Sherlock Series 3 Review “The Sign of Three”


Bonkers – absolutely bonkers. Like ‘The Empty Hearse’, which played around with narrative, the character of Sherlock and his relationship with Watson in a way that leaned more towards ardent fans of the series and further and further away from fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original tales, ‘The Sign of Three’ is a pretty grand exercise in changing the fundamentals of what many would think a Sherlock story should be. It’s an unabashed comedy, for one and, for the second time, it’s more concerned with the relationships between Sherlock, John and Mary than it is about solving a clever case in any clever way.

It’s hard to separate the worlds of fandom and television right now, and that’s because writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson seem to have thrown caution to the wind and included the wants and needs of their fans in real-life episodes as much as their own creative instincts. ‘The Empty Hearse’ played with the idea of Tumblr-fantasising and fanfiction in new and satisfying ways, but ‘The Sign of Three’ was essentially fanfiction in and of itself. It was an episode that couldn’t exist without the fondness of creators, performers and audience that grows over several years, and that resulted in a big warm hug for those people who waited.

There’s a crime to solve, but the delayed stabbing of Major Sholto mattered even less than the attempt to blow up parliament – there’s giggles and fun to be had, after all. That said, the best man’s speech stretched across 60 of the 90-minute running time did contain several different intriguing beginnings and ends to cases arguably not strong enough for an entire episode. It’s a smattering of short stories, brought to life to prove the heartfelt point Sherlock sought to make at his friend’s wedding. He needs John as much as John needs him, and the fact that Watson has made a life for himself in Sherlock’s absence scares him more than he’d like.

There will be those who balk at the idea of Sherlock softening to the point where he can actually pronounce that he loves John and Mary in a public setting, but there’s enough surrounding this element of the show right now that stops it from being outright strange. My perception of this third series is that we’re experiencing the warmth before the trauma, and this episode was an exercise in making us care in preparation for some kind of cliffhanger next week. The success of the Mary character, how well the trio work together and the discovery of a pregnancy don’t make me worry any less for her fate.

The promo for the final episode looks a lot darker than the previous two, but that doesn’t make ‘The Sign of Three’ any less delightful. It’s family entertainment in a way that Doctor Who hasn’t been in years, with comedy set-piece after comedy set-piece topped off with a hilarious extended sequence where Sherlock and Watson get blind drunk and attempt to competently solve a case. The presence of the Mayfly killer at the wedding made it worthwhile in terms of the running time, but it would have been fine nonetheless. Cumberbatch and Freeman were great at the emotional stuff last week, but they also rise to the challenge of comedy – a significant challenge when stretched over the longer-than-normal running time.

It’s easy to dwell on the ominous promise of separation for Sherlock and Watson now that the latter is married with a baby on the way, but then we have to remember that this isn’t real life – it’s a television series. Series three has prized entertainment over coherence so far, a nice change from the endless theorising over how he faked his death back in 2012, and it’s the better for it in many ways. How we feel about this year’s Sherlock will depend entirely on the emotional impact next week makes, but there should be no doubt in our minds that the writers know what they’re doing in terms of the central dynamic.

What did you think of the episode? Was it the right amount of mushy or over the top? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.