the same ideas all over again by the time we get to The Lie of the Land.


    • James
      April 9, 2019 @ 4:20 am

      Personally I kept getting reminded of the Sea Devils. Arch villain captured on an island prison where they have manipulated their way into control of the whole place…


    • Przemek
      April 9, 2019 @ 7:50 am

      I don’t mind Moffat reusing his ideas as long as they’re good ideas presented in a relatively new way. Season 10 of DW gave me that. Season 4 of “Sherlock”, not so much.


    • George Lock
      April 9, 2019 @ 5:09 pm

      Not to mention that the whole “Sherringford” thing (apart from being a Sherlock Holmes trivia in joke) looked to me at first like a hat tip Andy Lane’s “All Consuming Fire.” Obviously, they went in a different direction, but still.


  4. TheWrittenTevs
    April 8, 2019 @ 1:01 pm

    This episode will always be an odd thing for me. My one date with “The One Who Got Away” was a trip to watch a cinema screening of this episode. A year before this, we had had an intense will-they-won’t-they thing that got cut short when she got an offer from a university that sent her to the other side of the country. We kept in contact and, finding that an indie cinema I’d always wanted to visit was doing a Sherlock screening (Sherlock being one of her favourite shows), I asked her if she’d like to go. Seen as it was our big reunion, we made a big deal out of it: we extended it to a long weekend, booked restaurants, planned events, etc. One of us joked that this was like we were taking every date we had never had and were doing them all at once to make up for lost time. The joke stuck and so that’s what the weekend became – us violently cramming a years’ worth of defected desires into three days, rushing from one stereotypical date to another so we could tick them off the list, both carnivalesquely playing the roles of boyfriend and girlfriend.

    The issue with the carnivalesque is that it’s temporary, which in turn makes it somewhat hollow. The final day, we were sat in the hotel watching “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (she doesn’t have the best taste). I remember just wanting to hold her and knowing that it was pointless – that in a few hours she’d be disappearing for another year and that the entire weekend had been a fleeting abruption to the status quo. This was the one weekend we got to be a couple, and the weekend that convinced me that the distance was insurmountable. We were over.

    In this context – as part of a whirlwind weekend, in the middle of several raised emotional states, being played in a cinema on a screen the size of a wall with industrial speakers turned up to full blast – “The Final Problem” does its job which is to be unrepentantly big and oppressive-feeling for an hour and a half. By the end of it, by hook or by crook, I felt like I’d been put through a series of trials and had come out the other end. I remember feeling exhausted. Even at the time though, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was hollower than it had let on: if it had been all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    But that was the weekend in a nutshell. In this way, “The Final Problem” had been perfect – the exact episode of Sherlock that a weekend like this could’ve revolved around. Maybe if we had watched “The Reichenbach Falls”, we would’ve gloriously got together only to fall apart a few years later. Maybe if we had watched “Kill the Moon”, we would’ve got together and gone through an empirical phase where everything we touched turned to gold. Or maybe if we had watched “The Husbands of River Song”, we would have more easily accepted the weekend as the beautiful coda it ultimately was. But the world isn’t neat, even when it’s providing you dates where the movies work at metaphors for your relationship. “The Final Problem” is a fucking mess, yet will always be the episode of Sherlock I have the largest connection with.


    • Allyn
      April 8, 2019 @ 7:15 pm

      Damn, this is amazing and sad and brilliant and rending at all once.

      Pride and Prejudice and Zombies… well, it’s nice to see Matt Smith playing the eleventh Doctor again. A completely ineffectual one, true, but then, this isn’t his story.


      • TheWrittenTevs
        April 10, 2019 @ 9:56 am

        I will admit, I remember nothing about “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” other than that it’s the one place where Matt Smith actually plays the caricature of his Doctor that people kept claiming he played during his later years in the role.


    • Przemek
      April 11, 2019 @ 7:21 am

      This was very moving and very well written.


  5. Daru
    April 8, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

    “Put bluntly, if you can’t easily tell the difference between screaming and laughing, the level of empathy needed for mind control is probably beyond you.”

    Yeah on one level this as you say El was a great conceit, but undercut as it was not really utilised. It was the feeling though that Eurus couldn’t really, properly make a connection with those around her that nagged at me and made the episode fail for me and left me very unsatisfied. Surely, as Sherlock had been displayed previously as having empathy issues, it would have made more sense for her to perhaps be hyper-empathic, and control/destroy people through making a deep connection with them?


  6. Tom B
    April 8, 2019 @ 6:01 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if, assuming we get another series of Sherlock, Moffat turn it into a Sherlock/ Doctor Who crossover and adapt Andy Lane’s The All Consuming Fire, having Eurus take Sheffinford’s part in the story.


  7. tom j jones
    April 8, 2019 @ 6:19 pm

    It’s Moffat and Gatiss doing a Terry Nation plot.


