The BBC show Sherlock has such fun with easter eggs and direct (or muddled) quotes from the original Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as other TV adaptations and films. Here are the latest from Series Four, episode one, “The Six Thatchers”:
- Sherlock is certain Moriarty has a posthumous plan to torment him. In the short story “The Adventure of the Empty House,” this is many confederates who come hunting him. This certainly may be the case this time. Of course, the running gag this episode is that it isn’t Moriarty no matter how much Sherlock anticipates him.
- “I’m going to monitor the underworld, every quiver of the web will tell me when the spider makes his move,” Sherlock decides. He adds later, “The world is woven from billions of lives, every strand crossing every other. What we call premonition is just movement of the web. If you could attenuate to every strand of quivering data, the future would be entirely calculable.” In “The Final Problem,” he describes Moriarty with the words “He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.” He also spends the story predicting his on death at Moriarty’s hands.
- “He drowned, Mr. Holmes. That’s what we thought. But when they opened up his lungs…sand.” This is a new one. However, the text for “The Dusty Death” reads “I won’t name the client out of respect…” a concept in many original cases.
- The case with “the wrong thumb” likely references “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.” The text reads, Mr Hatherley came straight to Baker Street in a dreadful state. He was white as a sheet and bleeding from an awful wound in his hand…” This references the same case.
- “It’s never twins,” Sherlock tells John in “The Duplicate Man.” This may nod to the 2004 TV film The Case Of The Silk Stocking, in which Rupert Everett and Ian Hart played Holmes and Watson and the solution here was This line is also used in “The Abominable Bride.”
- “So he’s the killer, the Canary Trainer? Didn’t see that coming.” The Canary trainer is one of Holmes’s lost cases, though many authors have adapted this one.
- “Dimmock, look in the lymph nodes…Yes, you may have nothing but a limbless torso, but there’ll be traces of ink in the lymph nodes under the armpits. If your mystery corpse had tattoos, the signs will be there.” Tattoos and severed body parts feature in several cases, but not a torso. However, the fact that this is “The Circus Torso” links it with “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” a tale of violence and death.
- Working on two cases at once is also a classic Sherlock concept, emphasizing how easily he solves them.
- “The fingerprints on your brother’s neck are your own.” Unclear which this is referencing, but he apparently had amnesia and was the murderer himself. Several murderers engage Holmes to throw off the scent, especially “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.” Mentally debilitating drugs are the culprits in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” and “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot.”
- “Fresh paint to disguise another smell” Sherlock texts. This is “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman,” in which the villain has gassed his enemies.
- “You can’t arrest a jellyfish,” Watson complains. “We did try.” Something like a jellyfish is the murderer in “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.”
- Old lady dead in a sauna of hypothermia is another new one.
- The solution to the boy’s death is an accident. “The trick was meant to be a surprise…A costume,” Sherlock notes. Several of his cases involve mischance rather than crime. One person who dies of natural causes but whose death is hidden for a time is the victim of “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.” There’s a concealed death in “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.”
- Adding up all these, including the bait and switch of the AGRA disk appearing in the bust instead of the Borgia Pearl, and bait and switch – thinking it’s one thing but it’s really another – covers the entire plotline. First Sherlock dismisses the boy’s murder as an accident he solves in moments and gets distracted by the shattered busts over the city. Then he spends the entire episode thinking this is a Moriarty story but it’s actually about Mary. Her final teasing “Miss Me?” letter emphasizes this too.
- In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes instructs Watson, “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” He plays with this to address a new Watson this time around in a humorous moment, parodying himself as he teaches each Watson his methods.
“As ever Watson, you see but do not observe. To you the world remains an impenetrable mystery whereas to me it is an open book. Hard logic versus romantic whimsy, that is your choice. You fail to connect actions to their consequences. Now, for the last time, if you want to keep the rattle, you do not throw the rattle.”
