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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. Iain Coleman
    January 9, 2017 @ 9:56 am

    I haven’t gone back to check the dialogue, but is it possible that Sherrinford is a place, not a person?


    • Aylwin
      January 9, 2017 @ 11:00 am

      Yes, at this point a bespoke Arkham Asylum seems the likeliest explanation.


  2. Chris C
    January 9, 2017 @ 10:17 am

    I’m definitely expecting that memory drug to turn up again next week. That’s rather a huge thing for Moffat, of all people, to bring up and then not use. I kept waiting for the point when Sherlock would be hit with the drug and we’d get some Day of the Moon style amnesia scenes.


    • goatie
      January 16, 2017 @ 12:32 am

      Halfway through I started thinking that Sherlock was not using conventional drugs, but was injecting himself with TD-12 as part of his investigation (we did see him forgetting some things during his interview with Faith).

      It didn’t come to pass, but I could reasonably have that be my pet fan theory.


  3. Aylwin
    January 9, 2017 @ 10:56 am

    Toby Jones was pretty much the entire upside of this for me. I was bored and unconvinced, and then oh deary me that ending. Ordinarily I’d reckon there was a chance of Moffat turning even such a daft and desperate melodramatic device into something interesting, but on this evidence of his current form it seems unlikely.

    When even The Moffat Episode isn’t delivering the goods, it’s time to call it a day.


  4. Patrick Magee
    January 9, 2017 @ 11:14 am

    Harold Chorley must be getting very long in the tooth.


  5. AlfredJ
    January 9, 2017 @ 11:23 am

    I enjoyed this, more than the previous episode. Thinking about it now, a day later, the story does seem a bit curious to me. Sherlock (apparently by following Mary’s instructions) manipulates Watson in overcoming his grief by… going on a dangerously heavy drug binge and going to the edge of what is essentially suicide (by giving himself over to a serial killer)?

    I don’t know, if I was dealing with such immense grief and a friend tried to pull me out of it like that I wouldn’t thank them for it.

    But perhaps I’m overthinking it. I did think the final scene, which ended in the hug between Sherlock and Watson, was lovely (it also had my girlfriend crying again – after doing the same when Mary died last week she told me she hopes she isn’t in the next episode anymore because she can’t handle breaking into tears three weeks in a row). Watson, trying to walk away from that conversation while his internal Mary is trying to convince him to break the ice, while Sherlock is actually the one carefully trying to open that deeper conversation before Watson walks out completely, only to reveal at the end that Sherlock has his own internal Mary he talks to as well – that’s Moffat doing what he does best. Great television.

    As always with Sherlock, I’m not completely sure what I think of it all before I rewatch it in a couple of weeks. Like last week, while I have my reservations about some plot elements, I am incredibly entertained during these things, and that counts for something. Although I have a feeling it might be, part of me wishes this isn’t the last series, if only because I’m not sure I like the terrifyingly bleak tone this is ending on otherwise. On the other hand, I’m not sure where they can go from here, in terms of the emotional journeys of Sherlock and especially Watson.

    That’s something that the ending also hammered home to me. Their status as historical fictional icons means that even though this is its own take, in Moffat’s/Gatiss’s style, no matter what they do, they are still inescapably shaped by their original canon. It’ll always be John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, solving cases from 221B Baker Street. Just like, no matter what happens, the Doctor will always be a mad man in a box. Nobody will ever be able to write an ending to that story where that quintessential nature of the characters can change.

    I’m not quite sure yet what I’m trying to say with that last paragraph. Given the actors’ hints that this may indeed be their last series (and they certainly don’t need more Sherlock for their careers), and the fact that Moffat’s time on Doctor Who is going to be over soon, endings are on my mind. But no matter what happens, you can’t write an actual ending for either of these stories. Even Conan Doyle couldn’t end Sherlock Holmes, despite his best efforts.


  6. ScarvesandCelery
    January 9, 2017 @ 11:57 am

    Well, I for one loved it.