    • Przemek
      April 9, 2019 @ 8:03 am

      Yup. The Final Problem now reminds me a lot of some of the episodes of the Chibnall era, especially The Ghost Monument and the fucking Battle of Whatever. A whole episode about characters travelling from point A to point B, solving irrelevant logistical problems, with no underlying theme or story whatsoever. Sherlock at least gets to have some plot twists…


  8. DaibhidC
    April 8, 2019 @ 6:28 pm

    I think for me, the daftest bit was the whole Redbeard revelation. Yo, not-actually-a-dawg, I heard you like suppressed memories, so I suppressed the memory of suppressing a memory…


  9. Horse Wee Everywhere
    April 9, 2019 @ 1:32 am

    I was sort of wondering if you’d acknowledge hbomberguy in some way with the series 4 reviews.
    As people have said, it’s odd how Hell Bent gets a redemptive reading but Final Problem practically never does, isn’t it? My theory would be that it’s because the quandary which defines people’s opinion of Hell Bent, i.e. whether they think it handles Gallifrey and the Time Lords well and if they like how Clara is handled (personally I hated both of those things and thus can’t stand Hell Bent), is something Doctor Who can work in a sci-fi conceit to do unexpected things with in a way Sherlock can’t get away with. Then again, the fact Doctor Who can always continue from where it leaves off in some form whilst Sherlock cannot probably also helps- Hell Bent didn’t have to be a definitive ending (even for Clara’s arc given how it ends).


    • Przemek
      April 9, 2019 @ 8:07 am

      I mean, aside from the fact that Hell Bent doesn’t need a redemptive reading because it’s great, Hell Bent is centered around a fascinating and troubled relationship between two complicated people who love each other but bring out the worst in each other. The Final Problem is centered around an emotionally detached forgotten crazy sibling who plays Saw-like murder games.


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  11. Set Spade
    April 9, 2019 @ 9:47 am

    The problem with a redemptive reading of The Final Problem is that any such reading would have to acknowledge that this is the way every single Sherlock Holmes always ends: not with a bang, but with a whimper, or the wrong sort of bang, as El says, and there’s nothing inherently compelling about admitting defeat, even if the defeat in question is as unique and idiosyncratic as this.

    I mean, it was their most self-indulgent exercise in the Great Game, inventing their own origin story for Sherlock Holmes, and then making that origin story all about him having an all-powerful secret sister who’s trying to understand empathy via music (hey, you can play a game just like you can play a violin! and Sherlock Holmes plays both!). And yet it all comes down to the same sentiment as Vincent Starrett’s famous 221B poem.

    “Here dwell together still two men of note
    Who never lived and so can never die…”

    So traditionalism, even if the support structure for this traditionalism is the single most brazen origin story for Sherlock Holmes ever put on screen.

    Really, the Redbeard twist encompasses the whole story. Why Redbeard, their own original invention that has absolutely no connection to the Canon at all, ends up being Victor Trevor instead of a perfectly nice dog? Because Victor Trevor is a character in another chronologically earliest Sherlock Holmes story, and if you’re playing the Great Game, you have to wave these kinds of references in. Canonical reference always takes precedent over the invention. Even if that means most of the audience won’t really care about a kid we’ve never met, and that it is just one twist too many.

    And that’s it, really. Hell Bent says no, there’s a better way to do Doctor Who. The Final Problem says the old ways always prevail, the long way round. It was all just a game. It was a fine game while it lasted. But it could’ve been so much more. Not just two men of note who never lived and so can never die, even if we as a culture tend to like these two men more than others.

    Funnily enough, Grant Morrison’s run on Batman ends more or less the same way with more or less the same closing narration.


  12. Will Rigby
    April 10, 2019 @ 5:34 am

    A baffling and confusing episodes. This is not how Sherlock Holmes stories go this is a terrible fit for the character. Also the explosion effect when 221B blew up was terrible.

    Why are we meant to emphasize with Euros when the episode establishes her as a murderer and rapist?

    You know what weird? They don’t try and tie Magnussen into this. It would be really easy for Euros to say “I used my magic powers to make him hate you” but he wasn’t mentioned.

    Well hopefully they never make anymore of this, but I am genuinely curious to see how they’d try and continue this.


  13. Roderick T. Long
    May 20, 2019 @ 4:36 am

    Does anyone else see a heavy influence of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” on this episode, with brilliant, antisocial protagonist Lisbeth/Sherlock being menaced by a long-lost similar-to-the-protagonist-but-evil sister Camilla/Eurus?

    Btw, I thought the glass-being-missing scene worked; the creepiness outweighed the implausibility, for me.


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    October 8, 2019 @ 1:39 pm

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  15. Jodi L
    January 22, 2024 @ 3:38 pm

    The small references to the hbomberguy video here honestly make me wish it’d gotten a Pop Between Realities or something. As a terminally-online leftist teenager who got into Doctor Who (and this blog) in my twenties, Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why was the thing that kept me away. It’s a work of scathing media criticism that took what had been the most frequent points of criticism of Moffat’s work up to that point and distilled them, and also it was made by a funny guy whose politics I agreed with.
    But watching it now, after actually watching Who and thoroughly loving the Moffat era, it’s hard not to notice how… Wrong? A lot of the points it raises about Moffat’s work (and hbomb’s media analysis in general) are. It’s fascinating how Sherlock’s last season was so unbearably mid that it had a cascading effect. It was one of those rare things that made you look at the stuff made before it with a new layer of skepticism–the event storytelling of the series taken to its worst extreme–in a way that I don’t think that previous work really warranted. And that produced a line of argument that eventually culminated in an internet funnyman making an exhaustive video about why you should hate the Steven Moffat. Truly a weird moment in fandom.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 22, 2024 @ 3:41 pm

      The main barrier to that is how little I want to spend two hours actually watching the video.


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