This is a transcript purely of new material which appears only on the Unlocking Sherlock Special Feature of the DVD. It does not include a transcript of the clips from the episodes which are shown throughout the feature, nor does it include descriptions of visual moments without dialogue. I hope, however, that it may be useful in particular to viewers whose first language is not English, or who had difficulty making out certain moments during the feature.
STEVEN MOFFAT: This all began on the train to Cardiff, appropriately enough, because Mark and I were both working on different episodes of Doctor Who. And we’d sit on the train together – we’d always get the train together so we could chat – and we talked about our other great obsession, which was Sherlock Holmes.
MARK GATISS: We did this little dance – not literally! – in the compartment around the fact that our favourite Sherlock Holmes is still the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies of the thirties and forties.
STEVEN: We thought they were actually rather more fun and, in certain ways – in certain tonal ways, certain humorous ways – truer to the originals than many grander and and more important film versions. And what we kept saying to each other was, “You know, some day, someone is gonna think of doing that again. Some day, someone is gonna do Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in the modern day.” And then ... and we thought, “We’ll feel so cross, ’cause we should have done it.” And we had this conversation, I don’t know, twenty-odd times probably, over years.
MARK: And then suddenly it kind of ... it formed very quickly, the idea, and in a very exciting train journey, of, of ... and in a very Sherlock Holmes way. I’m sure that we were sitting either side of the compartment going like that. (He holds his palm upwards and points down into it with his other hand in an impersonation of the Sidney Paget illustration.) It was a proper Sherlock Holmes journey. The idea of blowing away the fog from it.
STEVEN: And I once mentioned it to my wife, Sue, who said, “Well, why don’t you do it?”
MARK: And it was a kind of light bulb moment of, like, “You know, we should ... we should just do this present-day.”
STEVEN: And that’s when it properly began. We actually started focusing on putting it together, as opposed to moaning about ... bemoaning the fact that someone else was bound to do it first.
MARK: It seemed to us – and this is just our point of view – that it’s become so much about the trappings, about the hansom cabs, the costume, the fog, Jack the Ripper will creep in here ... it’s become a sort of strange maelstrom of stuff.
STEVEN: There’s a wealth of Victorian Sherlocks out there, and I love them. There’s tons of them. Why not just try it in the modern day and see how it works? And I think the clinching moment for both of us, and for everyone else we’ve spoken to, was when we realised if we took the story from the beginning, that the original stories began with Doctor John Watson being invalided home from Afghanistan, and we realised, well, of course, that could happen just as easily today.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Watson, in this scenario – as the same in the book – he comes back from Kandahar, from war, but rather like a lot of the clever adaptations, what’s changed about it is obviously it’s in a modern context; so instead of writing a journal he’s keeping a blog.
STEVEN: I think one of the fun things is, as you update it, as you find each equivalent, you think ... well, you know ... I remember Mark thinking, “Well, he wouldn’t write a journal now, would he? He wouldn’t write memoirs, he’d write a blog.” And suddenly you realise, of course, that tells you what memoirs were. They were blogs. And he wouldn’t have teams of homeless children; he’d have homeless people on the streets selling The Big Issue.
STEVEN: In a way it allows you to see the original stories the way the original reader would have read them: as sort of, you know, exciting, cutting-edge, contemporary stories as opposed to these relics that they’ve become. And it’s just endless fun to take the little details and realise how easily, how neatly they update.
STEVEN: I suppose one should feel extra pressure if you’re adapting or working on something that you’ve always loved, but the truth is, that is so completely blotted out and obscured by the fact that it’s, “Ooh, it’s our turn! We get to do it now!” (He claps his hands excitedly.) “It’s me and Mark doing our Sherlock Holmes series!” and we still giggle like schoolgirls that we’ve got this. So, yeah, the pressure’s there. The pressure’s always there – who cares about pressure! It’s the fun. It’s the absolute joy that 221B Baker Street is our address, just for this little while, and that’s too exciting to be worried about the pressure.
MARK: I think that sometimes – as with James Bond – there are sort of half a dozen possible Bonds; sometimes there’s just one, and Benedict just sort of leapt into our minds.
STEVEN: Benedict was a hugely simple decision for us. Sue and I were watching the film Atonement. We saw Benedict Cumberbatch, we were thinking, “Oh, he looks like a Sherlock Holmes.” Mark knows Benedict. He instantly thought that was a good idea, so we just sent the script to him and he came in and read for us, and we all thought, “Well, it’s just not gonna get better than that, is it? That’s perfect,” and we cast him. He is the only person ever to have been sent that script for the part of Sherlock Holmes, and the only person to ever audition for it, so it was as simple as that.