    The scenes with Sherlock at Smith’s mercy were terrifying, and I thought Toby Jones was up their with the best of Sherlock’s villains, myself – I really loved the way Moffat unashamedly went after our culture’s habit of protecting the wealthy and privileged (there’s even a subtle dig at Crime Drama’s habit of portraying serial killers as generally poor, disaffected people in there). There were some excellent details to make Smith stand out as a character – his evident addiction to confessing to his crimes being the one that most caught my attention – that was planted very nicely, and payed off well, as it’s this, and not the confession Sherlock coerces out of him, that results in Smith’s downfall.

    And I think this episode portrayed Sherlock’s drug habit a lot better than “The Abominable Bride” – it feels like the episode is clear about the role his addiction is playing in the story, unlike “The Abominable Bride”, where it felt mostly out of focus. Hurran’s direction helps, of course – he’s far better suited to “making Sherlock Trippy” than Douglas Mackinnon.

    As to the follow up to Mary’s death, it is what it is, to quote John. I remain frustrated by the cliched decision to kill Mary, but Moffat did handle the theme of grief superbly in this episode. John’s therapy scenes, his anger at Sherlock when the case reaches it’s low point, and Sherlock’s observation that “your life is not your own”* when you die were rather profound, I thought – it topped Heaven Sent’s handling of grief, for my money (although I know you weren’t a huge fan of that), though it wasn’t as excellent as Dark Water/ Death in Heaven and Last Christmas in that regard. I sort of see the point about it not exploring grief in relation to fatherhood, although I don’t quite agree, as the episode did touch on that, with John’s confession that he was struggling to be present in Rosie’s life due to his grief, and his “proud father” bit when he was starting to heal at the end of the episode. It’s not a lot, but I feel like there is room for Moffat and Gatiss to further explore that angle in the finale, although I don’t think they have to.

    *Also a deft handling of suicide and self harm, there.

    And there does seem to be some subtle commentary on Fridging with Culverton Smith’s observation that killing people turns them into things (which also reminded me of the Granny Weatherwax line about that being the worst thing you can do to a person). It might be nothing, but I feel like there’s an interesting thematic through line that I do hope will pay off in the finale. I also appreciated the use of Mary’s “ghost” and the video – they did manage to give Mary a sense of posthumous agency.

    And overall, this episode kept on surprising me with tons of really deft storytelling. The Mrs Hudson being the driver reveal (and really, any scene she’s in), several brilliantly handled pieces of non linear storytelling – The Gun/ Tea switch, and the Lestrade/ John police station interview really adding to their respective scenes, with reversal of expectations humour in the former case, and an excellent tension build in the latter. That in itself is a joy of Moffat’s writing: even if it’s something I’ve come to expect from him, I still appreciate it.

    And overall, I really do struggle to see how “Sherlock goes on an extended drug trip to ensnare a Saville esque serial killer and save John from his grief” can be considered a small villain of the week story.


    • Tom Marshall
      January 9, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

      All of this. Best, smartest, most moving episode since A Scandal in Belgravia IMO.

      Sorry Phil but you’re wrong. 😛


      • ScarvesandCelery
        January 9, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

        I’d say it falls in just behind “Scandal” and “Vow” – those are just a shade better, but I don’t think there’s another Sherlock episode that’s as good as any of Moffat’s solo scripts post series 2.


        • Tom Marshall
          January 9, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

          “Vow” aims higher with its villain in a way, but I think this was a better-paced, more elegant script. “Vow” is a shade erratic. Especially the Christmas interlude before the climax – it’s all good, but here everything flows just that bit more neatly.


    • Bar
      January 9, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

      CS said he liked turning people into things “Which You Can Own” – that commodification/monetisation dig appealed to the leftie in me.
      It’s certainly one of his best; what’s wrong with focusing on grief and how we handle it, confession and redemption, the cost of healing relationships?
      That they could do that so beautifully in the middle of lol breakneck entertainment – go Mrs H – is Moff at his best. Can he do it with WHO next please?


