On Thursday 6 January 2011, there was a special Sherlock screening at the Clapham Picturehouse, followed by a Q&A with the series creators and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.
Please note this photo is not from the Clapham screening - it is just the best photo I could track down of Mark and Steven together.
The screening was of The Great Game which made me happy. After I had found out that TurkFox was coming, and that she was coming as Jim, I SO wanted them to screen this episode (and the fact that Andrew Scott is very easy on the eye and a positive joy to watch with his mental performance is by the by!!!). Also I love the opening scenes of Sherlock shooting at the wall, the head in the fridge, the solar system conversation, and the EXPLOSION!!!
I have grouped this into themes.
Reinvention of Moriarty
They started the Q&A talking about the reinvention of Moriarty in Sherlock. Historically, Moriarty has always been played as the epitome of English evil. The Chair made the point that in Sherlock they had gone for Irish camp!!! Mark Gatiss said that because Andrew Scott was playing Jim, and Moriarty is an Irish name, they wanted to keep him Irish. The other things they wanted to convey was the fact that Jim is lethal and it was important to them that the audience found him to be a believable villain, not a pantomine one. Steven Moffat used the words suave, sinister and accomplished and Mark Gatiss stated that they wanted to make him frightening, unpredictable and exciting. In my humble opinion, Andrew is all of those things (and more!!!).
Collaboration and co-writing
They talked a bit about how their collaboration and co-writing actually works in practice. They do not write the episodes jointly in a room together as if they did that there would be too much chatting and not enough working!!! But Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss both said that each episode was the result of “endless conversations”, so they talk and exchange ideas a lot, and both were involved in all three episodes.
Creation of Sherlock
They spoke about how the original idea for Sherlock was formulated on their numerous train journeys to Cardiff together as writers for Dr Who. They spoke about their shared passion and obsession with Sherlock Holmes and how the idea of an updated modern Sherlock Holmes was born out of that. Something that would blow the fog away and bring the characters once more to the fore.
They spoke about how for both of them, one of their favourite versions was the Rathbone/Bruce versions (I really must get these out and watch them!!!), especially those set during the war. What they liked about this version was the essential “Doyleness” of the stories yet the fact that Holmes and Watson had been brought up to date. They wanted to do the same ie take the original stories and set it in the present day. The pitch to the BBC was a modern Sherlock Holmes.
The Heart of Sherlock
They talked about the fact that the friendship and the love between Holmes and Watson was what was at the core of the stories for the two of them. Steven Moffat expanded by saying that Sherlock Holmes would be insufferable without John Watson and John Watson would be a dead man without Sherlock Holmes. This emphasised the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the two men for me. They both agreed that the compelling relationship between the two men was at the heart of the stories and they were keen to capture this on screen.
Mark as Mycroft
Mark Gatiss joked about how he had cornered the market in playing the brothers of the heroes!!! He also joked about Mycroft Holmes not being in the pilot and how when the pilot was shown to the BBC the BBC had loved it but had said “But where is Mark Gatiss? We want Mark Gatiss!!!”. The BBC had also wanted 90 mins not 60 mins. Steven Moffat explained that you can’t just bolt on an extra 30 mins so he had had a rethink and this is when he had the idea of putting in the Moriarty arc right from the start and bringing in Mycroft Holmes. Obviously, the audience were supposed to think that Mycroft was Moriarty. This is the reason why Mark is not credited – they felt that once the casting was released, it would be in the papers and the conceit of Mycroft being Moriarty would be spoilt for the audience.
First meeting between Sherlock and John
Steven Moffat talked about how little the first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson has been dramatised and how they were keen to start their story right from the beginning. He also made the point that it was fortuitous that there was a war ongoing in Afghanistan “Yes we have suffered terrible losses, but there are plus sides too”!!!.
Keeping faithful to the Canon
Mark Gatiss talked about how they pillage the best bits from the Canon and how this was something that was done by the Rathbone/Bruce series. And how they wanted to be as reverent to Holmes and Watson as Arthur Conan Doyle was ie not!!! That said, he made the point that he actually believes Sherlock to be remarkably faithful to Canon. More so than some of the straight adaptations set in the Victorian era.
Steven Moffat talked about how many people had commented on how great the Sherlock flogging a corpse scene/concept was and how they had complimented him, believing him to have come up with it. It is of course there in Canon!!! Mark Gatiss made the point that there are huge chunks of Canon that are just never done despite the stories being so famous and so well known and adapted so many times. He enjoys finding those moments and putting them in Sherlock!!!
He then gave the example of the meeting of Stamford and Watson, and how they had made the coffee sleeves Criterion coffee sleeves to mirror the Criterion restaurant where they dine in Canon. Interestingly (well for me at least!!!), Steven Moffat said that these little touches were not put in to keep the purists happy, but was something that they positively enjoyed, that these little details were “fun” and that getting the details correct was important to them. Their Sherlock was jam packed with “loving attention to detail”. He also made a joke about how they had been to the Criterion for the pilot but could not afford to go back, and so the park scene with the coffee was the result of budget constraints!!!
