The fourth season of Sherlock ended last week, and while showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have been speculating about a fifth season, nothing is currently set in stone. So with the show currently taking a break, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the 13 episodes crafted thus far, and rank them from worst to best.
So, BEWARE OF SHERLOCK SPOILERS ahead…
13.”The Six Thatchers” – Series 4, Episode 1
First things first – a weak episode of Sherlock is still good television, but we had to pick a loser, and that loser is “The Six Thatchers”. The first episode in the fourth season, it brought the characters back with a confusing whimper rather than a satisfying bang. That was largely due to a convoluted storyline that focussed on Mary’s past as a government agent. A past that the show had been trying to make interesting, with little success. The central mystery – involving missing Margaret Thatcher busts – was uninspiring. Plus, there was way too much set-up for storylines that wouldn’t pay off until later in the run. Still, at least they bumped the annoying Mary off.
12. “The Blind Banker” – Series 1, Episode 2
Written by Stephen Thompson rather than showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the second ever episode of Sherlock was a lacklustre effort about a mysterious break-in at a bank, and strange goings-on in a museum. But it was very much a case of style over substance, with Holmes and Watson racing around London’s most famous landmarks to solve crimes that weren’t really worthy of their genius. Moriarty did show up in a brief coda, however, setting the scene for the series’ brilliant final episode.
13. “The Sign of Three” – Series 3, Episode 2
As Sherlock has progressed, the show has seemed less interested in the dynamic duo solving crimes, and more focussed on their relationships and feelings. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in “Sign of Three”, the episode in which Watson marries Mary. Proceedings get bogged down dealing with the emotions of the central characters, which is less gripping than observing them solve crimes. And while it’s entertaining watching Sherlock deliver a best man speech – which he uses to describe past cases ‘The Bloody Guardsman’ and ‘The Mayfly Man’ – the crime perpetrated at the wedding seems a little contrived and the solution a little silly. The episode ends in memorably bittersweet fashion however, Sherlock realising that John’s marriage to Mary will change their friendship for ever.
10. “The Hounds of Baskerville” – Series 2, Episode 2
Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes tale became a pretty average episode of the BBC series. Russell Tovey is excellent as a man suffering terrifying flashbacks to the night when he seemingly witnessed his father being torn apart by a gigantic hound. But as with the original story, while the mystery was engrossing, the explanation was not, and worse still, it was all a little predictable. That said, the episode did give us an insight into Sherlock’s troubled mind, his mania brought on by tobacco withdrawal hinting at darker days to come.
9. “The Empty Hearse” – Series 3, Episode 1
“The Empty Hearse” was all about the answer to the question posed at the end of Season 2 – namely how did Sherlock survive that fall? A series of explanations were set forth – variously involving hypnotism, a Sherlock mask, and a bungee cable – and all of them debunked. The final solution actually revolved around a squash ball and a big mattress. Probably. But with that mystery taking centre stage, it cast something of a shadow over the rest of proceedings, with the foiling of a terrorist attack on the Houses of Parliament feeling like an after-thought. Still, nice Derren Brown cameo.
8. “The Abominable Bride” – Special
Broadcast during the long wait between Seasons 3 and 4, “The Abominable Bride” was a ballsy experiment, albeit not an entirely successful one. The episode took Holmes and Watson out of their modern-day setting and plonked them slap-bang in the middle of Victorian London to investigate crimes by a murderous ghost. Except they weren’t really in the past; instead the investigation was playing out in Sherlock’s mind in the present as he endeavoured to figure out how Moriarty could be back from the dead. It was all very clever, but that central conceit meant that the stakes felt pretty low throughout.
7. “The Final Problem” – Series 4, Episode 3
There were times when “The Final Problem” felt like a cross between Saw and ‘The Crystal Maze’, with a dash of Silence of the Lambs, as Watson and the Holmes brothers were set a series of diabolical puzzles that challenged them both intellectually and morally. The episode also featured a spellbinding villain in the shape of long-lost sister Eurus, her mental sparring with Sherlock making for great television. And while it felt like yet another episode in which the detectives did too little detecting, the ‘Redbeard’ revelation certainly packed an emotional punch. There are rumours that it will be the last ever episode, but that ending felt more like a comma than a full-stop.