- When Lestrade brings Sherlock a case, Sherlock offers him the credit. Lestrade retorts, “Yeah, you say that, but then John blogs about it, and you get all the credit anyway….Which makes me look like some kind of prima donna who insists on getting credit for something he didn’t do! … Like I’m some kind of credit junkie.” Of course, in the short stories, he always demands the credit and thus the short stories do undercut his pomposity. This Lestrade, however, is a nicer guy.
- Sherlock and John squabble about the snappy title they’ll give this story like “The Ghost Driver.” In the second book, Holmes complains that A Study in Scarlet was too lurid a title for what should have been an intellectual exercise.
- Sherlock not knowing who Margaret Thatcher is reflects his startling lack of knowledge that the earth circles the sun in A Study in Scarlet…though he soon reveals he’s just messing around this time.
- Six identical busts being tracked down, stolen, and smashed under a light because a small object is hidden in one is the plot of “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.” Inside is the black pearl of the Borgias. This time, the pearl is a red herring Mycroft wants Sherlock to find. Instead, he discovers the AGRA disk. In both stories there’s a murder at one of the smashings and Sherlock is the one to discover the treasure. “Thatcher’s like, I dunno, Napoleon now,” says Sherlock’s hacker friend in an extra spoof.
- Craig the hacker is just one more of Sherlock’s small London resources…actually, on Elementary, that Sherlock has many hacker friends.
- Sherlock’s flippant “It’s a pearl – get another one” echoes his musings in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” that jewels just entice thefts and murders.
- In “His Last Vow,” Mary keeps her background on a drive labeled A.G.R.A. – in the book The Sign of Four she meets John because she’s seeking the great Agra treasure. The treasure is lost forever, and thus John feels able to court Mary, who’s no longer an heiress. By burning the A.G.R.A. disk, without reading it, this John feels he can have her back.
- This time, G.R.A. is revealed as the acronym of her four friends and the disk contains all their personal information in a compact of trust. This links further with The Sign of Four – the title references a map the four all sign and all keep a copy of in a sacred trust. They swear to never betray each other, and, as in this episode, they don’t.
- Woven throughout the episode is the fable “Appointment at Samarra,” emphasizing that one can’t cheat fate. “The Final Problem” echoes this theme, which presumably will stretch through the season. Mycroft reveals that as a boy Sherlock wrote his own version, called Appointment at Sumatra. This references the lost case that “the world is not yet ready for,” that of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. In series three, there was another quick nod with “Sumatra Road.”
- Sherlock’s rewrite of the tale also involved a pirate. More quick flashbacks of himself as a child and the dog Redbeard stress this mystery subplot.
- “Ammo,” which can mean bullets in English and love in Latin reflects “Rache” – revenge in German and a name in English – from A Study in Scarlet.
- Sherlock notes of a client, “You started out in manual labour. Don’t bother being astonished. Your right hand’s almost an entire size bigger than your left – hard manual work does that….You’re trying to give up smoking – unsuccessfully – and you once had a Japanese girlfriend that meant a lot to you but now you feel indifferent about.” In “The Adventure of the Red Headed League,” Holmes shocks his client, Mr Jabez Wilson, when the detective deduces from a quick glance “that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately.” The reference to a girlfriend’s name he wants to excise from his arm is from “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott.”
- When Holmes explains the lightning quick chain of observations and deductions that have led him to his conclusions, “Well, I never!” says Wilson. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all.” Likewise, this time, the client says, “I… I thought you’d done something clever. Ah, now, but now you’ve explained it, it’s dead simple, innit?” Holmes retaliates with a complex plot of murder and espionage, then admits he’s kidding. There’s a similar scene in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes when Sherlock constructs a massive fanciful scenario that little people who escaped from a circus will disguise themselves as little girls and assassinate the queen, then admits that it’s more likely they fled because their employer was a miser.
- At his next grandiose deduction, John calls him on it: “Are you just making this up?” “Possibly.” This of course spoofs Holmes’s favorite trick.
