Sherlock Review- The Sign of Three

Thompson’s offering provides more emotional depth than the fun but ultimately lack-lustre ‘The Empty Hearse’, but promises to remain a divisive episode among the fanbase.

Having known for a while that Stephen Thompson was writing the episode where John gets married, and being a long- term fan and occasional sufferer of ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’, I had been wondering how the hell he was going to inject racism into a wedding. Knowing that the episode title was based on ‘The Sign of the Four’, which runs on 19th century colonial themes and is not one of Doyle’s more sensitive works, I was quite worried. Thankfully the bigotry only made itself apparent in what could be argued was a variation on the ‘black man dies first’ trope, so either he’s embarrassed at his earlier efforts or the BBC are sick of getting letters.

Photo from the Daily Mail, who were disappointed.

Whatever the man’s prejudices are, there can be no doubting Thompson’s affection for his source material. The strength of many successful TV adaptations- whether The Walking Dead or Hannibal– is that they twist the original tale. Fans of the series can enjoy nods to the previous canon but still be kept guessing. By setting their effort in the twenty-first century, Moffat et al have placed it the realm of speculative fiction- a familiar place for those who write sci-fi. Sherlock has been able to gather the following it has in part because viewers are encourage to imagine how their favourite characters and stories would be changed by time. We take the part of Sherlock. running theories and probabilities in our head as we watch. To paraphrase the character himself, we don’t look, we observe. These references- when not too heavy handed- serve to delight, frustrate and keep us guessing. ‘The Sign of Three’ pulled this off perfectly. Leaving aside the unbelievable framing device of Sherlock’s speech, the vignettes felt like a collection of Conan-Doyle’s short stories, and tied together nicely at the end.

The fascination in the Mayfly plot came not from high-octane action sequences or extraordinary originality, but from watching Sherlock leap from conclusion to conclusion, always just ahead of the viewer. I found it satisfactory. This being said, the audience can not be expected to suspend their disbelief to the point where they’ll accept that a person can be stabbed without their knowledge, no matter how tight their belt. Has Thompson never had a flu jab? I also find it ridiculous that John would go straight back to his wedding after losing his mentor. However, the plot was not nearly as bad as that of ‘The Blind Banker’, a story with more holes in it than a Vatican-approved condom.

Comic scenes made up almost a bulk of the episode, yet they very rarely dragged on. A drunken Sherlock makes for great fanservice, but overall I found it charming, helped in part by Cumberbatch and Freeman’s stellar performances.

And now we arrive at the Big Fat Gay Moment. Addressing my issues with this show in terms of queer-baiting would require a whole separate series of articles. I will choose to assume from this episode that Sherlock has very deep feelings for Sherlock of a ‘whatever Sherlock is’ nature and John is pretending not to notice. I will not get into John Watson’s feeling on the matter, because my desire to have a bisexual character that isn’t some sort of fetishised sexpot on a popular television series threatens to completely overwhelm me and make an objective analysis impossible (renyhadley.jpg)

This series, we seem to be spending a lot of time rattling around in Sherlock’s brain. I have absolutely no problem with this. The Boy’s Own Adventure tone of Conan-Doyle’s original works sucked in many of us as children, but the characters and relationships of Watson and Holmes draws us back in as adults. The world’s only consulting detective is also an ex-addict prone to fits of mania and depression-we know he can break. Psychologically unstable at the best of times and appearing traumatised and uncertain in the last episode, he is now may be risking the loss of his partner. One might wonder how long he’ll be able to keep it together. Sherlock, of course, is aware of this. and so he oscillates between uncharacteristic acts of warmth and tenderness and going to great pains to make sure nobody likes him. It has always been easy to romanticise Holmes as a character. We know he has hidden depths, but they can only be guessed at. His deduction of Mary’s pregnancy might have made for an unbearably mawkish ending, but watching him leave the party early to avoid spoiling the night for John is heartbreaking. The detective’s emotions may be anyone’s guess, but Holmes’ final line in ‘The Sign of The Four’ is “for me, Watson, there is always the cocaine bottle”.

Not one for those who prefer their Sherlock more suspense driven, ‘The Sign of Three’ has all the makings of a ‘Marmite’ episode. However, there is some hope in sight for those who’d prefer more case content. Who is Teassa, and why is she trying so hard to attract Sherlock’s attention? I can’t help but hope that Mary is tied up in something awful. The character is far too perfect, and far too perfect a fit for John to be believable. There is far too much potential in the mystery of her backstory for her to be another Clara, who began to bore me to tears with her chirpy-cheery attitude and cardboard cut-out personality. The episode tells us little in this regard, except that she is an orphan, as in ACD canon. Props to Redditor  Walls, who noticed this little tidbit:



  •  Drunk Sherlock. Though I do think it might be best for the series as a whole if the writers stayed away from Archive of Our Own for a while.
  • Character Insights
  • Affection for the canon
  • “A meat dagger?”
  • Still hope for a larger mystery
  • “A high functioning sociopath with your number.”


  • John’s reaction to Major Sholto’s Depth
  • Plot holes.

One thought on “Sherlock Review- The Sign of Three

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