So Sherlock is back. After a typically long hiatus, its exceptionally talented cast team up for more London-based hijinks and mystery. It’s just a shame that the shine has well and truly worn off this poster child for British television.

The ‘Six Thatchers’ starts predictably, with Holmes absolved of all crimes and Series 3’s cliff hanger swept under the rug (for the time being). After an opening sequence attacked with such time-efficient ferocity that it could almost be considered a montage, normal service is resumed and good old-fashioned crime solving can occur once again.

And that is exactly the problem. At this point, it feels like Sherlock has dealt its hand. Yes, there will always be another improbable case to solve, or another arch villain to foil (although the prevalence of those whose name is not Moriarty is astonishingly low). But writer Mark Gatiss and co-creator Steven Moffat seem intent upon smothering the problem of the familiarity of Sherlock with faster and faster dialogue, weirder and more wonderful scene transitions, and stranger and stranger plot developments. At this point, the pair seem so aware of the quirks and merits their show relies upon that they appear happy to simply skip directly to them. The resulting hour and a half becomes an overly-dense mishmash of plotlines more knowing flashiness than subversive substance, and serves only to parody its own stronger past.

A glaring problem at the heart of ‘The Six Thatchers’ is, regrettably, Amanda Abbington’s Mary. Rarely does a character seem so implausible in their backstory. Abbington is by no means a poor actress, but Mary is a part that remains a confusing casting decision. This, and her surrounding plot never truly feel right, as if other shows have trodden similar ground – only grander, sharper and better. Even the dialogue borders upon cheesy and melodramatic, though Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes remains impeccably scripted and Rupert Graves’ Lestrade provides as amusing a foil as ever, much more so than Martin Freeman’s Watson.

The show seems desperate to prove that it is still clever, still relevant. And it is, at times. There are still great moments to be found. It still merits a few chuckles, and maybe even a guffaw. But the episode creaks upon a spent formula; carrying characters both uninspiring and increasingly side-lined through a whirlwind of jarring visual noise.

The purpose behind the chronically meandering pace and plotting reveals itself in a huge, yet fairly predictable final twist, one that suggests Gatiss wrote with a single goal in mind, and attempted to fashion 85 minutes-worth of story around it. Nevertheless, it threatens to have a great effect upon the remainder of the series, hopefully one that will reinvigorate a show that seems old before its time.

Nick Burke

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