BENEDICT: There’s a huge honour to be asked to play that in the first place, but you have to be careful. Your vanity can trick you into taking the wrong job sometimes, so ... so you always read the script. I mean, that’s the main thing you go to. And they’re just ... they’re sublime.
BENEDICT: It’s a wonderful combination of playing a hero who is a faulted human being. There’s-there’s ... there’s an awful lot of him that is dangerous and perverse and interesting, and great stuff to get your teeth into as an actor, and at the same time he is, you know, a Class A hero, you know?
MARK: Casting John Watson was a much longer process because I think once you’ve got one side of the partnership, you’ve got to find the fit.
STEVEN: The clincher with Martin was, the chemistry was instant. You know, Martin’s presence in the room changed the way Benedict played the part. It was again a very, very easy decision. You saw them standing together; you said, “Oh, well, that’s a television series right there!”
MARTIN FREEMAN: I suppose, like with John and Sherlock, chemistry either happens or not and you can’t really manufacture it, and you can’t really do anything but hope it’s gonna happen.
MARTIN: And I’d liked Benedict from a distance; I’d liked his work for a long time and I was looking forward to working with him, but then there’s no guarantee that you’ll sort of work well together, and thank God, we have, really, you know, because, yeah, we’re two quite different people with fair... I guess we’re quite different actors. I think we sort of want to arrive at the same place which is hopefully not too, um, showy, not too, er ... hammy!
STEVEN: I think there was a friendship instantly between Martin and Benedict. They’re not at all like the parts they play at all, really, but the relationship between them really informs the much pricklier onscreen relationship, because obviously Sherlock's a quite cruel man at times and John’s quite a put-upon man at times, and you won't buy that, you won't enjoy that unless you absolutely feel in every scene and in every heartbeat that there is that proper, underlying warmth, that real proper solid friendship. And that friendship has actually happened between Benedict and Martin. And that’s what ... the value of that you get onscreen.
BENEDICT: It’s such a close relationship, Watson and Holmes, and I think, for all their adversity and the prickliness of Holmes and how that does often come ... well, sometimes comes to a crisis, at least, with Watson and Holmes, in order for that to really work onscreen, it’s got to be with two actors who get on very well.
MARK: Conan Doyle’s genius in creating those characters is the friendship between ... the unlikely friendship between Holmes and Watson.
BENEDICT: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are a fantastic pairing. They are in many ways ... not quite chalk and cheese, but they complement each other, really. It’s not ... it’s not a thing of difference being a problem, it’s the thing that allies them. They are ... they are the missing half of either part.
MARTIN: Unbeknown to them, like any sort of great relationship or any great chemistry, they ... without knowing it they realise they’ve met the right person so that, by the end of the first night they’ve spent together hanging out, they realise that they’re gonna be very, very good friends, you know, ’cause they’re a perfect foil for each other. John is ... in a way he’s like Sherlock’s kind of moral compass, because Sherlock’s mind is so genuinely brilliant, he doesn’t always stop to consider the whys and wherefores or the rights or wrongs of what is, and John is kind of like his moral barometer there. And he’s a more decent person, in a way, than Sherlock, because he’s more normal, you know. Sherlock is genuinely extraordinary.
MARK: We wanted to “fetishise” modern London in the way, I suppose, that the period versions fetishise Victorian London. Episode two, which is largely set in the City: we wanted to capture the look of, like, the Gherkin and all those kind of big glass and steel cathedrals of finance. It’s part of a vibrancy, you know, which is very exciting to see.
MARK (on location): Why have we come to London? Well, because Cardiff has incredible “shootability” – a word I’ve just coined! – for all kinds of things, particularly those huge theatre spaces, the amazing epic-looking places, and also some great matches for parts of London, but obviously there are certain things, like the architecture of Baker Street, which you can’t really fake. The whole point is to re-invent Sherlock Holmes as a modern man. We want his London to be a vibrant and, sort of, thrilling place, so we want to have as much of the benefit of these locations as possible.
SUE VERTUE: Today we’re in the middle of the City, and this is our Shad Sanderson Bank. Everyone’s seen a Sherlock Holmes. I think what’s different: you’ve never seen Sherlock Holmes in this scenario with escalators, with modern technology. I mean, the whole soul of it, I think, is the same and true to the original Sherlock Holmes stories but it just has this modern twist and it’s ... and taxis and London buses and just this huge expanse. The more modern things around, I think the better it sort of works, really, for us.
STEVE THOMPSON: I think, the original script, there’s pages and pages at the beginning where I try to describe this building, and so it was great for me walking in it this morning and actually seeing the location they’d picked. I’d not seen it before. They’d told me they were coming to Tower 42, but I’d not seen it before, so when I came in this morning and saw it, and I, you know, I remembered six months ago writing this very vivid visual description as to what it was gonna be like, it was great to finally see it for real and see what they’d chosen.
