“Sherlock” Season 1, Episode 1 – ‘A Study in Pink’ DVD commentary
Commentary by Sue Vertue, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss
This is not a direct transcript, nor have I written up every single comment made. This is just a selection from the commentary which I personally found interesting or fun.
Please remember that some of the comments made by people may look serious in plain print but were frequently meant sarcastically or humorously.
Steven and Mark came up with the idea while travelling back and forth to Cardiff on the train while working on Doctor Who and discussing their mutual appreciation of Sherlock Holmes stories. They admitted to each other that they both liked the updated Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films best. They grumbled about how someone else would probably think to do a modern day version first. Then, while they were in Monte Carlo for an awards ceremony, Sue sat them down and they started to thrash out how they might do it themselves.
The young man in the rain who goes back to fetch his umbrella and is then found dead is named as James Phillimore. A man of the same name is in the Conan Doyle stories and is recorded as one of Holmes’ unsolved cases.
They made the 60 minute pilot in 2009. The BBC were very happy with it but asked them to change the format to 90 minute episodes.
It was the director, Paul McGuigan, who came up with the idea of putting text messages on the screen instead of having the usual clunky cut-away shots of a hand holding the phone. Not only did it avoid a lot of filming but, Steven says, it avoids the impression that every character is mildly illiterate because they always hold the phone and look at it for so long!
They were calling Rupert Graves’ character “Inspector Lestrade” for ages until Mark sat up in bed at 3 a.m. one morning because he had suddenly realised that, these days, he would be “D.I. Lestrade.”
Steven laughs about how, sitting in the park with Mike Stamford, Martin Freeman is kindly holding the coffee cup “by the burny bit” in order to show the name of the coffee shop, Criterion. In the original Conan Doyle story, Watson and Stamford met in the Criterion Bar. They actually filmed this scene in the Criterion for the pilot but weren’t able to go back there when they filmed this new version.
Steven: “It’s very rare to introduce a popular Sunday evening hero by having him thrash the corpse of an old nice man.”
Mark: “Not since All Creatures Great and Small.”
They didn’t want to force the modernity of the world onto the story. “It was always about trying to find a modern equivalent without pushing it too hard,” says Mark in particular reference to 221B.
Steven admits that there is a “blatant improbability” with the front door, which has three doorbells and so really shouldn’t have the number of just one of those flats. “But how could you not have 221B on the door?” he says.
Mark continues, “No-one has ever done that – why would we start? ‘221’ [on the door]!”
“Oh, it would be so depressing, wouldn’t it?!” says Steven.
The flat is a lot less red and Victorian than it was in the pilot. Also, the pilot’s living room floor had two levels but everyone was always tripping up.
The men give lots of credit to Una Stubbs for taking on the role of a national treasure. They don’t remember actually scripting the affection that Sherlock clearly feels for her; it just developed naturally.
Steven loves the shot as the boys leave the flat to go to Brixton. The camera follows them out of the front door, then rises up into the air behind the taxi.
“They must have had a really tall operator,” says Sue.
“Well, it was the Golem from episode 3,” says Mark. “He was crouching down, then stood up.”
The way they did it was that, as Martin Freeman crossed in front of the camera, they switched from the hand-held camera to the crane. Everybody held their positions (including the people in the street) while the switch took place.
[Transcriber’s note: And apparently it took so long to attach the camera to the crane that in the meantime, automatic street lights had come on, and two silver cars on the right-hand side of the frame had driven off and been replaced by a single black car!]
Mark: “So ... Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.”
Mark: “That’s all we’re going to say!”
Benedict was the first and only person who read for the part. Sue and Steven had seen him in Atonement and Mark had worked with him before. Benedict came and read it and they thought that there was no point in looking at anyone else.
Mark says that Benedict himself “is much more bumbling and delightful in real life.”
Steven agrees: “He is, as you say, bumbly, sweet, affable, the nicest man you’ll meet. The only one slight strand in common is, I think, there’s a kind of – in Benedict’s case a gentle and in Sherlock’s case a ruthless – assumption that everyone’s here to help.”
Mark adds, “I made the mistake of calling in Benedict to solve a crime. He was absolutely hopeless!”
Steven says that Martin is “the sort of opposite of Benedict in everything except the amount of talent. Benedict is a magnificent exotic animal as an actor, isn’t he? He doesn’t look like a normal person; he rarely plays normal people. He plays exceptional people. But Martin finds a sort of poetry in the ordinary man. I love the fastidious realism of everything he does. I believe everything he does. It’s brand new on every take. That sequence in episode 3 where he’s sniffing his fingers and noticing the disinfectant and every time he did it – I watched it in the rushes – I was thinking, ‘It’s like he’s genuinely noticed it every time.’ It’s extraordinary.”
The first actor to audition for John Watson was Matt Smith who, of course, went on to take a role in Doctor Who instead! They auditioned several very good actors but the moment they put Martin with Benedict, it changed Benedict and the way he played the role. “He was suddenly more like Sherlock Holmes,” says Steven.
The three commentators struggle to explain how the continuous shot was filmed as Sherlock, John and Lestrade go up the stairs to look at the woman in pink.