- Stubborn bloodhound Toby sits on a pavement refusing to move. (As Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat revealed during the Q & A following a screening of the episode, they added this scene when the dog wasn’t cooperative). In The Sign of Four, Holmes uses the bloodhound Toby to track an intruder who stepped in creosote. Toby is not a bloodhound but an “ugly long haired, lop-eared creature, half spaniel and half lurcher, brown and white in colour, with a very clumsy waddling gait” but Holmes calls him more helpful than “the whole detective force in London.” Unlike Toby the bloodhound.
- Mary’s trying to leave John with the baby is an amusing flip on the gender dynamics of “The Abominable Bride” and emphasizes that she’s more capable than her husband.
- References to Sherlock’s vow and his determination to slay dragons nod back to “His Last Vow.” In this, Mary shot him. This time, after another slow-motion bullet, she saves him and insists this makes them even.
- Sherlock notes, “I myself know of at least 58 techniques to refine a seemingly infinite array of randomly generated possibilities down to the smallest number of feasible variables. But they’re really difficult, so instead I just stuck a tracer on the inside of the memory stick.” In The Sign of Four, he does something similar, insisting he could have used research instead of a tracking dog but might as well take the easy route.
- In “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” a generous man proves he can accept his wife’s past and says “I may not be a very good man… but I think I am a bit better than you give me credit for.” John says the same about accepting Mary’s past.
- A man betrayed and tortured who waits years to take his revenge on the fellow soldier who sold him out appears in “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”
- Mycroft mentions “Code names Antarctica, Langdale, Porlock and Love.” In the stories, Langdale Pike is Sherlock’s society gossip resource (only mentioned in “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” but a regular in computer games and other spin-off works). Porlock is Moriarty’s associate, who slips Holmes a tip in The Valley of Fear.
- Confronting the villain in a shark tank seems more James Bond than Sherlock Holmes, though Holmes says, “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me” in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” The following dialogue is a bit reflective of this. Sherlock’s last line here is from “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty” among other places, and Holmes also nods to their place in a story with his reference to the “final act.”
Vivian Norbury: This was always my favourite spot for agents to meet. We’re like them. Ghostly, living in the shadows.
Vivian Norbury: Well, it depends which side you’re on. Also, we have to keep moving or we die.
Sherlock: Nice location for the final act, couldn’t have chosen it better myself. But then I never could resist a touch of the dramatic.
- “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock notes. Fittingly, he says this line about Watson’s bereavement in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”
- In Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” Holmes leaps to judgement and stakes out a cottage in the town of Norbury, south-west London. He is completely wrong in his deductions. Afterwards, he tells Dr Watson, “If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.” In “The Six Thatchers,” the cost of Sherlock’s failure is much higher. It becomes clear why antagonist Vivian Norbury is so named, when Sherlock gets to ask Mrs Hudson “if you ever think I’m becoming a bit full of myself, cocky or overconfident, just say the word ‘Norbury’ to me would you. Just that. I’d be very grateful.”
- Reigate Square is the name of a Chinese restaurant seen on a take-away menu pinned to Mycroft’s fridge just before he makes a call to the mysterious Sherrinford. This is a few letters off from the short story “The Reigate Squire.”
- As for Sherrinford, whom Mycroft phones, this was the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had originally been considering for his great detective. When Holmes mentioned, “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life, as is natural to their class” in “The Case of the Greek Interpreter,” many wondered that neither brother had inherited the ancestral home and thus concluded there must be a third older brother. Noted Sherlock Holmes scholar William S Baring-Gould proposed Sherrinford as his name. When Mycroft (played by Gatiss) told the detective at the end of series three of Sherlock “I’m not given to outbursts of brotherly compassion. You know what happened to the other one…” fans latched on to it. This, like the Moriarty hints, appears to tease the rest of Series Four.
If you enjoyed this, I recommend Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3 now in Kindle and Paperback.