The place is London but the time is all wrong. Or, from a certain point of view, it is all right. All that matters is that here, whenever it is, there is a Sherlock Holmes.
He is assisted in his detective work by a former army medic, Dr. John Watson. He has a brother named Mycroft who works for the British government. John is newly-married to a woman named Mary, who is much more than appearances would suggest. And Holmes is still haunted by a ghost of his own creation – the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty.
Holmes is far from alone in being haunted by a ghost, though the spirit he’s been asked to investigate is presumed to be of a far more literal variety. Reports are brought to Holmes by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, telling the tale of a murderous woman in a bridal gown and veil, who shot into a crowd before turning her guns upon herself. Later that night, the murderous bride appeared again, fatally shooting her husband outside the opium den he frequented.
Over the coming months, more sightings are reported and more deaths blamed upon the murderous specter. Holmes dismisses this as hearsay, until a woman comes to him with her tale of having seen the ghost as it threatened her husband. Now, Holmes and Watson must race to save a man’s life and explain the resurrection of The Abominable Bride.
The Abominable Bride proved a most amusing diversion. Like most mystery stories, it is a difficult work to discuss in critical terms. The game, as they say, is afoot and a critic runs the risk of ruining the game for everyone if they say too much.
It can safely be said that the production team did a masterful job of adapting the trappings of the modern Sherlock series for a classical format. Holmes juggles old newspaper clippings as he enters into his mind-palace to consider the details of a case and teletyped text appears on the walls behind Dr. Watson as he reads the telegrams he receives from Holmes. Even the opening credits are altered, with the familiar theme song playing over scenes of Hansom cabs rolling down the London streets instead of automobiles.
The characters are changed slightly for this special. Benedict Cumerbatch plays Holmes with an acidic wit and honest attempts at humor the modern Holmes would consider beneath him. Martin Freeman’s Watson seems a bit more slow-witted than his modern counterpart, but he’s far from the bumbling fool seen in most adaptations. Una Stubbs, alas, has little to do as Mary Watson apart from complain about being treated like a weak woman and her husband’s continued absence. And Mark Gattis dons a fat-suit to play a more traditional Mycroft Holmes, with the usual family arguments between himself and Sherlock now focused on a bet as to how long Mycroft has left before his overeating kills him.
It’s hard to say if this episode will satisfy the cravings of those Sherlock fans anxiously awaiting the start of Series 4. It is likely, however, that any dissatisfaction will be with how long they must wait for more entertainment of this high quality. Taken by itself, this episode is quite enjoyable and highly recommended.