Sherlock series 3 is just around the corner, but will you be missing out on a whole level of fun because you haven’t read the Sherlock Holmes novels?
We all remember sitting down in the movie theater to watch Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, maybe even Twilight (we’re not here to judge) with our friends and family who’d never read the corresponding books. Though we’d never admit it, all book readers relished that smug little feeling you get when a film adaptation gives a cheeky nod to the source material that most of the audience just won’t get.
With Sherlock series 3 just around the corner, it’s less than two weeks until the world sits down to find out how Benedict Cumberbatch’s super-sleuth survived his fall, what new enemies the Baker Street boys will have to face, and what exactly is going on with John Watson’s weird porno moustache. But strangely, the majority of the Sherlock fandom hasn’t read the books, and when we welcome him back into our living rooms, a surprising amount of viewers will see, but not observe, many of the show’s in-jokes.
Well, we here at Hypable think you should be reading the books. To show you what you’re missing out on, we’ve compiled a list of 10 nods to canon from the show’s first two series. If you haven’t read Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, this will hopefully explain a few of those references that have always puzzled you, and encourage you to run to the library and grab the source material to help pass these excruciating last moments before New Year’s Day. If you’ve already read the novels, here’s another opportunity to enjoy that smug feeling you last got at the movies!
“I mean, this isn’t a deerstalker now. It’s a Sherlock Holmes hat. I mean that you’re not exactly a private detective anymore. You’re this far from famous.”
– Steve Thompson, “The Reichenbach Fall”
Think Sherlock Holmes and our first mental image (other than Benedict Cumberbatch’s jaw) is that of the Victorian sleuth clutching a pipe and donning a deerstalker. But, here’s the thing – Sherlock is never once described as wearing a deerstalker. In Silver Blaze, Holmes is wearing an “ear-flapped travelling-cap” while on a country excursion, but it’s never directly called a deerstalker within Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. It’s Sidney Paget’s illustrations that made the “death frisbee” the iconic image the world is familiar with today.
The deerstalker didn’t make an appearance in BBC’s Sherlock until season 2 episode 1, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” when our hero pulls the hat on as a disguise to escape the paparazzi. As we all know, the ruse doesn’t really pay off, as the photographers recognise him and his face (deerstalker and all) is plastered over the front page of the world’s press. This is a great little nod for the Holmes anoraks, as it’s a picture rather than Sherlock’s personal taste that makes him synonymous with the head gear.
It looks like the deerstalker’s back for series 3, and though we may see the great detective embrace his “famous” hat in these new adventures, book readers can always remember this nod to the series’ history.
“‘I keep a bull pup,’ I said, ‘and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of ungodly hours, and I am extremely lazy. I have another set of vices when I’m well, but those are the principal ones at present.'”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
His psychosomatic leg injury is used as a great plot point for bringing Martin Freeman’s John Watson closer to Sherlock in season 1, episode 1 “A Study In Pink,” but it’s also a way for Steven Moffat to lovingly poke fun at Arthur Conan Doyle. You see, inventive and revolutionary though he was, our dear Doyle wasn’t the best writer when it came to continuity. Poor John Watson was the frequent victim of Arty’s forgetfulness, and the injury he endured that resulted in him being sent back from Afghanistan seems to move around.
In A Study in Scarlet he tells us he was shot in the shoulder, in The Sign of Four he instead has a Jezail bullet lodged in his leg, and in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor that same bullet is simply described as being in “one of” his limbs. Moffat references this by having John limp around with a crutch for most of the pilot episode, until he gets caught up in the adrenalin of Sherlock’s profession and forgets he needs it. Later in the episode, he admits that the leg injury is purely psychological – and he was in fact shot in the shoulder.
“There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Greek Interpreter
We don’t blame you if you were left a bit stumped when John entered The Diogenes Club in season 2, episode 2 “The Reichenbach Fall.” It’s a strange place at the best of times, and even more so when you’re going in cold. The fictional club features in several Holmes stories, though perhaps its most famous appearance is in The Greek Interpreter. It’s designed as a place men can go to read in silence, and the owners enforce this rule so strictly that it’s noted men have been kicked out for as little as coughing.
It’s here that book readers first meet Mycroft Holmes, who co-founded the club. The club’s inclusion in “Reichenbach” is a nice nod to canon fans who were disappointed in its absence during series 1. Another fun piece of trivia for the super sleuths among you is the cameo of Douglas Wilmer (pictured left) in the Diogenes Club. Wilmer played Holmes 13 times in one of the BBC’s previous productions of Doyle’s works, starting with 1964’s The Speckled Band. Douglas is one of the most famous actors to play Sherlock, perhaps behind only Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch himself. His cameo is a knowing nod to Sherlock canon history – and hopefully won’t be the last of its kind!
“‘Poison,’ said Sherlock Holmes curtly, and strode off. ‘One other thing, Lestrade,’ he added, turning round at the door: ”Rache,’ is the German for ‘revenge;’ so don’t lose your time looking for Miss Rachel.'”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
“Yes, thank you for your input,” quips Sherlock as he slams the door on Anderson in season 1, episode 1 “A Study in Pink.” The snooty officer we all love to hate had just suggested that the pink-clad journalist had scraped “Rache” (German for revenge) on floorboards in her dying moments. As we all know, she was actually writing Rachel, the name of her stillborn daughter and password to her phone services. What’s interesting about this little moment is that in the original Holmes novel, quite the opposite happens.
Mind you, much of the story of the Baker Street Boy’s début adventure is wildly different in the source material. Featuring a murder plot spanning years and starting in America, A Study In Scarlet only really shares the murder weapon and eleventh hour word scratching with its contemporary television counterpart. In the novel, Holmes condescendingly points out to Lestrade and his colleagues that one of the murderer’s victims was writing ‘Rache’ (revenge) instead of the name.
Sherlock‘s writers cleverly flip this on its head to keep readers guessing as the exciting new mystery unravels.
“I had observed some newspaper comment at the time, but I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
It’s one of the catchiest quotes from the second series, and Sherlock fans of every creed proudly shout it whenever someone unlocks a safe, chest or even door around them – but not everyone knows where it comes from. In fact, it’s so niche that most book readers aren’t really sure where it originates.
Vatican cameos is briefly mentioned in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the quote containing it is literally the only reference Conan Doyle makes to it in his entire body of work. It’s a small, throwaway mention intended to show readers that Holmes and Watson had many adventures together that we never saw. It shows the level of devotion that Moffat, Gatiss, et al put into the show and just how rewarding an experience watching Sherlock can be if you’ve read the books. Plus, the Johnlock shippers among you must be thrilled to know that the boys have a “safe word.”