The other little detail they referenced was James Phillimore who appears in Study in Pink as one of the victims when he returns home for his umbrella but is one of the unsolved cases in Canon (yes that is one for the geeks!!!).
Sherlock Holmes Society, London
This titbit I did not know. Mark Gatiss talked about Sherlock Holmes fans and dismissed the idea that they were a bunch of anoraks. He said that a few years ago he addressed the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in the House of Commons and took Steven Moffat as his guest. He made his pitch for a modern Sherlock Holmes and far from being a bunch of “ossified fossils” they loved the concept and the pitch (I am so glad I joined the Society now!!!).
Being in charge of two big British icons
Steven Moffat talked about running Dr Who and Sherlock in 2010, two big British cultural icons and what would have happened if it had not worked out. He joked about the potential for “driving a tractor across all significant British culture”. That all he would have to have done in addition was shot Daniel Craig in the face and then he would have had the full set!!!
Sherlock and Dr Who
Steven Moffat talked a bit about the similarities between Sherlock and Dr Who. How they are both superior kinds of beings. How they both have an everyman assistant. How they are both outsiders. Steven Moffat talked about an early programme note for Dr Who where the note was to make the Dr more like Sherlock Holmes.
Steven Moffat also joked about having the most impressive cheekbones in the UK in his two shows and about how he feels inadequate in that Twitter photo of him with his boys and their cheekbones!!!
Steven Moffat felt that the Dr was actually a nicer person – he was kind, sweet, bumbly and funny. Sherlock Holmes is altogether colder and nastier. Dr Who is an alien aspiring to be a human, and Sherlock Holmes is a human aspiring to be a god.
Sherlock as a character
Mark Gatiss talked about audiences being attracted to characters who are interesting, and said that it was precisely the flaws and foibles of the character that made the character fascinating.
He talked about John Watson humanising the character both in Canon and in Sherlock. By the end of episode 3 it is clear that Sherlock does have a heart, as Jim discerns, he is no longer just a cold calculating machine.
He spoke about how, growing up, Sherlock may have been torn between good and evil and chose good because it is harder and more challenging.
Steven Moffat spoke about how characters who misbehave and break rules are the interesting ones and the ones you want to watch. Life would be fairly dull otherwise!!!
Steven Moffat spoke about how the arc was for Sherlock to go from being a great man to a good one. That he was to become wiser and more humane over time, due to John’s influence. He spoke about Sherlock becoming a better man over time. Mark Gatiss talked about Sherlock Holmes’s casual coldness but how, towards the end of Canon there is a chink in the armour, shown in The Three Garridebs which comes out when Watson is shot.
They then spoke quite a bit about Aunt Sally being the embodiment of evil and Una’s amazing performance in Worzel Gummidge. Mark Gatiss described her performance on the show as cruel, funny and sexy. This went over my head a bit but they did say people should watch it so maybe I should do that!!!
Going beyond Canon
They spoke about how Canon was not just Arthur Conan Doyle but wider popular culture too. Mark Gatiss spoke about The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes in particular (I really must watch this!!!) as being something to draw down on and a masterpiece in its own right.
Mark Gatiss made a joke about how when he had spoken to Christoper Lee the advice that he had been given was to never be photographed in your own home as it was an invitation to burglary!!!
Someone asked about dressing Sherlock and commented on how he often wears his long coat and scarf indoors!!! Mark Gatiss joked back that had he actually been to Cardiff during the months of January to May?!!! They explained that the suits were well made and sober, that the shirts had colour, and The Coat – well they had struck lucky with that one!!! Mark Gatiss talked about the collar looking just right when it was turned up. They had added the red detail. They also talked about Sherlock wearing the Coat being a very recognisable silhouette.
Canon hard to adapt?
Both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had felt that updating Canon was relatively easy. The thing Steven had baulked at the most was calling them Sherlock and John. That was tough. He commented on the fact that whilst Sherlock was now Sherlock, people still called Martin’s character Dr Watson rather than John, probably because John is such a plain name. Mark Gatiss said the other tricky part was the pipe and the drugs but they had turned this into a joke with the nicotine patches etc. Mark then said that the other difficult part was the whole forensics issue. Sherlock Holmes was the only one doing forensics in his day. Now it is routine police work. So what would Sherlock be doing that was different/special? They felt that what Sherlock was doing was that he was simply the cleverest man in the room and that was what he brought to the party. Only his brain could make certain connections.
Mark Gatiss also commented on how he had worked so hard to put 5 stories into one episode and people never commented on that aspect, only the swimming pool scene. He also talked about how hard it was to write the ingenious deductions – so hard that even Arthur Conan Doyle stopped doing it. Hence the number of stories starting with the “although this did not test/show my friend’s deductive capabilities, the case was nevertheless so bizarre/strange that …”!!! He stressed the point that whilst people want deductions, it is the relationship between Holmes and Watson that is the key to the stories and their appeal.
