SDCC 2016: Sherlock & A Study in Secrecy


Continuing with our SDCC 2016 Sherlock coverage (Part 1: “A Case of Sexual Identity”), we get into the nitty-gritty of making a show as popular and engaging as Sherlock. While Sherlock’s cast and crew are notoriously hard to get any spoilers out of, the greatest of Sherlock sleuths might be able to glean a hint at what to expect in Series 4 (and hopefully beyond — fingers and toes crossed!).

Sherlock Season 4 trailerDuring press for Sherlock on Saturday, we sat down with Executive Producers and Writers Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss, Executive Producer Sue Vertue, and actress Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan).

First off, we asked how difficult it is keeping the plot under wraps in this day and age, where people are actually using drones to find out who is filming on this season of The Walking Dead in order to discover who Negan’s victim might be.

GATISS: “Someone told me with the new Star Wars, they’ve invented a new coat, a new costume coat, to get people to their trailers and to the set. It’s literally a new design, like a crash helmet thing, because there are so many drones to reveal any costume.”

VERTUE: “We’ve had people trying to get scripts from pockets or vehicles. It’s quite hard.”

MOFFAT: “We had on Doctor Who somebody with a telephoto lens looking right into a tent, where the sound team was reading the script. It’s really very difficult. Oddly I was at the Baker Street Babes thing last night, and they said ‘you like trolling the audience’. And I said ‘I don’t’. I don’t like saying anything. But what you have to do is put out huge amounts of disinformation to try to bury all the secrets that are actually leaking out of there. Because you have a loyalty to the audience who would enjoy a surprise. You have to somehow find a way for them to have that delicious moment when something unexpected happens. And it’s not even just surprises you spoil. It’s not just the moment of the surprise. It’s not knowing what a story is going to do to you when the story begins. [. . .] If you’re waiting for an hour for the big reveal, because you know it’s coming, it changes the nature of the show. It gets in the way of storytelling.”

GATISS: “We do get criticized for lying, but we have to.

“To answer your question, it is very difficult. It’s also rather nice when you just appeal to people’s better natures especially at screenings and just ask them not to. And they don’t.”

ABBINGTON: “Yeah they don’t. That’s great.”

VERTUE: “The fans are great actually. They’re very well-behaved. They keep it to their own.”

MOFFAT: “Yeah the general bulk of people – we’re not talking about them. They are incredible secret keepers. The people that call themselves Setlock. They see everything and say nothing. And that’s great.”

GATISS: “But they spoil it for themselves.”

ABBINGTON: “I don’t know why they’d want to do that. You wait all that time to see these brilliant stories and you just want to know everything. That’s the thing. Everyone wants to know everything all the time. [. . .] There’s something delicious about waiting, I think.”

GATISS: “The first book I was ever given when I was four, from Father Christmas, was Great Expectations. Complete and unabridged. And when I was finally old enough to read it, and I got to the big spoiler – I don’t know if you know the story – I can remember that feeling like it was yesterday. I was astonished. I was obviously convinced Ms. Haversham was his benefactor, and it’s Magwitch. I couldn’t believe it! That’s the feeling you always want to reproduce. And when you pull the rug out like that, it’s thrilling to watch it.”

MOFFAT: “And to have that moment where you actually review every single event of the story so far, in a different light. If you knew the twist up front, you wouldn’t get the joyous experience of experiencing the story twice.”

GATISS: “It’s a very modern thing, it happens all the time, people will say have you seen so-and-so, and you say don’t tell me the twist! It’s actually worse than telling you what the twist is because you sit there waiting for the twist.”

Moffat and Gatiss then gave us a tiny bit of insight into Sherlock series 4 when asked about their inspirations outside the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.

MOFFAT: “There is always outside of Arthur Conan Doyle, there are also the movies, the Sherlock Holmes movies. There’s a hint of the Universal films.”

GATISS: “Oh yeah. I think it’s the most Universal we’ve ever gone.”

MOFFAT: “You know, the old Rathbone ones. Certainly in episode 3, you’ll see some nods to that. But do you mean outside of– well, Sherlock Holmes is so massive. So imitated by every other detective series ever, you don’t have to go outside of Sherlock Holmes.”

GATISS: “There are certain contemporary events which have impacted on the season, I would say. In terms of your villains and things.”

MOFFAT: “If you want to play a game of Get the Reference, episode 3 should be…”

VERTUE: “Get your pen and paper out!”

Sherlock and Watson specialHolmes and Watson returning to their Victorian roots, even for so brief a time, in ‘The Abominable Bride’ was so well received, a lot of people want to know if we’ll be returning to Victorian England anytime soon. Another trip to Sherlock’s Mind Palace, perhaps?

MOFFAT: “Not really. I mean, no. We did that the only time we could have done it.”

GATISS: “We couldn’t get everyone’s diaries to line up to do a full series of that. There was a chance to do a special and we did actually say, ‘if we do this now, then we can’t really do it again’. It really fits so perfectly in the storyline. But the other day, Ben Caron — who is directing episode 3 — graded a little clip [. . .] in black and white and it looked exactly like a Rathbone film.  And I was so excited!  We were joking we’ll do one set in the ‘40s where they fight the Nazis. But then ‘The Abominable Bride’ started as a joke, so you never know.”

It’s been widely reported that Moffat recently said series 4 would be the final series of Sherlock, but as the first part of the interview referenced, this was a case of the media misinterpreting, or misrepresenting, a quote to suit their own agenda. With the careers of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch taking off, how difficult is it then to create the serialized portion of the story? And, we had to know – do they give us a cliffhanger so Martin and Benedict feel like they have to come back?

MOFFAT: “The first time we did a cliffhanger, it was on an absolute whim. We had a different ending to that. And we just thought, why don’t we.”

VERTUE: “We had no idea if it would be commissioned.”

MOFFAT: “We didn’t know there was going to be a series 2. We just thought – why not? And it allowed us to end the first series on that famous exchange. And that could have been it! That could have been the end of Sherlock. [. . .] I kinda think, whenever Sherlock ends, in whatever way it ends, what better way than to end on a cliffhanger? You don’t want to think they stop; [you want to think] that Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson never stop. They’re always going to be in those rooms at Baker Street. They always are. And there’s always going to be another client coming into the door. You kind of want it to end with the doorbell ringing. You don’t want it to end ever, because this is the story that does not end.”

The interview ended on a joke. Is there a third Holmes brother?

MOFFAT: “No, but there’s a fourth!”

It was an emotional conversation with the Sherlock crew, but it ended in laughter, and it’s clear to us that the people working on this show are as passionate about their show as their fans are.

Sherlock Series 4 will air in on the BBC in the UK and PBS in the US sometime in 2017. Air date to be announced. Probably two weeks before, considering the BBC.