Mark: “It’s a sort of revolving pole thing.”
Steven: “Yeah, but the actual lift through the floors, though: there’s three shots there, isn’t there?”
Sue: “Yes, there was a pole up the middle which was called ...” (She trails off as she tries to remember its name.)
Mark: “The middle pole.”
Sue: “I’ll come back to you on that one!”
Steven: “The middle risey pole, I think it’s probably called.”
Mark: “Then there was an up and down thing ... and then a magic box! And that was the camera shot!”
The interior of the house was filmed in Newport, and Mark liked the house so much that he wanted to buy it.
In the original Study in Scarlet story, the logic was reversed: the police assumed that the victim had been interrupted in the middle of writing ‘Rachel’. Steven inverted it so that the police thought it was the German word ‘rache’ but the victim had actually been writing ‘Rachel’. Steven had a moment of panic looking up the word because “Doyle notoriously was sloppy about his research and I was thinking, ‘Maybe “rache” means “toilet” or something’!”
The original Sherlock Holmes was very much a man of the times, using all the most modern technology available, so obviously this one would be the same and, instead of having lots of box files, would be “intensely computer literate and very gadget happy.”
Steven: “Well, the internet is made for him. He was made to haunt internet forums!”
Lestrade doesn’t appear all that often in the stories and is quite inconsistent in them. Mark and Steven decided to go with the version who appeared in The Six Napoleons: he’s a man who is frustrated by Holmes but admires him, and who Holmes considers as the best person at Scotland Yard, “and actually,” says Mark, “if Sherlock Holmes wasn’t around, you’d like Greg Lestrade on your case, I think.” They saw several actors who auditioned for Lestrade but all of them came across as slightly comic, whereas “with Rupert,” says Steven, “you thought he could have his own series being Lestrade. It’s like, if Sherlock Holmes doesn’t turn up, there is another television series where Inspector Lestrade solves the crime!” He continues that, “he seems like a handsome man but no-one’s told him, ‘You’re actually terribly good looking.’ There’s also something very fatherly about Rupert. The fact that he’s got four children probably helps!”
As Sherlock makes his way down the stairs and Lestrade and John stand on the landing looking down on him, Sue points out that the camera on the pole is filming again.
“Yes, the uppy-downy pole,” says Steven. “This is it doing the downy bit.”
“I don’t think we can say that in case it’s a trademark,” warns Mark.
As John walks away from Sally Donovan and just before the phone in the nearby phonebox begins to ring, he turns and looks upwards to his left. This was originally a similar shot to the one in the pilot where he sees Sherlock dramatically standing on a rooftop. However, it was dropped from this episode because nobody liked it except Steven, who says that, “everyone else thought it was a bit Mills & Boon and silly.”
Steven: “I think we have to ’fess up that our interpretation of Mycroft is probably not Doyle’s at all but Billy Wilder’s.”
Mark: “Apart from the Rathbone films, our favourite really is the Billy Wilder film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes – a very underrated film which I think now is much more appreciated.”
Sue: “’Cause Mycroft was fat, wasn’t he?”
Steven: “Oh yes, he was very fat. That’s why we cast Mark!”
Mark and Steven decided early on that everything that had previously been done about Sherlock Holmes was canonical: not just the stories but the Rathbone version, the Jeremy Brett version ... Mark says that there’s a nod to the Granada TV series when Mycroft mentions, “Two hundred and twenty-one B ...” which is what a character played by Charles Kay says in the Brett series.
Steven loves the little non-affair between John and ‘Anthea.’ The scene where he tries to ask her out was taken out at one point while they were editing the episode but Steven liked it so much that he had it put back in again.
They had a discussion about what to do on the drug issue, but eventually realised that they just weren’t all that interested in it. They feel that people over-obsess on the issue when in fact there are more references in the stories to Holmes laughing than there are to him taking any drugs.
Steven: “Now, another thing that we agonised over, Mark, d’you remember, is: what do they call each other?”
Mark: “Yeah, it seemed immediately apparent they couldn’t call each other by their surnames. I mean, Moffat over there would agree with me. It’s interesting that, no matter how many times we put out our press releases, it’s amazing how many times it came back as ‘Sherlock and Watson’.”
Steven: “Now, this is one of the supposedly controversial things – actually a subject we never discussed at all, which is Sherlock’s sexuality, because although people talk about it being ambiguous or mysterious, the truth is the books are completely clear: he’s not interested at all. He’s interested in what his brain is doing, not the other end of his body.”
“All the rest is transport,” quotes Mark.
Steven continues, “But the fact is people say, ‘Golly, he shows no interest in women, therefore he must be gay.’ He shows no interest in men either. That’s just not what he does.”
The chase scene was a mad night of running around Soho. The shot of Sherlock and John running up the metal spiral staircase was the very last shot of the series [this episode was filmed last of the three], after which they all went for a drink at about six in the morning.
Sue: “Tower cam, I’ve now decided it’s called!”
Steven: “Tower cam: that’s the name for an uppy-downy thing!”
So they chase around London all night, and then Sherlock finally intercepts the taxi ... in a street in Cardiff!
