Sherlock returned to the small screen for a "special event" in the form of the one-off episode 'The Abominable Bride' at the start of 2016. Nevertheless, more than two years have now passed since Sherlock season 3 aired and left fans of the modern-day Sherlock Holmes series hanging with a tantalizing question: is Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) alive after all? Well, fortunately, an answer is on its way to being provided at last.
Benedict Cumberbatch is fresh off having wrapped principle photography on director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange movie (featuring the actor as Stephen Vincent Strange) and is jumping right into production on Sherlock season 4 - which has officially begun filming. Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the latter of whom also plays Sherlock's (Cumberbatch) brother Mycroft on the series, are once again leading the charge on the show, with Martin Freeman and his real-life partner Amanda Abbington likewise back as the newly-wed John Watson and Mary Morstan, respectively.
Here is the synopsis for Sherlock season 4 - a season that promises to deliver "laughter, tears, shocks, surprises and extraordinary cases" - released by BBC1 and Hartswood Films:
Series four begins with the nation’s favourite detective, the mercurial Sherlock Holmes, back once more on British soil, as Doctor Watson and his wife, Mary, prepare for their biggest ever challenge - becoming parents for the first time.
Moffat and Gatiss have likewise issued their own statement about the beginning of filming on Sherlock season 4, wherein they tease what lies ahead for Sherlock, John, and Mary in the next three episodes:
“Sherlock series four - here we go again! Whatever else we do, wherever we all go, all roads lead back to Baker Street - and it always feels like coming home. Ghosts of the past are rising in the lives of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson bringing adventure, romance and terror in their wake. This is the story we’ve been telling from the beginning. A story about to reach its climax...”
That line about the "ghosts of the past" from Moffat and Gatiss is clearly a reference to the threat poised by Moriarty in Sherlock season 4, regardless of whether the character is actually alive - having faked his death in season 2 much like Sherlock managed - or if it turns out that another criminal mastermind is using the memory of Moriarty to cause trouble for Sherlock and friends in the aftermath of the Sherlock season 3 finale (and the death of the villainous Charles Augustus Magnussen), 'His Last Vow'.
However, there may be more to the comment than meets the eye, as Sherlock's showrunners have teased in the past that one of the themes of season 4 is "Chickens come to roost" - meaning, Sherlock and John will be dealing with the consequences of their actions in the past, as well as their frequently dangerous lifestyle, this season. Moffat and Gatiss' line about how the story that began with Sherlock season 1 is "about to reach its climax" also bring to mind their previous comments about season 4, which they described as "dark in some ways—obviously it’s great fun and a Sherlock Holmes romp and all that—but there’s a sense of [things] coming back to bite you." The two have also said that Sherlock season 4 is relatively serialized in its narrative structure because of this, as the events of one episode will lead more directly into the next than they have in seasons past.
It's fitting then that the "dark" storyline for Sherlock season 4 will kickoff with an episode (the official title TBA) directed by Rachel Talalay, who is now the first woman to helm an episode of Sherlock. The filmmaker, who is also a professor of film and television, has directed episodes on such TV series as The Flash and Reign in recent years - though BBC viewers likely know her best for her work on Doctor Who during the most recent two seasons of Moffat's tenure as the show-runner. It's also possible that Moffat and Talalay will work together again after Sherlock season 4 on Doctor Who season 10 in 2017 (the final season in which Moffat will serve as the show's head writer/producer).
Talalay called the shots on the final two episodes from both Doctor Who season 8 ('Dark Water'/'Death in Heaven') and season 9 ('Heaven Sent'/'Hell Bent') - episodes that incorporate a touch of darkness, additional poignancy, and even a dash of outright horror into the whimsical adventures of The Doctor. The Sherlock season 4 premiere episode may do the same for the ongoing tale of Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes (with Talalay at the helm), while still serving up all the fun and witty banter that fans have come to expect from the series.
Sherlock season 4 is expected to premiere on BBC1 in early 2017. We'll let you know when an official date is announced.