      • Aylwin
        January 9, 2017 @ 10:11 pm

        what’s wrong with focusing on grief and how we handle it, confession and redemption, the cost of healing relationships?

        I don’t think anyone here has said that there is any anything wrong with that (about this, anyway – by my recollection quite a bit of the disagreement between Phil and the pro-Heaven Sent consensus was to do with the importance of such themes relative to whatever else, but my memory is unclear and I’m not checking right now). Personally, I just didn’t find that a story of how, to borrow AlfredJ’s summary above, “Sherlock (apparently by following Mary’s instructions) manipulates Watson in overcoming his grief by… going on a dangerously heavy drug binge and going to the edge of what is essentially suicide (by giving himself over to a serial killer)?” had anything very real or meaningful to say about those things.

        A story about characters actually going to pieces from grief, needing to help each other and thereby helping themselves could certainly have worked. Turning it into a contrived and preposterous mind-game deprived it of any viable relationship to genuine human experience as far as I was concerned. (By contrast, the symbolism of Heavean Sent worked for me, because it was symbolic, not an attempt to represent a version of actual human interactions.)


  7. Jay Furth
    January 9, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

    I thought it was one of Moffat’s finest scripts ever put to screen, an engaging story that brought me to tears multiple times.


  8. Janine
    January 9, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

    Insightful review; unlike last week, I can’t quite agree with you. Still, that’s always interesting with you, because we tend to differ in opinion over reasons which are worth looking at.

    The bit where I take issue is where you say this story would have worked just as well without Mary, as well as where you talk about the cliff-hanger coming out of nowhere. True, any conceivable draft of this series in which Mary survived is almost certainly better than what we’ve ended up with, but The Lying Detective is the kind of story that works so well because of what it follows on from. It’s like this entire story is a memento mori for the series, an unremitting and brutal contemplation on death (and the dead), which turns into a story about seizing life while you can. Culverton’s fixation with the dead crosses over with Moffat’s own fixation with grief in the most compelling and unusual ways. And of course the cliff-hanger is another reiteration of the kind of villain this episode is all about – one who hides in plain sight.

    (Anyone else seeing a depression subtext there? Like Culverton’s patients, John is dying inside and no one could possibly notice. Not when Sherlock’s around, at least.)

    Again, more ideas borrowed from Doctor Who (not a criticism, just an observation) – stories where a main character is grieving during the action, where a dead character appears as a manifestation of their subconscious… a female version of a mythic figure designed to appeal specifically to the fandom revealed in a cliff-hanger… stories which blur the lines between dream and reality…. etc.

    So yeah… I really liked how that one came together. Not sure at first, but it seems to get better the more I mull over it. And whilst I am inevitably pissed off about Mary’s death, this is just about as good as the show could possibly be after that happening, and unlike The Six Thatchers (which seemed terribly vague in its confusion between determinism and plain old mortality), this one had the kind of thematic consistency and investment in real-world issues I like to see in my Sherlock stories.

    That is, of course, the result of getting Moffat to pen the problematic middle episode of the series. It’s take four seasons, but they’ve finally made that nightmare slot work.


    • ScarvesandCelery
      January 9, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

      I’m still of the opinion that “The Sign of Three” did a damn good job of making the middle episode work, but otherwise, agreed entirely.


      • Janine
        January 9, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

        Sorry, that was probably poor phrasing. I love The Sign of Three, in fact I possibly even prefer it to this – it’s just that this creates a sustainable model for ‘middle episode’ stories, whereas The Sign of Three, whilst being absolutely wonderful, isn’t, I would argue, something you could replicate successfully every year. It’s The Wedding Episode, The Best Man Speech, that kind of story you can only do once – whereas this, with its build-up to the finale balanced so carefully with the case of the week, feels like something that could be tweaked and done again.


        • ScarvesandCelery
          January 9, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

          Good point.