Steven Moffat talked about how it was not really about the solution/detective story aspect for him it was about giving Sherlock “hero moments”. In his Study in Pink episode he had a choice of scripting a clever way of trapping and ensnaring the villain or putting Sherlock in jeopardy and risking his life and he chose the jeopardy route. In the episode, the murderer confesses all so Sherlock does not have to do much figuring out of who it was, but what there is in the episode is an exciting denouement when Sherlock gets his hero moment.
Mark Gatiss emphasised the fact that these stories are “adventures”. They are thrillers. They are fun.
The Gay thing
Both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss said that if two men were so close and living together in this day and age it was inevitable that people would question/ask whether or not they were a couple. This was natural. However, Steven Moffat said upfront that “sex for Sherlock Holmes is thinking” (bang goes my Sally theory!!!). Mark Gatiss said that Sherlock and John love eachother but not in a sexual way. However, they both acknowledged that people were fantasising all sorts with their characters and that this was allowed (we are all off the hook then!!!). They said that for them this was not a gay/sexual relationship but if others want to make it so that was fine and they were welcome to do so. I found this refreshing and very similar to Arthur Conan Doyle’s own approach to his creation.
Actors influencing characters
There was a question about how much the actors had an influence over their characters. Mark Gatiss said that both Benedict and Martin’s personalities had been imprinted on the characters. He spoke in particular about Martin Freeman having “funny bones” and it being interesting him playing it straight. Interestingly, Mark Gatiss also said that he has the actors in his head when he is writing and so the actors and their ways/styles of playing the characters has a direct influence on his writing.
Paul McGuigan as Director
There was a lot of talk about Paul McGuigan’s love of wallpaper. The Chair made the comment that this dominated conversations so much that you would think that Paul’s main contribution to a production was his choice of wallpaper!!! But Steven Moffat made the point that Paul first used the floating text in episode 3 and then he (Steven) liked it so much he decided to use it and build it in to his own episode eg text messages received during Lestrade’s press conference.
From the Pilot to the show
They discussed the changes that had been made to make it from 60 mins to 90 mins. The flat became messier and – of course – acquired THE WALLPAPER!!! The flat is meant to be a Victorian house that modern people live in, as is seen across the whole of London. It also had to be a bachelor’s flat. Mark Gatiss made the comment about Mrs Hudson originally running the sandwich shop next door but that not working out so it was ditched. Steven Moffat said that he had no regrets re moving from the pilot to the final version. The pilot he felt had been amazing when he had seen it, but he felt that it was pale and slight next to the screened version. Mark Gatiss said that the one line that he regretted losing from the pilot was the line “all the rest is transport” as this to him was a line that summed up Sherlock ie a portable brain!!!
House – specially for Thirteen!!!
This was interesting. Steven Moffat was quite clear that the House main character was not Sherlock Holmes. Yes the little details were referenced eg having a sidekick named Dr Wilson (is that right?). But the House character is a manic depressive who is unhappy. For Steven, Sherlock Holmes is “happy in his own skin”. He may be a compete bastard but he is happy with it!!! He cited both Rathbone and Benedict as people who had successfully conveyed the completely unrepentant Anglo-Saxon bastard!!! Mark Gatiss also felt that whilst there were superficial resemblances the characters were very different because House was depressed.
Adapting short stories
Steven Moffat spoke about how they had both taken bits and pieces from different Canon stories and worked it into their episodes. They had to do this as no one short story provides enough material for 90 minutes – the only exception being Hound. You need a big story to last 90 mins. That said, there was a lot that was new. Steven spoke about episode 2 being a code book episode – they had wanted to do one of these as there are so many in Canon – yet the story is almost entirely new. Mark Gatiss mentioned the Greek Interpreter as only being significant because of the introduction of Mycroft, the case itself being quite perfunctory. He also talked about how no one adapted the 5 Orange Pips because of the KKK connection. He talked about Yellow Face and the racial aspect to that story which made it harder to adapt but he personally liked the story as it was one of the cases where Sherlock Holmes gets it wrong!!!
As we all know, Adler, Hound and Reichenbach. It starts shooting in May so it won’t be ready in time for a summer showing (sorry Marie!!!).
Advice for budding screenwriters
Steven Moffat joked that there was no room for new screenwriters – they had cornered the market!!! No room at the Inn!!! Mark Gatiss said that the way to break into the market was to work hard, stick at it and write something good. He cited the example of Douglas Adams who had just plugged away at home on the dole for a couple of years in order to write.
Mark Gatiss admitted to being an avid collector and reader of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, including very bad ones!!! He observed that everyone wanted to tackle the big popular things like Moriarty and Hound but few people focused on the smaller domestic stories/tales. He was happy to do the smaller stuff eg fake painting story but it was important that the stakes were high, in that case people were dying.
Both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were well aware of the fandom in all its guises but said that they do not look at it because if would be the “end of your life if you look”. This was because for every positive comment there would be people slagging off your work and hating what you are doing/have done with the characters. So best not to go there. However, as I said, they are aware of the fandom, acknowledge its presence and are happy for us to do what we want with the characters.
copyright © Rakshita Patel 2011