SUE: And really what we’re just doing is to give a real sense of London and size and things. The last few days we’ve been here, and we’ve been, uh, Trafalgar Square ...
SUE: It’s just the scale of London that you get from Trafalgar Square and walking up towards the Gallery and everything that you just can’t get anywhere else, really. Chinatown ...
CREW MEMBER (on location): OK, just make sure where B camera’s set up; don’t obscure our eyeline to Sarah.
SUE: We’ve been to Hungerford Bridge ...
SUE: We’ve been to Shaftesbury Avenue ...
BERYL VERTUE: We wanted to show London – not just the normal locations, so there’s some big, big locations that they’re seeing.
BERYL: It’s been really interesting for me, seeing the locations they’ve ... some very unusual ones. I mean, one of the films is particularly about codes and ciphers and they’re painted in different places like clues. Very odd tunnels we went into, right on the South Bank, for example. You realise you live in London and half the time you don’t know it at all. I was just staggered when I saw these things.
STEVEN: The first thing we made wasn’t any of these three movies. The first thing we made was a pilot.
STEVEN: Now, this pilot wasn’t intended as a pilot; it was intended to be the first episode of our ... of our Sherlock Holmes television series, but it was sixty minutes long, because that was the plan.
MARK: And the BBC liked it so much, they said, “Well, we want three nineties now,” but the thing about that is, you can’t simply bolt on another half hour.
SUE: What we had to do, really, was to sort of make it from scratch. I mean, Coky Giedroyc who did the pilot – directed the pilot and did a fantastic job of it – but once you start pulling things apart, you really have to start again because, you know, as Steven ... every scene is probably somewhere else.
STEVEN: One of the advantages of making a pilot is that you can make the series right. That means you can look at a pilot and a pilot is changeable. You can alter it. You can say, “Let’s change that set; let’s alter that location,” you can say any of those things. It might seem wasteful; it truly isn’t. It’s ... the biggest saving you can make is to have, in effect, a test flight and see what this show looks like if it’s actually made, as opposed to ... as opposed to the theory.
SUE: By the time you’ve got a different DoP, we’ve got a different camera, which is a far superior camera to the one that we could, you know, afford in fact on the pilot, um, it just won’t match.
SUE: So even if there were a couple of scenes where we had to say to them, “You couldn’t just do what you did in the pilot, could you?” – because, you know, a lot of it did work – but it was just easier to do it, to shoot it all again, really.
MARK: You rarely get the chance to have another go, and there are all kinds of little things that we’ve been able to have another look at. Uh, Baker Street itself – the interior of Baker Street ...
SUE: The final sequence in episode one, which originally took place in 221B, now doesn’t. It’s ... a lot of the scene is the same, but it now takes place somewhere else.
STEVEN: The one thing that really, really was significant for us – a real moment for us – was that the scenes that worked best in that pilot were ... was where the modern world was really, really apparent; was really ... was really surrounding our characters.
STEVEN: If you stand Benedict and Martin in the half-light against a Victorian wall, you wouldn’t know it had been updated. We sort of have a sort of idea now that you really should know in every shot that this is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, ’cause that’s where the show has the most energy and is the most exciting.
BENEDICT: 221B Baker Street is a very, very famous address, so it’s quite a thrill when you sort of step onto that set for the first time and think, “Right, this is ... this is his home in the twenty-first century.”
BERYL: It was interesting for everybody doing the interior of 221B Baker Street because, you know, we’re not into gas lamps, as I’ve said to you. This is contemporary; this is modern-day, but at the same time you need – for the Sherlock Holmes afficionados – not to just lose it totally. And also, Sherlock, be he in the olden days or contemporary, he’s still that same eccentric character and he wouldn’t live in something that was, you know, too suburban or too modern.
STEVEN: It was really, sort of, quite a difficult thing to get 221B exactly right. I mean, there’s a ... quite often you can go too far down the road; it’ll be just too much of a mess and you think, “Oh, it’s like every single item they’ve ever owned is now stacked for you to see on every surface. That’s too much.” It has to be a flat that two young fellas believably would live in. The moment you bring it up to date, you ... it sort of becomes half the familiar Baker Street and half “Men Behaving Badly” because that’s what it is: it is these two fellas living in a flat, putting dreadful things in the fridge.
MARTIN: We really loved the scenes that we filmed in the Baker Street studio. I loved the design of it, and I loved the cosiness of it. It looks beautiful and you instantly feel like it’s a place with history. You feel like you’re ... ’cause it’s been so well done, it’s been so well dressed, so well designed that it’s like you are going into a flat that’s been there for a hundred and fifty years. It’s really good.
