As, arguably, the greatest character in Western literature (although don’t tell Arthur Conan Doyle that…), Sherlock Holmes has had many incarnations. Whether on the page, the stage, the big screen or the telly, Holmes has captured our imaginations with his brilliance and charm – even if the second one doesn’t always make itself apparent at first. Some of the most recent adaptations of the story include Guy Ritchie’s fun and fast-paced films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, CBS’ modern crime drama Elementary starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu in a modern, New York-based version of the character, and the BBC series Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the legendary sleuth and Martin Freeman as his friend and biographer John Watson.
The third of these adaptations became incredibly popular in both the UK and the US, as well as across the world, and the cast and crew are gearing up to begin working on the fourth season in 2016. First, though, fans will receive a special episode on January 1st titled “The Abominable Bride,” which will mark the first time for this kind of full-length, one-off episode in addition to a simultaneous air date in both countries.
Unlike any other show of its kind, Sherlock usually presents audiences with three, full feature length episodes, and shortly, it will also have its first theatrical release. In honor of this momentous occasion (as all Sherlock fans know, the waiting is the hardest part), we thought we’d choose the 13 Best Scenes of BBC’s Sherlock
13. MRS. HUDSON IS KIDNAPPED BY THE AMERICANS (season 2, EPISODE 1)
The first episode of the second season sees Sherlock matched up against one of his most memorable adversaries from the original Conan Doyle canon, Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). When Adler leaves a phone in his possession that contains numerous state secrets, Sherlock tries to keep it away from those who want to steal it as he also attempts to deduce its passcode.
When he returns to his home at 221B Baker Street, he finds the shady Americans he encountered earlier in the episode have kidnapped his landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) in order to obtain the phone. Sherlock makes short work of their lead man with a well-placed headbutt followed by defenestration. John, who is horrified that Mrs. Hudson was hurt and does not understand why Sherlock is so blasé about the issue, insists that she spend some time away from Baker Street to convalesce. Sherlock reveals that, in fact, Mrs. Hudson was protecting the phone the whole time, which allows audiences to see not only how much Sherlock cares for the woman who is decidedly not his housekeeper, but also how strong and badass Mrs. Hudson proves to be under her delicate exterior.
12. U.M.Q.R.A. (season 2, EPISODE 2)
When Sherlock is severely frightened after seeing the hound he has come to the mysterious Baskerville military research base to explain away, John strikes out on his own to try to solve a piece of the puzzle. He continues to see light flashes that spell out the letters U.M.Q.R.A. in Morse code and decides to investigate this possible clue. What he finds instead is several cars parked in the middle of nowhere, one of which has a headlight that happens to be emitting several flashes of light in time to the, err, music being made inside.
This scene highlights the humor of the show while also putting a great twist on a similar scene from the original novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s always enjoyable to see John attempting to solve crimes without Sherlock, as we are often able to see ourselves in his less-than-effective attempts. Still, though, John’s journey proves useful to Sherlock in the morning as the detective tries to put together all the pieces of the puzzle, proving once more that “as a conductor of light,” John is unbeatable, and the two work best as a team.
11. JOHN AND SHERLOCK MEET (season 1, EPISODE 1)
Very similar to the original novel, A Study in Scarlet, John and Sherlock are introduced to one another by a man named Stamford who believes they could possibly be a good match for roommates. Sherlock deduces a great deal about John from his appearance and the brief moments where he handles his phone, echoing the way in which the original Holmes learns about John from his pocket watch. Before leaving the room, he introduces himself and gives his famous wink, starting both John and the audience on their journey into his world.
While this scene sufficiently introduces us to Sherlock and his strange behaviors (“Sorry, got to dash. I think I left my riding crop in the mortuary”), its true triumph is the way in which it begins the eventual partnership between these characters, which has fascinated readers and audiences for many years. Though Sherlock’s name is the titular one, the show is just as much about John, and even more so, about the relationship between the two men.
10. DEFUSING THE BOMB (season 3, EPISODE 1)
When Sherlock returns after faking his own death at the end of the second season, John is more than pissed. It seems he is unlikely to forgive his friend for lying to him for two years and making him believe the worst, but a strategically placed bomb in the London Underground allows them to work out their differences… sort of. Sherlock defuses the bomb with ease but, instead, allows John to believe that he doesn’t know how, apologizing for everything he has done to hurt his friend.
