It’s only been 6 months since our last dose of Sherlock, but that one-off holiday episode created more questions than answers and we’re eager for more! With the crew hard at work on a fourth series, and only two weeks left to film, we were excited to sit down and talk to Writers and Executive Producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Executive Producer Sue Vertue, and actress Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan) at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con. The conversation is going to be published in two parts, because they had a lot to say.
No spoilers of course, given those in attendance! Instead we talked about the challenges of bringing this story to the screen over an extended period of time, with everyone’s schedules being so difficult to navigate, as well as keeping story secrets in a modern age. But what seemed to elicit the most emotion from Moffat and Gatiss, was the frustrations that come from both the press and the fans taking things that have been said by those involved in the production and twisting them to suit their own agendas.
Doing research for the interview, it quickly became clear something major had happened in the Sherlock fandom during the first couple days of San Diego Comic-Con. It didn’t take long to pinpoint the cause of the social media flare up. Moffat was on a panel with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, discussing the topic of representation – specifically gay representation – in media, particularly in science fiction and popular television. A few comments were being taken by some in the Sherlock fandom as confirmation that a certain ‘ship’ (‘Johnlock’ – John Watson and Sherlock Holmes) would not only definitely happen in the series, and that Moffat had actually confirmed the pair would lock lips in the Season 4 finale. In fact, the fans were congratulating themselves on being right all along. It felt like a major overreach by fans, and Moffat agreed.
“Can I just say, yes, very much so. What is irksome is what I am talking about is quite a serious thing, a serious question, seriously answered by both myself and Bryan Fuller who managed to answer much more quickly than I did. I was talking about the representation of minorities in science fiction shows and in popular culture. Using the example of talking about gay characters and how you present them. I was actually largely talking about Doctor Who, ’cause Doctor Who addresses children. And I was talking about how do you handle gay characters in a fiction like Doctor Who when you are addressing very directly, children. You don’t want it to be campaigning. You don’t want to be table thumping about it. You don’t want to essentially tell children that there’s something to campaign about. You want to say this is absolutely fine and normal. There is no question to answer. You want to walk right past it, in a way. You don’t want to… If you say, as sometimes other kinds of literature or movies might, we forgive you for being gay. You’re just saying you’re gay and it doesn’t matter. There’s no issue.”
“That’s what I was talking about. Was not talking, I was very much specifically not talking about…” continued Moffat, clearly passionate about the topic, and frustrated at the way his words have been twisted, “It is infuriating frankly, to be talking about a serious subject and to have Twitter run around and say oh that means Sherlock is gay. Very explicitly it does not. We are taking a serious subject and trivializing it beyond endurance.”
As to Sherlock’s ending, he quipped, “Sherlock Holmes ends up keeping bees in the Sussex Downs. That was established 90 years ago.”
At this point, Gatiss interjected, “It’s worth saying – because we never get the opportunity to actually say it. The whole notion, the idea of them possibly being a couple is inspired by the joke in the Billy Wilder film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, our favorite version. And we thought that was a good idea to run with that. In the 21st century it wouldn’t be an issue. People would just assume. Maybe we’ve done it too many times I don’t know. That’s all it is. He explicitly says he is not interested. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t be. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I’m a gay man. This is not an issue. But we’ve explicitly said this is not going to happen – there is no game plan – no matter how much we lie about other things, that this show is going to culminate in Martin and Benedict going off into the sunset together. They are not going to do it. And if people want to write whatever they like and have a great time extrapolating that’s absolutely fine. But there is no hidden or exposed agenda. We’re not trying to fuck with people’s heads. Not trying to insult anybody or make any kind of issue out of it, there’s nothing there. It’s just our show and that’s what these characters are like. If people want to do that on websites absolutely fine. But there’s nothing there.”
“And don’t put it into your mouths,” added Vertue.
“No, completely,” continued Gatiss. “Don’t blame us for things that aren’t there. It is infuriating. We get pilloried for these things as if our show – we haven’t even made the thirteenth one yet – has to have the shoulders to bear every single issue and every single campaign point. You can’t do that. It’s our show, they’re our characters, they do what we want them to do, and we don’t have to represent absolutely everything in that ninety minutes. It’s impossible. And it would kill it. It would be deadly to it.”
Moffat concluded, “And I also think in my case, I was talking about representation, as was Bryan, in quite a serious way. What they did was scale back that conversation and make it about something extremely silly. And that’s not helping anyone. I cared a lot about what I said on that panel. I meant it. And I don’t like it being reinterpreted as something else. [We’re] not telling anyone what to think. Mark isn’t saying other people can’t write that version of John and Sherlock getting together. We’re not. We’re not engaging in a clever conspiracy to write something under the radar, we’re just writing the show we’re writing.”
I clarified, at this point in the conversation, “That’s not the story you’re telling.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Moffat responds. “But they can. They can. Once we hand the show to them, it’s theirs and we’re finished with it. They can do what they like.”
To be fair, it wasn’t just the fans Moffat and Gatiss were frustrated with. In a world of click bait articles, the pressure is on the media to one up each other and snag the readers’ interest. No one wants to read the article that says “Moffat says he doesn’t know if there will be a Season 5 of Sherlock,” instead, they want “Is Season 4 the end of Sherlock? See what Moffat says.” (This story could easily have been titled “Is Sherlock Gay? Moffat and Gatiss Set the Record Straight”, but we thought that was disrespectful considering the conversation).
“Now I did an interview for the Radio Times about something else last year and the last question, they said we have to ask you about Sherlock,” Gatiss told us. “And I said, well I can tell you nothing, course not. And he said go on. I said no – that’s the point. You’re not going to trick me. And he said this happens in the original story and it’s tragic. And I said it will be the same mixture of tragedy and humor and thrills and blend as you’d like. And I said you’ll make that into five different headlines. And he laughed and ran off. Six. ‘Gatiss teases tragedy in Sherlock.’ That story went round the world. I said virtually nothing.” He laughed, “He still screwed me.”
“I, for about six months, had said nothing,” added Moffat. “And people were just nicking quotes from old things I said in other situations to pretend I said something new. They applied some comments about the casting of the new companion for Doctor Who they applied to Pearl (Mackie, who will play Bill in the 10th Series of Doctor Who), which I had actually said about Jenna Coleman years before. They were pretending I said that about Pearl.
If we sometimes seem slightly irritated it’s because…”
“The other day you said ‘I would be very surprised if this was the last series’,” added Vertue, “To be translated into this is the last series.”
“You can’t get more bald-faced than that,” joked Gatiss.
Sherlock season 4 will premiere in 2017 on the BBC in the UK and PBS in the USA.
To see the second part of our interview, click here: Sherlock & A Study in Secrecy.