The BBC's detective drama may have reached an astronomical high with Season Two, but troubled waters could still lie ahead...
As any resident of 221B Baker Street will rightly inform you, fame is a troublesome matter. At first, it may seem that the lure of the public eye is positive, highlighting a product's strengths and commending them with viewers and financial breakthroughs. In the end, though, this increased attention arguably only leads to future difficulties, provoking an all manner of criticism the moment that a future incarnation of the product slips up.
In the case of Sherlock, we've seen this downfall occur at a result of its protagonist's own moment of hubris, as he believed himself invulnerable to the schemes of his nemesis after a string of successful cases. Sure enough, by the end of The Reicenbach Fall Holmes was forced to fake his own demise, severing ties with each and every one of his former allies as a result. Although the ramifications of fame have been displayed in a thematic context only on-screen so far, with Season Three there could potentially be room for such ramifications to reside in a literal context, too.
Chief to this oncoming problem that Sherlock's production team face is the loss of two of Season Two's greatest elements of acclaim. Both Lara Pulver and Andrew Scott excelled in their roles as Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty respectively, bestowing new emotive and human layers of depth to these classic literary characters in ways that their creator- Arthur Conan Doyle- could have never possibly envisioned. In their strive to maintain a faithful adaptation of the original works, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss echoed the one-off nature of these two characters and brought closure to their pair of narrative arcs during the second run.
It is with this creative decision, though, that the showrunners could just have easily doomed Sherlock to its literal demise. Season Three currently has no truly revolutionary aspect of adaptation for viewers to anticipate, beyond the revelation of how its hero survived his titular fall and how he will return to the public eye without risking his friends' lives in the process. We can likely expect the introduction of Sebastian Moran, an esteemed general in Moriarty's ranks in Conan Doyle's works, at some point in the three new episodes, yet this hardly seems like a proposition which will entice the viewer so enormously as the interaction between Benedict Cumberbatch, Pulver and Scott did last Spring.
Worse still, it's not simply the characters for which Sherlock could be left wanting in its upcoming third series. The three teaser words which Moffat and Gatiss offered us in Summer 2012 at the Media Guardian Edinburgh' International Writers' Festival were "rat, wedding, [and] bow". Dedicated readers of the Conan Doyle saga were quick to assert that the latter two hints could allude to adaptations of The Sign of Four and His Last Bow, with the former story being confirmed as one of the tales undergoing televisual transition with the title The Power of Four. That leaves The Empty Hearse, an adaptation of the tale where Holmes returns to the wider world after his supposed demise. None of these three stories have any of the iconic impact of adventures already covered such as A Study In Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Final Problem, which again worryingly sets up Season Three with a potential lack of innovative premises.
On the other side of the argument, however, perhaps as ever with British drama, it will be the central cast of Sherlock which provides its redemption. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are both returning to the show despite a number of Hollywood turns in motion pictures like Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit, maintaining their loyalty to the franchise which kick-started their careers immeasurably. We'll also see the return of fan favourite characters including Molly, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson, all of whom I imagine will be suitably shaken up by Sherlock's return to the realms of the living. Indeed, the interaction between Cumberbatch's layered protagonist and his allies could bring us some of the most compelling content of the run.
Let's make something clear here as this article reaches its conclusion- I have little doubt that when Sherlock does return, it will do so in a spectacular manner that acquires the show all of the traditional high viewing ratings and critical acclaim that it deserves. Nevertheless, it would seem churlish to refuse to admit that this time around, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson appear to be facing more of an uphill battle than they're perhaps used to in the case of this particular beloved detective drama. No matter what the outcome of the next three episodes, though, BBC One and their viewership can at least rest assured that when Sherlock does return, the incredibly talented production team will bring us a product that's more than worth the wait. Fame can be a dangerous matter, yet it seems there's still just enough hope that Sherlock will once again overcome the odds to cement its status as a beloved British television franchise once more.