More than a hundred years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t take the strain of producing a new Sherlock Holmes story once a month, as per his contract with The Strand Magazine. That arrangement had catapulted the detective, his physician sidekick and their creator to the pinnacle of fame. After two years in which he tried to wriggle out of the contract by demanding higher pay (and getting it), Conan Doyle decided to kill Holmes off. He was to die in a most dramatic way, which would ensure – so the author hoped – that the sleuth would be immune to all efforts at resurrection. Holmes would fall off a cliff (now, that’s what you call a cliffhanger).
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Alas, fictional characters – as Conan Doyle found, initially to his chagrin but later to his enjoyment – are difficult to create and next to impossible to annihilate. Vincent Starrett best summed it up in his sonnet “221B” (the fictional address of the detective and the doctor): “Here dwell together two men of note / who never lived and so can never die.” Conan Doyle brought Holmes back to life, and went on to create a veritable “canon” of 56 short stories and four novels starring him and his amanuensis. Then an army of Sherlockians and Holmesologists took over and started an industry of pastiches in print, on stage and on the big and small screen.
That is why all Sherlock aficionados are gearing up for Sunday, the first day of 2017. That’s when Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss will present on BBC One in the U.K. and on PBS in the U.S. the first episode (of three) of the fourth season of “Sherlock,” their up-to-date version of the never-ending life of the world’s first consulting detective.
The first series aired in 2010. Its innovations (like the massive use of on-screen text messages) and its stars – the one and only Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes, and the so-very-ordinary Martin Freeman, who plays Dr. Watson – made it into an instant hit. Moffat and Gatiss did not offer viewers too much of a good thing: The second season of three episodes aired in 2012, the third in 2014. Then there was a “special” on New Year’s Day, 2016, and now comes the eagerly awaited fourth season.
Since word got out that filming of the fourth season had begun (in many locations, including London’s North Gower Street, where the fictional set of 221B Baker Street was built) the big question was when and where it would be broadcast. The Brits are privileged, as it’s a BBC production. But Sherlock and Watson are popular all over the planet, with Holmes and Cumberbatch fan clubs worldwide. The first two seasons were aired in the U.S. on PBS, but then Netflix purchased it. In 2014, American fans had to wait until June to get Sherlock’s third season, and that was the plan for 2017 as well. However, due to popular demand, the series will be available in the U.S. on PBS on January 1. Israelis will have to wait for Netflix, but the whole season will be available on DVD through Amazon as of January 24.
Producers and stars alike say the fourth season will be “the darkest ever,” and all say a fifth season is being considered, with nothing settled yet. The first episode is entitled “The Six Thatchers”; it follows a thief who covets busts of the late prime minister, in order to smash them. Holmesologists will realize that the plot is based on one of Conan Doyle’s original Holmes stories, “The Six Napoleons.” The second episode is entitled “The Lying Detective” (there is an original story entitled “The Dying Detective”). In the fourth season, the Watsons have a baby, and in one of the press photos Martin Freeman is seen with an infant in a sling. Off screen, Amanda Abbington, who plays Mary Watson (née Morstan) in the series, and Martin Freeman, who were a real-life couple with two children, announced they are amicably parting ways.
Benedict Cumberbatch, the Holmes of the 21st century, with his unruly lock of hair and oddly spaced eyes, played Hamlet on stage, and stars in the “Doctor Strange” franchise; he is a full fledged megastar. On a recent visit to London, in the bookshop of the National Theatre, I couldn’t resist buying “Benedict Cumberstitch: cross stitch Mr Cumberbatch in 15 great patterns.”
So, for those of you who can access BBC One in Israel, enjoy. The rest of us mortals will have to wait until Netflix releases it in Israel. But the game is afoot again, and as we all know, it never ends.