    • Aylwin
      January 9, 2017 @ 10:48 pm

      Could you explain what you mean by “designed to appeal specifically to the fandom” here? Given that we don’t really know anything about her at this point beyond apparently being the Holmes family’s Mad Woman in the Attic, and that I don’t really know anything about Sherlock fandom, I’m not sure where you’re going with that.


      • Janine
        January 10, 2017 @ 4:04 pm

        Yes, of course.

        I don’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that her appeal is uniquely towards the Sherlock Holmes (specifically Holmes – we’re talking old-school Sherlock here) fandom – there’s an element of intrigue and excitement, I think for any viewer, seeing the rug pulled out from under their feet. But the kind of intrigue/excitement you get as a Sherlock Holmes fan is, I think, a very different kind, and one which the show is absolutely playing with right now.

        Sherrinford was never in Conan Doyle’s short stories. He wasn’t even a character, but an idea, put forward in a fictional biography by William Baring-Gould, and built around a continuity error: if the Holmes family are country squires, why doesn’t Mycroft (in squire tradition) stay and manage the house? Sherrinford exists to rectify this error. He’s both a proposed solution to a problem and, well, an early example of a fan theory for what’s now a fictional world we’re all very familiar with.

        When I say the Sherrinford/Euros mystery is designed to appeal to the fandom, what I mean is that it plays with and trolls them by, in Moffat fashion, subverting expectations. It’s not a traditional ‘genderbend’ of character – there’s no source material to be faithful to in the case of Sherrinford, and in the 21st Century there’s no reason for her to be male in order to continue the Holmes legacy. And indeed, it’s the one time where the geekiest of fans are absolutely in the dark – there’s no obvious source material for next week’s episode; ‘The Final Problem’ has already been adapted in The Reichenbach Fall. Presumably, it alludes to the “Final Problem” of “stayin’ alive” instead, and that could go anywhere. It’s… an interesting time to be a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I’d say.

        (Also, you know how fans are always looking for bits of information hidden in the background? This series has totally tricked us into doing that – being drawn to the poster at the bus stop, or letting our eyes dart around Baker Street for Moriarty clues. So much so that a lot of fans ended up missing the fact that one actress played three characters, because they were too busy concentrating on the background to notice the foreground. The average viewer, who doesn’t engage on that level, would actually have been more likely to spot the twist at the end. I’m not sure what point I’m making here, but maybe you can turn it into something other than stream of consciousness observations.)

        Longer reply than I’d expected, sorry. But then who really does any work on a Tuesday afternoon?


        • Aylwin
          January 10, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

          That makes it a lot clearer, thank you – I got on the wrong track by assuming Sherlock rather than Holmes.

          What you describe in brackets sounds like a briefer and subtler reprise of the Impossible Girl ploy (and later restatements of the same argument, as in Deep Breath) – that is, Moffat telling off his fans for focusing on puzzle-plotting and “paranoid reading” at the expense of character. Which I never found very coherent or convincing in the Doctor Who context, but it would certainly fit very neatly with the general artistic and ideological thrust of Moffat’s approach to Sherlock Holmes, and it makes more sense as a critique of the Holmes tradition (as corroborated by the kind of hostile reactions that approach has aroused, whereas the nature of the criticism of Season 7 Clara tended to suggest that he was shooting at a largely non-existent target there).

          In other words, good catch.

          (Of course, it’s also a feminist spin on the bit in The Hound of the Baskervilles where Holmes reveals to Watson the resemblance between Stapleton and Hugo Baskerville’s portrait by covering up Hugo’s hat and hair – “My eyes have been trained to examine faces and not their trimmings”.)


          • Aylwin
            January 10, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

            That should really say “the audience” rather than “his fans”.

  9. Tom Marshall
    January 9, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

    Other things from Doctor Who:

    knowing in advance the architecture so you can influence it, not to mention interpreting actions and decisions like the walking cane (minus the time travel) – “The Curse of Fatal Death”

    Harold Chorely – “The Web of Fear”

    choosing to accept v choosing to forget – “The Beast Below”

    Dead Clara saying “get up off your arse and win” v Dead Mary saying “get the hell on with it” – “Heaven Sent”


    • Janine
      January 9, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

      Also, they even went for musical similarities this week, used the same chord combination as Heaven Sent for one of the tracks (it’s called ‘You Look Different’ on the soundtrack). Very distinct, real whiff of romanticism.