John tells him, “You are the best and the wisest man that I have ever known. And yes, of course I forgive you.” Of course, that’s right about when the bomb doesn’t go off, allowing Sherlock to get a laugh in and make audiences wonder if John might actually kill the man himself.
9. CHRISTMAS AT 221B (season 2, EPISODE 1)
The Christmas scene in “A Scandal in Belgravia” may count for some of the most blatant fan service of the show (more on that later), but it’s nearly impossible not to love it. Seeing all the characters together on Christmas is enjoyable enough, but also getting to witness several moments of jealous bickering between the two main characters is priceless. In addition, Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey), the long-suffering pathologist who has been in love with Sherlock for years, has a wonderful moment in which she shames him for his heartlessness and is rewarded with one of the only true apologies the character ever bestows.
Christmas at 221B is exactly how fans of the show probably imagined it, and the fact that the scene is presented with sentimentality and sweetness is exactly its strong suit. The show has featured Christmas scenes since (and is likely to do so in the upcoming special), but this one will always be a singular moment in the series.
8. THE STAG NIGHT (season 3, EPISODE 2)
In another fan-service-y scene, we get to see what it’s like when Sherlock and John get absolutely hammered before John’s impending marriage to Mary Morstan, played by Amanda Abbington, Freeman’s real-life partner. After going to a pub on every street where they have ever found a corpse (Sherlock’s idea, naturally), they end up back at 221B, lying on the stairs and mumbling. Eventually, they wind up back in their flat playing the Rizla Game (also called “Celebrity Heads, Who Am I?,” and about a thousand other things).
Their bachelor party culminates in a drunken attempt to solve a case for a woman who believes she’s been dating a ghost (which also comes back brilliantly in typical Sherlock fashion) and a night in the drunk tank before Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) comes to fetch them. But some of the best moments occur with the two incredible actors just riffing off one another, leading to several laugh-out-loud-funny moments. John’s stag night may have been awful for the two characters, but it’s one of the most hilarious scenes in the series, hands down.
7. THE PHONE CALL (season 2, EPISODE 3)
“The Reichenbach Fall” still may be considered the best episode of the show, from its jarring opening to its tearjerker ending, and quite arguably the most memorable scene takes place when Sherlock calls John as he stands atop St. Bartholomew’s Hospital to “leave his note.” Moriarty (Andrew Scott) has told him he will kill all of Sherlock’s friends if Sherlock doesn’t off himself, and the villain’s own death doesn’t seem likely to stop what has already been set in motion. Therefore, Sherlock calls John to say his goodbyes, professing that he was a fake and that John should tell anyone who will listen.
Sherlock’s swan dive of the building is one of the most incredible shots of the series, cinematically, and the scene is filmed beautifully from beginning to end. But the dialogue between the two characters coupled with the intensity of the actors’ performances makes it the kind of sequence that still causes audiences to tear up just thinking about it.
6. SHERLOCK SHOOTS MAGNUSSEN (season 3, EPISODE 3)
Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkleson) is perhaps the most despicable character in the entire show. At least Morarity had manners and didn’t relieve himself in anyone’s fireplace. By the time the climax of “His Last Vow” comes along, audiences were ready for blood and, as usual, Sherlock delivered. Magnussen assures them there is no way to win and that they should simply give up, as Sherlock was mistaken about the true existence of his private vaults. Sherlock, realizing there is only one way he can protect Mary and John, shoots Magnussen in the head in front of security services and his brother Mycroft (played by actor, writer, and show co-creator Mark Gatiss).
The moment highlights the character’s tendency toward chaotic good as well as his willingness to do anything to protect those he loves. A scene like this in a detective drama separates the show from many others like it, making it “a show about a detective” as co-creator Steven Moffat has said, instead of your run-of-the-mill piece of formulaic fiction.
5. BUCKINGHAM PALACE (season 2, EPISODE 1)
Though it was actually filmed in Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, the Buckingham Palace scene is one of the favorites of Sherlock fans everywhere. Brought to the official residence of the British monarch, Sherlock is asked to take on a case that requires the utmost security and tact… but not before he is told that he needs to put his clothes on, as he was dragged from his flat while wearing a bedsheet and nothing else. John and Sherlock laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation before Mycroft enters. “Here to see the Queen?” John asks. Upon seeing Mycroft, Sherlock quips, “Oh, apparently, yes!”