At the pilot episode stage, Steven and Mark were having conversations about whether Sherlock was likeable.
Mark: “Happily we were able to go ‘House’! Not because we played bingo but because we could cite the wonderful precedent of a show clearly based on Sherlock Holmes with a very, very grumpy protagonist whom everybody adores.”
Steven: “You’re actually hanging on (Sherlock’s) every word to wait and see whether there’s gonna be a crack in the façade.”
Anderson had a beard in the pilot episode. They made Jonathan Aris get rid of it because a focus group watching the pilot thought that Anderson was going to turn out to be a baddie because, they said, he was clearly wearing a false beard. It was actually real!
Mark laughs at the idea that “people still think that [a beard] means baddie! He also had a cape, and a big hat!”
“Yeah, and a sinister laugh and a little fizzing bomb in his hand!” says Steven.
The cabbie standing at the top of the stairs in 221B isn’t actually Phil Davis, as he wasn’t available that day because he was filming Whitechapel. Steven and Mark had a conversation about pilot versus this version and Mark said, “Maybe the hat [that Phil wore in the pilot] is a bit too ‘cabbie’.” Then Steven said, “We can’t get Phil that day – maybe we should keep the hat!”
In A Study in Scarlet the cab driver was exacting revenge on the people who killed his wife, but because he was a religious and moral man, he gave them a chance with the pills and allowed God to decide whether they should die. “We just gave him a simpler motive,” says Steven, “he just likes offing people!” The original character also had the aneurism, and was called Jefferson Hope, which is why this version is credited as “Jeff.” Steven believes that the idea of the two pills is absolutely brilliant and yet Doyle doesn’t even realise how brilliant it is and the pill issue isn’t brought to the fore in the story.
Sue spent ages trying to find two identical buildings but it ended up having to be a special effect!
They were very honoured that Phil Davis came to read for the role of Jeff, and love how he makes him so deeply disturbing.
Sue admires the editing at the moment that John is leaving the flat on the left-hand side of the screen and Jeff opens the door at the college on the right-hand side.
Mark’s favourite bit from Phil is when Sherlock realises about the children, and Jeff shows a moment of vulnerability. Sue’s favourite bit is when Jeff talks about his sponsor who, he says, is better than Sherlock. She loves the way that Benedict wrinkles his nose in distaste.
[Transcriber’s note: that little twitch of Benedict’s nose is well worth looking for! I’d never spotted it before but it’s gorgeous.]
In the pilot, the confrontation scene took place at 221B. They decided they wanted to explore more of London and so moved the scene to the college.
Mark says something that he also mentions in episode 3: you can’t have Sherlock and John travelling by bus; they have to be in the back of a cab. A similar issue is John’s gun. “Now, you really wouldn’t be running round London [with a gun]; you wouldn’t be allowed!”
Steven continues, “Also, we never actually say how he got that gun; it’s just there. It’s one of those marvellous things you can do in television: you say, ‘He’s got a gun,’ and it doesn’t seem incredible that a military man would have one. Maybe not supposed to have it but he’s got it.”
“It’d be different in America,” says Mark. “This scene’d end very differently!”
“Everyone would have one!” says Sue.
“There’d be a massive shoot-out!” agrees Mark.
Talking about Sherlock’s look, Mark says, “They’re very nice suits; not flashy. He’s actually a quite conservative dresser but one thing we knew we needed to have was that Coat, and actually the scarf kind of arrived and Benedict liked the scarf, and we shot the pilot in winter and we shot the series very much in winter and it was necessary, but it gives you something.” He wonders what Sherlock wears in the summer.
Steven says it’s something they may have to consider in due course. He adds, “And, you know, if we do get to do any more of these – and I very much hope we will – we’re gonna get that deerstalker in!”
Mark remembers that when Benedict first came in for a costume fitting for the pilot, the costume designer emailed him three pictures of Ben in a deerstalker, “... and just for a moment I remember going, ‘Are you ...? Oh’!”
Sue points out that the flame at the end of Jeff’s gun is CGI.
“’Cause the gun was actually made of liquorice!” jokes Mark.
“It was a real gun,” adds Steven. “He shot Benedict twice!”
Because there actually wasn’t a building next door, they filmed the same room and window for John’s location and for Sherlock’s and Jeff’s location and then merged them together.
As Mycroft arrives, Mark jokes, “The original dialogue here was that John Watson says, ‘Who is that beautiful man?’”
“But then we cast it!” adds Steven, joking, “When that actor failed to show up, [we said,] ‘Mark, would you mind popping on?’”
“Get the suit on,” says Mark, then continues, “We made this decision that Mycroft would have a yo-yo’ing weight problem. It gives me freedom between (hopeful) seasons to let myself go.”
Everyone cracks up at John’s further attempt to chat up ‘Anthea’ and the way she has no idea who he is.
Steven says what a thrilling moment it must have been for Mark to say the line “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.” Mark points out that it was Rupert/Lestrade who delivered the line in the pilot but that Steven said, “Well, it’s clearly the writers talking, so it should be you!”
A full list of episode transcripts, DVD commentary summaries/transcripts, and transcripts of the DVD special features can be found here.