Doc On The Box – Sherlock – The Sign of Three

Well, wasn’t there a backlash to last week’s episode of Sherlock? If you want an idea of what the issues were, then do check out the comments section on the review page. I’ll go on record and say that, apart from the relatively weak crime plot, I had no problems with it. But now it’s time for Round Two…

The Sign Of Three

It’s the day of John Watson’s wedding to Mary Marston and he’s chosen Sherlock as his best man. Cue one of the longest best man speeches on record – including multiple flashbacks, including two unsolved murder cases. The good news is that the speech must end sometime. The bad news is that it ends as Sherlock realises that someone in the room is about to be murdered…

I’ve already received a little feedback about this one over twitter – namely that this (and the previous episode) simply don’t have enough mystery in them. This is a good point – the first thirty minutes of this episode are almost entirely the comedy-Sherlock show and I can imagine that a fair few viewers might not have realised that the various stories being told were going to dovetail into the finale, meaning that their attention might have wavered.

While I can’t dismiss these issues, I basically didn’t care – partly because I’m beginning to consider Sherlock as something other than crime drama. Let’s face it, you’re not being asked to solve the mystery along with Sherlock, you’re being asked to watch him solve the mystery – exactly as happens in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories in fact. This isn’t Poirot with a different hat on, it’s a different beast.

Sherlock this series has become as much about character as about plot. If you read some of the original stories or other adaptations, sometimes you question why Watson puts up with Holmes. Moffat, Thompson and Gatiss have made a point of addressing this in the last two episodes because in modern television, character is important for the casual viewer. What can be a little frustrating for some is the long introduction sections which only have those character elements in. The plot did take a long time to kick in, although given the nature of the “what the heck is going on”-style plot, I’m not sure what could have been inserted earlier. The solution would probably be to trim something off the running time – 75 minutes? 60 minutes? Personally, I didn’t mind at all because I could watch Benedict Cumberbatch read the phonebook out and still enjoy it.* But there are others – Mrs Puzzle Doctor for example – who got tired of not much happening.

Plotwise, it was beautifully constructed with some lovely imagery – Sherlock’s interrogation of the women in his headspace was very well done. Lovely to see the intruder in his thoughts – and it’s a nice hint at the fact that Sherlock is a human being underneath everything as to which iteration of that intruder popped up.

As I mentioned in my review of The Sign Of Four, not much survived into The Sign Of Three, Major Sholto’s and the killer’s names and a brief glimpse of a blowpipe-wielding dwarf aside. Instead we get a locked room mystery (which didn’t make an awful lot of sense when you think about it – surely one of them at least would have noticed, and why pick on that guard in particular? – but some classic mysteries make as little or less sense – The Crooked Hinge, for example).

Personally, though, I loved the episode – one of the best things that I’ve seen for a while – and roll on His Last Vow next week. Let’s just hope that they all make it out of it in one piece – because Sherlock Holmes fans may well know that Watson’s marital state does fluctuate from story to story and one popular theory is that he had more than one wife – and we never know what happened to Mary…

*Actually, not quite true. Parade’s End bored the pants off me.


  1. I got a lot of ominous messages before watching this one that I was going to hate it, but actually I think it was the episode I’ve enjoyed the most. Not the most ambitious or inventive, but what usually annoys me about Sherlock is its lack of internal consistency, and everything here basically made sense, at least to within the standard tolerances of mystery fiction.

    In fact, to reverse the usual tone of our Sherlock discussions, I think you’re even wrong to say those minor things don’t make sense (or that you can’t work out what’s going on – I guessed most of it, although admittedly because I’d seen all the elements before). The medical stuff is possible, and reasonably well-documented. Although to be completely fair it’s certainly not guaranteed to work, it just might. So it’s not necessarily the most sensible plan. (One thing I find endlessly interesting about writing mysteries is that it doesn’t matter what’s true, it’s what’s believable. If, as an author, you find a “you’ll never believe this”-style medical fact, you basically can’t use it, because, by its very nature, the audience will think you’re making it up).

    And surely the “why THAT guard?” stuff is a rehash of Christie’s Three Act Tragedy – the fact that no particular guard was chosen is the whole point of WHY it’s a good plan.

    I do think they missed a trick by not explaining one key feature: Both the guard and the major had particular reason not to react if they felt anything. There was there whole section about Beefeaters being trained to just stand still and stare, no matter what. I thought that was clever, but they should have referenced it in the recap.

    Even my standard complaint – that Sherlock is sometimes artificially stupid to stretch parts out – was well-handled. That clue about John’s name was really obvious, but Sherlock was drunk, so it makes sense he didn’t get it.


    • I caught the Hamish slip as well – it was a bit obvious – but drunk Sherlock was so entertaining, I’ll let it slide. Glad you enjoyed this one – I thought the mystery might be more to your liking.


      • I thought it was all very nicely clued, and I like that there were lots of clues to next week’s problem (like that apparently throwaway “telegram” that had Mary visibly rattled, that was clever). It’s a shame that they haven’t had time to introduce the villain by name, or that might have had a little bit more impact.

        Because this was so happy, I’m expecting bleak times next week! That usually means a death, of course, so I hope it’s the baby and not Mary. She’s a great character, and I really like how she immediately has insight into how situations are going to play out (like her confident but gentle assertion that John wouldn’t need to kick the door down and that Sherlock only functions where there are high stakes). I’m glad they looked past the obvious source of potential conflict to find a more subtle angle: it would have been so easy to make her a wedge rather than an interesting third side to the relationship.


  2. I’m with you Steve – this season does feel different and it probably has something to do with the fact that Mark Gatiss took over as senior partner from Moffat (who was a bit busy with that whole DOCTOR WHO 50th anniversary thingie) so the plots have got looser and the comedy ramped up – but I think making a change is a damn good idea, though I have a suspicion that the final episode by Moffat will be noticeably tighter in terms of plot. The episode felt looser but did in fact make sense in its own way, though one did sense that the pace was noticeably slower, with scenes going on much longer for comedic effect – the middle episode is usually the one that feels slightly out of the kilter in my view in this series and it looks like it was borne out but I loved it all the same – i just hope they make lots and lots more! 🙂


  3. I didn’t realise that Gatiss was the senior partner for this series – that might explain thing. I’m also looking forward to the Moffat finale – fingers crossed for that person to make more than a silent cameo… One can hope.


  4. The Gatiss thing was a surprise to me as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Pushing the humour element may have alienated some people, but all of my workmates (who enjoy the show without particularly crime/mystery fans) thought that it was excellent. The spoofing of the on-screen text whilst Holmes was drunk was a particular favourite. I did like the way that in both this and the previous episode the supporting cast were allowed slightly more screen time. The opening, with Lestrade showing that he can actually function without Sherlock, was nice. I also like the way that Molly was shown to be rather a stronger character than we previously thought.


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