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sherlock-series-3-picture‘The Sign Of Three’ 

After a two year wait for a new episode, Sherlock fans have only had four days to cobble together those cringe-worthy GIFs before the shows triptych of writers present The Sign of Three; a bizarre Comic Relief-esque meander masquerading as an official episode.

As Sherlock (Benedict Cumberatch) struggles to give his best man speech for John and Mary’s wedding (real life Bag End couple Martin Freeman and Amanda Abbington), he dips in and out of the events that have led to that day. The episode once again demonstrates the show’s cinematic ambitions yet I wonder if Sherlock might start getting drowned in the shadows of other stories.

Even the nods to Sherlock’s own adventures incite that feeling we’re being rushed along, the train missing the station. For all the deerstalker tips to Conan-Doyle’s collection, there are no real, big mysteries anymore and a lot of the time Sherlock is on his day off away from his overflowing inbox. Irresistible comparisons to Doctor Who arise again but the show seems to desire them. With Doctor-like moments cruelly plastered on, it seems somebody in the office has knocked over a tumbler and smudged the scripts.

For all the love and attention heaved on its protagonist, Sherlock is increasingly without context and the characters instead seem to sit around and tell each other how they feel without doing much else. In this series we’ve seen Sherlock as the famed detective, his mind-palace an ever in demand resort. Yet how many crimes have we seen him solve? Or have we just seen clues at his former prowess, which too often feel like hints to much better writing?

Witty and packed with impeccable performances, it is not hard to detect what still makes the show great however. Cumberbatch is electric here in the central role and the scenes that court his character’s tremendous abilities, delving into that exquisite mind palace, are still the gleeful highlights. Freeman and Abbington still say Ono to the Yoko and even though she is suspiciously under-developed (I suspect the series’ finale holds some mysteries for her yet), they are often just as kinetic. As the Detectives embark on side quests, two that will satisfy sightseers of all kinds and two that – admittedly briefly – present irresistible crimes, it becomes such a shame that there isn’t so much more of this.

Other choices seem there to please that insane fandom, who are treated to drunk-Sherlock and enough out of character whimsy to keep their keyboards occupied for the foreseeable future. These moments of amusement belong to a Comic Relief special and had they been applied more delicately would be show-stopping surprises. Take The Avengers, as Thor and the Hulk land after an intense battle, Hulk catapults Thor across the room with a crowd-pleasing kapow. Include this too often and the film would become parody and Sherlock seems to walk this line less finely. With too many winks to the audience, the show appears to blink through its non-adventures and add some clumsy camera work; it’s all a little too messy.

With this series of the show we seem to find Sherlock off-piste, tumbling through sly sentient nods to as much pop culture as possible. Orson Welles once said of Shakespeare that people only go to see it now to recognize the quotes, something that feels bizarrely apt when it comes to modern television. The black mirror furiously polished by writers looking for something new is becoming its own inherent parody and for all the wit, whizz and wallop, need entertainment be such an empty hearse?

★★★

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