Sherlock Holmes Goes Digital

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If you're a fan of the reboot of British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is the patron saint of nerd cool. He's the visionary show runner and writer behind some of the series’ most creepy and popular episodes: last season's closer was BBC America's highest-rated primetime program. Moffat recently reinvented another classic British superhero, who’s similarly drawn to mystery, danger, and intrigue — Sherlock Holmes. This Sherlock is set in present-day London, with re-imagined villains, high tech crimes, and lightening-fast dialogue. 

The new Sherlock has “cleared away the dust. It stopped being a heritage drama, set in the 19th century where everyone wears a nice frock," Moffat explains to Kurt Andersen. "It was never about that. It got it back to being fast-paced, sometimes quite silly, thrillers."

The detective’s iconic calabash pipe is replaced by a new essential accessory: an iPhone. And we watch the data he dissects flash across the screen as text messages and blog entries. "You actually see a part of his thought process appear on screen," Moffat describes. "It's how Sherlock sees the world. He actually sees deductions floating in the air in front of him. And that's become sort of our signature I suppose, visually."

In the first episode of the new season, Sherlock meets his match in Irene Adler, Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character recast as a high-class dominatrix. We also see a reinvented James Moriarty, Sherlock’s archenemy who leans toward the criminally insane. "The original Moriarty is suave, accomplished, a relatively typical super-villain,” Moffat explains. “Over a century later, that kind of villain seems rather cozy. In the suicide bomber age, we're frightened of people who don't prioritize their own survival."

Since Doyle’s time, critics have argued that Sherlock shares the same inability to experience human empathy. But Moffat resists that diagnosis: “He’s a man who chooses to be the way he is because he thinks it makes him better. It’s a monastic decision. He takes himself out of touch with his sexuality, out of touch with any of his emotions, in order to make himself better... And the reason he's unapologetic and shameless is he’s happy in his own skin. He's actually having quite a good time.”

The second season of Sherlock debuts on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday, May 6.


Bonus Track: Kurt’s extended conversation with Steven Moffat

Some highlights:

  • 10:20 — Subtle Anti-Americanism? Kurt notes that one of the baddies in the new season’s first episodes in derided as being an American.  “Surely that’s just natural, isn’t it,” Moffat laughs. “Maybe it’s my personal revenge for the fact that every Hollywood film, when they want someone really evil and villainous, and in particular, a Nazi, gets an English actor to play it. Every single time! There have been times I’ve been wanting to write to you lot and say, ‘you realize the Nazis weren’t actually British.’” (Kurt later concedes that God also has a British accent.)
  • 11:10 — Style: Moffat explains the process behind creating the steampunk-infused design of Sherlock.
  • 13:15 — Technical difficulties: We try playing a clip, but something sounds funky... “It’s the smurfs!” Moffat exclaims. Sped up, Cumberbatch sounds “like Tony Blair.”
  • 21:30 — Doctor Who: Will the Doctor be reunited with River Song? Will there ever be a female Doctor? Moffat takes your questions.
  • 25:00 — Coupling: Moffat explains to Kurt why his acclaimed sitcom fell flat (lasting only 3 episodes) when it was adapted for American television: “network interference. I saw one of the early cuts of their version of Episode 3 and it was first rate. Then I saw it after the network had given notes and it was terrible.”  He explains why The Office made the transition right.
  • 26:40 — Another Sherlock: CBS is making a contemporary Sherlock Holmes as well — fishy?  Perhaps. Moffat explains (while monitoring the reaction of his wife, Sherlock producer Sue Vertue).

Video: Sherlock

Music Playlist

  1. Back to Work

    Artist: David Arnold and Michael Price
    Album: Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music from Series One
    Label: SIlva America