With Moffat having said the fourth season of the show will be a much darker story with serious “consequences” the characters will have to face, it can be enjoyable to look back on the old days when Sherlock’s temper tantrums involved not wanting to get dressed and being kidnapped meant the boys were simply getting to visit one of the most iconic places in the kingdom. Ah, for the days when all they did was solve crimes while John blogged about it and Sherlock forgot his pants.
4. SHERLOCK AND MORIARTY HAVE TEA (season 2, EPISODE 3)
Some of the best dialogue of the entire show is in this scene when criminal mastermind and consulting detective finally sit down to tea. After walking free from a trial where the all the evidence was piled against him, Moriarty teases Sherlock with cryptic phrases and seemingly encoded communication. Finally, he tells his nemesis, “You need me, or you’re nothing. Because we’re just alike, you and I. Except you’re boring.”
The showdown on the roof, which comes later in the episode, is the culmination of two seasons of face-offs, but the slow boiling intensity of the scene in 221B outmatches it entirely. It is when we see Sherlock is truly afraid of Moriarty and that the villain may manage to get the better of him in the end. Not to mention, it is one of actor Scott’s best sequences as the consulting criminal. He basically chews the scenery with lines like, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king, and honey, you should see me in a crown,” and we loved every minute of it.
3. MARY SHOOTS SHERLOCK/SHERLOCK’S MIND PALACE (season 3, EPISODE 3)
When it is finally revealed that Mary isn’t exactly who she says she is (something many fans picked up on from the first episode of season 3), she shoots Sherlock to keep him from revealing the truth to John. The scene then dissolves into a brilliant showcase of Sherlock’s skills and abilities inside his Mind Palace, which had been, until then, only shown in flashes.
Some of the most incredible acting by Cumberbatch is in this scene as Sherlock descends into his mind palace, finding Moriarty there. The Moriarty in his mind laments that Sherlock is letting John down by dying, which is what gives him the strength to, essentially, come back to life. Cumberbatch even won an Emmy for his performance in this episode. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking during this sequence as well, and the entire segment gives us a glance into the mind of the detective, which is one of the most desired insights for Holmes fans of any kind.
2. MORIARTY’S ENTRANCE (season 1, EPISODE 3)
“The Great Game” is broken up into a number of mini-cases that have all been perpetuated in some way by Moriarty’s vast crime network. The criminal places clues for Sherlock to find, all so they may meet in the end. (Well, technically they meet beforehand, but Sherlock is clueless.) The scene at the pool introduces us – and Sherlock – to the real Moriarty: a classy dressing, certifiably crazy villain who can’t seem to stop flirting with Sherlock even while he’s scaring the living crap out of him. It also lets audiences know that, in any scene with Moriarty, all bets are off and anything can happen. Just when we think he’s left for good, he turns around because he’s “soooo changeable” and decides to kill our heroes anyway.
The scene itself actually ends at the beginning of the following season, as it created the show’s first cliffhanger before a long hiatus. But the dynamic between John, Sherlock, and Moriarty is clear from the very start, giving the audience the ability to watch three fine actors do what they do best.
1. THE BEST MAN SPEECH (season 3, EPISODE 2)
At any real-life wedding, someone would have absolutely cut Sherlock’s incredibly long best man speech in half, but when John marries Mary in “The Sign of Three,” we are yet again captivated by Sherlock in his long-winded and narcissistic tendency to make everything about himself. However, Sherlock’s speech actually turns out to be a love letter to his friend, who cannot help but tear up and hug him by the end of it.
“John, I am a ridiculous man,” Sherlock says, “redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.” And in this moment, it is difficult not to see that the entire series is working toward a change in the character of Sherlock Holmes, the one Lestrade mentions in the very first episode: at first glance we see a brilliant, talented man who is also the “most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious asshole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet.” And yet, over time, we are watching him become Lestrade’s good man, the person who is worthy of John Watson’s friendship, of the world’s admiration, and of the kind of happiness viewers believe the character deserves. After all, Sherlock is a show about a detective, not a detective show, and nowhere is that more evident than in this poignant, incredibly human scene.
That’s our list! If you have any favorite scenes you want to mention, please let us know in the comments, and get prepared to start your deductions when the show returns – albeit briefly – on January 1st.