6. “A Study in Pink” – Series 1, Episode 1
The first Sherlock had a mountain to climb. Episode 1 was charged with the task of introducing both Holmes and Watson, moving them in together, and providing the dynamic duo with a mystery to get solved. All in the space of 90 minutes. It was successful on nearly all fronts. Modern-day Watson is a war veteran suffering from PTSD; Holmes a ‘Consulting Detective’ whose mind machinations are ingeniously brought to life onscreen. The case – involving a series of suicides that might be the work of a serial killer – wasn’t quite a classic, but the template was set for the great things to come.
5. “A Scandal in Belgravia” – Series 2, Episode 1
Now we’re cooking! “Scandal in Belgravia” featured a pair of crackerjack cases – one involving a dead hiker, the other a plane crash in Germany – and the introduction of a Sherlock all-star in the shape of Irene Adler (the marvellous Lara Pulver). An opera singer in the original stories, here ‘The Woman’ is a dominatrix who blackmails the royal family while running rings around Holmes and Watson. Moriarty looms large over this episode. We also get another glimpse at Sherlock’s dark side, most notably when he verbally destroys poor Molly Hooper.
4. “The Lying Detective” – Series 4, Episode 2
Following the misstep of “The Six Thatchers”, “The Lying Detective” somewhat steadied the Season 4 ship, with seeds that were planted in that episode – and indeed throughout the previous three series – blossoming here. Toby Jones made a memorably monstrous villain, his Culverton Smith a twisted cross between Alan Sugar, Jimmy Saville, and the American serial killer H. H. Holmes. But the revelation that followed his arrest really elevated the episode, with Watson realising that his therapist and the girl on the bus were one and the same. Then finding out that she’s Sherlock’s secret sister. Then being shot. Breathless stuff.
3. “His Last Vow” – Series 3, Episode 1
The best episodes of Sherlock seem to focus on Holmes doing battle with a worthy adversary, and “His Last Vow” features a majestic bad guy in the shape of Lars Mikkelsen’s blackmailer extraordinaire Charles Augustus Magnussen. A villainous mirror image of Holmes, Magnusson also has a mind palace, in which he stores state and government secrets. So Sherlock takes the logical – and incredibly satisfying – step of shooting him in the head. Elsewhere Watson learns of Mary’s shady past, Sherlock visits a crack den, dates a bridesmaid, and dies, and the audience finally meets his rather charming parents.
2. “The Great Game” – Series 1, Episode 3
By Episode 3 of Series 1, the show had hit its stride, and the game was well and truly on. The early scenes introduce Sherlock’s older, cleverer brother Mycroft, and a mystery involving yet another suspected suicide allow Watson to do some solo sleuthing. But it’s a separate case – set in motion by ‘Consulting Criminal’ Moriarty – that makes this one an absolute classic, with the actions of a deranged bomber leading Sherlock on a merry dance around London. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an acting masterclass as Sherlock, his cool façade faltering as Moriarty pushes him ever closer to the edge. And Andrew Scott is clearly having a ball as the villain in question, his theatrical histrionics just the right side of ridiculous. As for the concluding cliffhanger – in which snipers aim their guns at Sherlock as he aims his at a bomb – it’s the perfect end to a near-flawless 90 minutes.
1. “The Reichenbach Fall” – Series 2, Episode 3
If “The Great Game” featured peak Cumberbatch, “The Reichenbach Fall” was perhaps Martin Freeman’s finest hour, as Watson struggled to come to terms with the death of Sherlock Holmes. A death we were yet to see. And so, the episode zips back in time to plunge us headfirst into Moriarty’s convoluted scheme, which kicks off with attacks on the Bank of England and Tower of London, and ends with Holmes and Moriarty coming face-to-face on a hospital roof. Moriarty kills himself, then Sherlock does the same. It’s electrifying stuff, followed by emotional scenes at his grave, punctuated by the man himself – very much alive – hiding in the shadows.