MARK (on the set): It’s one of those curious things when you’re basing something on existing stories and a very familiar world to people, you do have to sort of create, as it were, a bible of your version. We wanted to have things like the jack-knife on the mantlepiece which transfixes unopened correspondence. A curious thing happened on the first day of shooting. We were dressing various things in, and I spotted this picture, just there where it is now, and in the original stories Doctor Watson has an unframed picture of a man called Henry Ward Beecher. (He points to the picture.) This is not Henry Ward Beecher, but it’s a complete coincidence. The props people had just dressed in an unframed picture and I said, “Oh, leave that; that’s like a little accidental reference,” you know. Um ... and obviously through there in the kitchen, which Sherlock has just completely converted into his laboratory, we’ve got a lot of microscope equipment and test tubes and stuff like that. It would be no accident to open the margarine tub and find a severed finger in there. His experiments kind of creep out into ... into the rest of everybody’s life. And I think it’s a quite funny thing, the idea that they ... that they are flatmates and they’re supposed to be, you know, two units, but Sherlock’s interests and obsessions just sort of spread out like a mould through the house.
SUE: Today we’re doing the music for episode one. So what they’ve done, David and Michael have done a base line for the music and then we’re now adding all the strings.
DAVID ARNOLD: I think the first thing was just trying to come up with a sort of central theme and a character for it, you know. Is there ... is there a way of playing this character that, you know, that is relevant to the movie that they’ve made and the character that they’re making? So it’s discussions with Steven and Sue and Mark, and then both, you know, myself and Michael trying to find common ground in terms of what are gonna be ... what is gonna be the defining sound of this show.
MICHAEL PRICE (to the strings section): Here we go: eight clicks into three, so the clicks start on the downbeat of bar one.
MICHAEL: Myself and David Arnold are the composers, but we both work with fabulous assistants, programmers, orchestrators, arrangers – lots of people who all work really, really hard to make sure that when we come here for the sessions, everything’s done and everything’s absolutely flawless, so with the musicians we can ... because their time is very, very precious, we can just fly through things.
SUE: Music itself, I think it brings the whole thing together. If you do it at the end, it’s very subjective as well, I think, but it really brings out the drama or the light touch. You need to know it’s there without being overly aware of it – unless it’s the time when it’s really, you know, stressful and tense where you really do wanna hear that music coming through, and I think there’s a lot of that really exciting stuff in this one.
MARK: You know what you want, I think, and sometimes, when music really delivers, it’s a fantastically satisfying thing that you feel like – if your emotions are rising at the time – that the score is taking you along on that journey.
MICHAEL (to the recording booth): Are we doing super-well? (Turning to the strings sections) Thank you very much for the accelerated pace, you guys.
DAVID: The nature of the way that music’s been written for ... uh, for this show, we have sort of certain pre-recorded synthetic elements, but I think once you put real musicians on something and it starts to come to life and adds a real personality. So I’m kind of ... I’m very pro having real people playing music for whatever it is, whether it’s, you know, like a TV show or animation or a film. Um, you know, notes on page are fine, but I think when you get people actually putting a real performance into something, it can make so much difference to the way ... (a) the way the music sounds, but also the way that you perceive the programme.
MICHAEL: You hope the music speaks for itself; you hope that what you’ve written is clear enough for them just to play and for it to work, but from time to time there ... you can, um ... sometimes we’ll just turn the screens round and go, “Oh, it’s this bit; this is what’s happening now!” and they’ll go, “Oh, OK, now we get it. Why didn’t you say?!” And so it’s a fabulous living, breathing thing.
STEVEN: The exciting thing about Sherlock Holmes is: an awful lot of the way forward is already there in the stories, ’cause we’ve already been quite faithful in a way to lots of the ingredients in those stories, but, you know, using them in new ways. What would “The Hound of the Baskervilles” be in a modern setting? What would “The Speckled Band” be in a modern setting? I just think, looking at those stories and updating them and thinking, you know, “What would a haunted house be?” You know, haunted houses are a stalwart of Sherlock Holmes, but what’s a modern haunted house? How would that be now? All those incidents. We’ve got, you know, stuff from the stories that’s never been covered. Watson spends quite a lot of the stories married. Are we gonna do that? We could. We could get him ... we could marry off John and have him living somewhere else other than Baker Street. That’s open to us. All those things that are out there for us in the future, and if you know your Sherlock Holmes you’ll be sort of thinking, “Oh, how are they gonna handle that?”
A full list of episode transcripts, DVD commentary summaries/transcripts, and transcripts of the DVD special features can be found here.