    • The Flan in the High Castle
      January 10, 2017 @ 2:55 pm

      Good call on The Curse of Fatal Death. I knew Culverton’s line about the architecture reminded me of something, but my mind went to the Build High for Happiness “hypercubic prison” stuff instead and quickly gave up.


  10. Ruya
    January 9, 2017 @ 5:20 pm

    surprised you didn’t have anything to say about the final scene in baker street where john confesses the affair–which ranks up there with with the mary confrontation/taking her as a client bit in his last vow. also the subtle digs about theresa may.


  11. Martin Porter
    January 9, 2017 @ 9:34 pm

    The Saville comparison probably played out differently on this side of the Atlantic. Obvious, yes, but also very, very creepy.

    Interesting that Moffat doesn’t actually show any victims, or victims relatives, or anything to show that Smith targetted real people. He didn’t need to. We know who his victims were.


    • thesmilingstallioninn
      January 10, 2017 @ 6:41 pm

      Yep, definitely, made me shudder and gasp. I especially was laughing at the line, “I’m going to break America.” just at the sheer audacity of it all. And laughing at the Ms. Hudson scene, too, especially with Sherlock handcuffed in the boot, for a more humorous reason. I watched this late, probably pulled me in more. The ending of the Six Thatchers didn’t pull me in, but this kept me in the story, though I kept thinking it was running overlong after the Culverton Smith resolution, but then again, the Eurus reveal there kind of threw me for a loop. I was expecting Morarity’s sister as E from the bus stop or Mary or something.


      • Martin Porter
        January 10, 2017 @ 9:10 pm

        Really don’t know how the Eurus thing will play out. The beauty of the Holmes family was that there were the amiably suburban mum and dad, with a pair of overgrwon kids as children. A real psychopath in the family doesn’t really fit.


  12. Aylwin
    January 9, 2017 @ 10:24 pm

    A thought: could setting up Mycroft with Lady Smallwood be the clearest indication yet that this is intended to be the last series? Since at least series 2, Mycroft’s status as the control group for Sherlock’s socialisation process has been a significant structural component of the story’s character dynamics and its positioning relative to the original canon. If Mycroft is now being angled towards a standard Moffat redemption-by-woman, it suggests that that structure is not going to be needed much longer.


  13. SpaceSquid
    January 9, 2017 @ 10:44 pm

    “On the other hand, the narrative reasons for her death are by and large still inscrutable.”

    I’m not qualified to comment on what constitutes ‘narrative reasons’ from your perspective, but this episode made me wonder if Moffat is exploring what happens when you fridge a character without actually removing them from the narrative.


  14. Andrew
    January 10, 2017 @ 2:51 am

    Another thing Moffatt borrowed from Dr. Who:

    “Didn’t it ever occur to you? Not even once?” in Utopia, just before the Master shoots Chan Tho. Eurus says the same line, just before shooting John.


  15. Anglocat
    January 10, 2017 @ 4:29 am

    Hope the comment’s not too rambling; in fact, it became the basis for a blogpost–all that said:

    I confess that I loved “The Lying Detective” in a way I didn’t love “The Six Thatchers.” The plot’s a bit ropey, but Moffatt quite cleverly used it to excavate the characters’ being forced to confront their own inner demons. Sherlock as addict worked for me here, even as he gave himself over to his addiction to pay some of his debt to Mary (and let go of his sobriety at the same time).

    Some of the ropiness is, I think, the fact that this season instead of subverting the Conan Doyle stories, they’re using them as frames, but telling them straight–not true in prior series, where die hard Holmesians get jiu-jitsued by Moffatt and Gatiss using our knowledge of the stories against us. But this retelling of “The Dying Detective” is actually pretty close to the original.

