British show runner describes thought process behind hit reboot of Sherlock Holmes

Studio 360

If you’re a fan of the reboot of British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is the patron saint of nerd cool.

He’s the visionary show runner and writer behind some of the series’ most creepy and popular episodes: last season’s closer was BBC America’s highest-rated primetime program. Moffat recently reinvented another classic British superhero, who’s similarly drawn to mystery, danger, and intrigue: Sherlock Holmes.

This Sherlock is set in present-day London, with re-imagined villains, high tech crimes, and lightening-fast dialogue. 

The new Sherlock has “cleared away the dust. It stopped being a heritage drama, set in the 19th century where everyone wears a nice frock,” Moffat said. “It was never about that. It got it back to being fast-paced, sometimes quite silly, thrillers.”

The detective’s iconic calabash pipe is replaced by a new essential accessory: an iPhone. And we watch the data he dissects flash across the screen as text messages and blog entries.

“You actually see a part of his thought process appear on screen,” Moffat described. “It’s how Sherlock sees the world. He actually sees deductions floating in the air in front of him. And that’s become sort of our signature, I suppose, visually.”

In the first episode of the new season, Sherlock meets his match in Irene Adler, Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character recast as a high-class dominatrix. We also see a reinvented James Moriarty, Sherlock’s archenemy who leans toward the criminally insane.

“The original Moriarty is suave, accomplished, a relatively typical super-villain,” Moffat said. “Over a century later, that kind of villain seems rather cozy. In the suicide bomber age, we’re frightened of people who don’t prioritize their own survival.”

Since Doyle’s time, critics have argued that Sherlock shares the same inability to experience human empathy. But Moffat resists that diagnosis.

“He’s a man who chooses to be the way he is because he thinks it makes him better. It’s a monastic decision. He takes himself out of touch with his sexuality, out of touch with any of his emotions, in order to make himself better,” Moffat said. “And the reason he’s apologetic and shameless is he’s happy in his own skin. He’s actually having quite a good time.”

The second season of Sherlock debuts on PBS Masterpiece this Sunday, May 6.

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