So, was it much cop? Well of course it was! But here is the thoughts I've been jotting down for each episode.
Warning: this post contains...
The Empty Hearse, broadcast 1st January.
We waited 2 years to work out just how Sherlock managed to evade death and his return did not disappoint. Cleverly the episode made the how did he do it? conundrums almost surplus; the important thing was he was back and how his return would affect his relationship with John and the new lady in his life, Mary.
They also had a great time with knowing tongue in cheek referencing to all of fandom's fervent desire to work out just how he had cheated death too, and it was clear to me that Gatiss and Moffat were having a dig at the wilder end of the fanboy spectrum they have to endure from both this and Doctor Who.
The story itself, well once again I love the way they always take the basics of the original tale, The Empty House, but twist it completely. Moran was the villain, the mannequin was there (the Guy in this case) but it was Watson in grave danger here, not Holmes.
I also loved the reference to the tale that was never told; The Giant Rat of Sumatra - very clever.
The tongue in cheek stuff didn't let up either when Benedict Cumberbatch's real life parents appeared as Sherlock's surprisingly seemingly ordinary and dull parents.
In short, it was a great return, lovely to have it back and everyone played a blinder but especially Freeman who is the real emotional heart to this series - a fact that will become increasingly obvious with each passing episode, as we shall see.
The Sign Of Three, broadcast 5th January
This one actually took me a little while to get, about 15 minutes or so, because on the face of it this freewheeling more personal story was quite a departure - we see Holmes and Watson do very little investigative work, and when they do they're pissed and hopeless (it's during John's stag do) making them less Sherlock and John and more like Mitchell and Webb's drunken delusionals Sir Digby Chicken Caesar and Ginger! - but once I got a handle on it, it became very clear that it was the closest thing to Moffat and Gatiss' inspiration, the wonderful Billy Wilder film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Even down to its loose compilation of mysteries, the influence was all there.
Not that that stopped some annoyed (and annoying) 'fans' taking to twitter to complain about this episode and it's unusual tone. You know the kind of Sherlock fan we're talking about here, the type who have never bothered with any adaptation other than Cumberbatch and therefore believe themselves to know how the series should be done *sighs*
Once again, I love that they kept to some of the original themes of the story they were loosely adapting; so we have Sholto there and even a briefly seen dart spitting dwarf! But then they went and tied it all up beautifully with the new spin, 'the sign of three' being Mary expecting John's baby.
So many brilliant lines in this one, and Daisy Lowe guest starring and a brief reappearance from Lara Pulver as 'The Woman' - a real highlight.
His Last Vow, broadcast 12th January
Unusually this one took its punning title from one story (His Last Bow) but the story itself was in fact The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton (one of my favourites and once so splendidly adapted by Granada as The Master Blackmailer) with Milverton here changes to Magnusson to allow the great Danish actor Lars Mikkelson of Borgen and The Killing fame to join the fray, which he did with a suitably creepy crawly Lector-esque aplomb.
Well up until that big twist regarding Mary (Wow, just WOW) it was actually all going very traditionally to plan in terms of adapting the story; Lady Smallwood and the letters, the detestable Milverton, Holmes and Watson breaking in and Holmes witnessing Smallwood get her murderous revenge on her blackmailer...even Holmes having a girlfriend (in Milverton's employ) was canonical. Yes it was all there.
Then the ricochet off into another bold direction occurred with that twist!
I like the echoes of The Empty House; Holmes faces down an assassin (in a properly empty house too) with the aid of a dummy, there was also references to Holmes; retirement to the Sussex Downs to keep bees and Mycroft alluded to his colleague in the intelligence community, M, and the 'blunt instrument' the country needs - James Bond, of course - arguing that the country also needed his brother, the precise instrument once in a while too. As we've come to expect these little tongue in cheek references were all very knowing and neat.
Indeed there were a lot of positives to this thrill ride finale. But...sometimes I feel Moffat is continuously trying to top not just each episode, but each scene! It's quite exhausting really and, as the episode got bigger and bigger I found myself longing for a simple story, well told instead. For a while there it looked like we were being set up to a finale that would have split Sherlock and John up and had series 4 be essentially a retread of series 3 but then Moffat pulled the rug from under us by showing us that, somehow, Moriarty cheated death too! Just like the old Rathbone films haha.
But the negatives, the bit that niggled me - this storyline made Holmes fallible and vulnerable all too often and suggested that, in essence, he wasn't that clever. And that's a bit of a no no for me. Magnusson's mind palace reveal, plus his subsequent demise was so blindingly obvious to me the moment they set off to meet him that I found it actually quite insulting to suggest it foxed The Great Detective. Equally I didn't like how Moffatt had Holmes be the one to pull the trigger as it rather belittled his character and made him 'the blunt instrument' Mycroft suggests Bond is. He's not averse to murder of course, and I love the ambiguity of his role in The Speckled Band for example, but this coupled with his mistake and underestimation of Magnusson made him too ordinary. I half expected and would have preferred Mary to be in the 'copter with Mycroft, performing one last state sanctioned hit on Magnusson to be honest - why couldn't we have had that?
So please Moffat, next time less sleight of hand, whizz bang, glitter and pizazz and more thoughtfulness and efficiency in the story itself please.
Roll on series 4.
But for now, here's hoping The Musketeers next week's replacement is a corker! It has a lot to live up to, not least of all Dick Lester's splendid big screen adaptations from the 1970s.