    What makes it worthwhile are the beats between John and Sherlock, especially after Culverton Smith begins his interminable confession. John’s passionate anger at Sherlock refusing to relate to Irene, and then John’s confession to Sherlock and Mary of his faithlessness to Mary (Amanda Abbingdon play’s Mary’s response perfectly), and then Sherlock’s embrace of John–it’s as close as this show comes to Holmes’s reaction to Watson’s getting shot in “The Three Garridebs”:

    “‘You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!’

    It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. ”

    And, just as Gatiss’s script from the Hounds of Baskerville was an improved version of his PROBE script “Unnatural Selection,” so too in the cliffhanger, Moffatt here reworks his cliffhanger ending from “Jekyll.”


  16. Jarl
    January 10, 2017 @ 9:49 am

    Honestly, until the morgue scene, I didn’t think of Saville. Instead, between the plastic hair, the creepy relationship with his daughter, and the magazine with the caption “It’s amazing what they let you get away with,” the only thing I could wonder was what Moffat was going to have Sherlock do to the president elect…


  17. thesmilingstallioninn
    January 10, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

    One of the interesting and good things about this season are the handful of scenes so far where the actor Benedict Cumberbatch can play Sherlock as out of character as possible from his standard behavior. Like the first scene where Sherlock’s celebrating being free and here where Sherlock recites Shakespeare as he’s firing his gun. Those two scenes really seemed like the actor’s having fun, I don’t know.


  18. UrsulaL
    January 11, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

    Moffat’s work, both here and in Doctor Who, seems to be a bit of a meditation on death lately. Ashildr, Clara, Mary.

    The death itself being about the person who died, (Clara, what John eventually realizes about Mary) yet the aftermath being about those left behind. (Ashildr mourning a thousand losses, Sherlock saying your life isn’t yours to take, as you won’t be the one left missing it.)

    And it is a specifically atheist meditation on death – no afterlife, no one aside from other people to be accountable to. Rejecting the idea that suicide only harms yourself, not based on an idea of sin or afterlife accountability, but on the people you know and who know you.

    Is this the first Sherlock story where the murder was for the point of murder, not incidental to some other crime or plot? Another meditation on death, exploring a character who is obsessed with people dying.

    And did anyone else get a strong Trump vibe from Culverton Smith? Particularly the way he believed his wealth could let him get away with anything, and the creepy way he was pawing at his daughter.


  19. Alex
    January 11, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

    I’m surprised Phil didn’t go for this one in a bigger way. Possibly because Culverton Smith being turned into a Guy for Jimmy Savile wouldn’t have struck America as hard. I think reading him as a Trump figure can stand up, ish, but there’s something uniquely powerful about setting Holmes against someone who got away with their crimes within their own life time.

    The reason I thought Dr Sandifer would like it was the way it completely knew and used its medium: the scenes with Sherlock and Eurus were shot precisely to make cleverdick tv watchers suspect a twist, and feel pleased to have got it when it was revealed she was a hallucination. It used the language of twists to hide a different reveal altogether and I love it for that.


    • Daibhid C
      January 21, 2017 @ 9:30 pm

      This is where I get all smug, because I distinctly remember thinking “Moffat’s got too much of a sense of how twists work to do ‘this woman was a hallucination all along’ when there’s also a woman who is definitely a hallucination all along. But he might want us to think that, and then the twist is she isn’t.”

      Of course, I completely failed to predict absolutely anything else, and was thrown into utter confusion when she turned out to not really be Faith – and then even more so when the note turned out to be real.


  20. Daibhid C
    January 21, 2017 @ 9:26 pm

    “Genderbending Sherlock Holmes characters is of course more usually the trick of Elementary,”

    Well. It’s a thing Elementary has done more prominently, in that the two characters it did it to are very significant ones. But off the top of my head, Sherlock has also done it to Harry Watson, Dr Mortimer and Horace Harker. It’s just Dr Mortimer was a one-shot and Harry and Orrie never appear on-screen.


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