In 'Sherlock,' A Classic Sleuth For The Modern Age Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian world is set on a 21st-century stage in Sherlock, where Holmes still lives at 221B Baker St. -- but now he's next-door to a sandwich shop, and Dr. Watson is a blogger.
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In 'Sherlock,' A Classic Sleuth For The Modern Age

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In 'Sherlock,' A Classic Sleuth For The Modern Age

In 'Sherlock,' A Classic Sleuth For The Modern Age

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sherlock Holmes is the most popular detective in fiction. From Arthur Conan Doyle's stories came movies and television programs. And surely the brilliant detective with his encyclopedic grasp of dust and fiber is the forerunner of today's CSIs.

Now, brace yourself for a way updated Sherlock.

(Soundbite of BBC series "Sherlock")

Mr. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH (Actor): (as Sherlock Holmes) Possible suicides, four of them. There's no point sitting at home when there's finally something fun going on. Mwah.

Ms. UNA STUBBS (Actress): (as Mrs. Hudson) Look at you, all happy, it's not decent.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Who cares about decent. The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on.

WERTHEIMER: The new series is called simply "Sherlock." It was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. It stars actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Mr. Cumberbatch and Mr. Moffat join us from London.

Welcome, gentlemen.


Mr. STEVEN MOFFAT (Co-Creator, "Sherlock"): Hello.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Mr. Moffat, I understand you were a childhood fan of Sherlock Holmes. But in your version, the character is firmly planted in the 21st century?

Mr. MOFFAT: Yes, I was a childhood and adulthood fan of Sherlock Holmes. And this was a notion that Mark Gatiss and I had together, because, much as we love Sherlock Holmes, we love Victoriana, but many of the adaptations had become about the period as opposed to be about the story. And we sort of hesitantly admitted to each other once that we rather enjoy the old Basil Rathbone movies, where the stories are updated to the 1940s. It seemed to somehow make it a bit less reverent and a bit more fun.

WERTHEIMER: So what things in modern life did you think would have to be included that would be something Sherlock Holmes would use?

Mr. MOFFAT: Well, to be honest, if you map the original stories onto the modern world, the parallels are so exact and so simple that it tells its own story. It's fairly unusual for anyone to keep a journal now. No one would keep a diary the way Dr. Watson used to in the old stories. You know, but of course you do a blog.

In the original, there's, one of the features of Sherlock Holmes was that he would read everything. He was born for the Internet and for the chat room and for forums, and all that. I think he'd love it. It would finally be the speed and the intensity of information that that demented man craves.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Benedict Cumberbatch, you're absolutely running up against a huge fan base over here, for the Sherlocks of the past. We asked NPR listeners, what do you think? And we got this on our Facebook page from Monica Jenkins, who said: Woe to the actor trying to overcome or outdo Jeremy Brett's interpretation.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: He's a very different actor to me, and a very different Sherlock Holmes. And while him and Basil Rathbone have my vote as the all-time greatest late-Victorian Holmes, there is less woe to fear than the lady writes of in her warning, her oracle-like warning.

Mr. MOFFAT: When this show was about to air in Britain, a lot of people were saying those things: It shouldn't be updated; and like no one can beat Jeremy Brett and no one can beat Basil Rathbone. The truth is, it's not like our Sherlock Holmes replaces the existing Sherlock Holmes. It's another one.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: And while I do agree with the lady, there's enough originality in what I give and what Steven and Mark have written, for it not to tread on the hallowed turf that is Jeremy Brett's.

WERTHEIMER: How did you think your way into the physical character of Sherlock Holmes?

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: Well, the book, as Jeremy, I'm sure, if he was alive would also say is the template for any actor playing Holmes. And whether it's a raised eyebrow, or whether it's the clasped hands under the chin in the prayer position, whether it's him sitting on his haunches, all of that is documented in the books. The books are the guidelines for that.

You'll have to watch, really, to do a blow-by-blow comparison. I'm not here to do that, but I would urge people, if they're interested in watching it, to watch it for all sorts of reasons including that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, we don't have Martin Freeman here. He's the actor who plays Dr. John Watson. But the Watson-Sherlock relationship is clearly going to be an interesting one. This is a moment when Watson - he's a military doctor, invalided out of Afghanistan - he comes into Sherlock Holmes' world, basically looking for a bed, a room.

(Soundbite of BBC series "Sherlock")

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Seen a lot of injuries then? Violent deaths?

Mr. MARTIN FREEMAN (Actor): (as Dr. John Watson) Mm-hmm, yes.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) A bit of trouble, too, I bet?

Mr. FREEMAN: (as Dr. John Watson) Of course, yes. Enough for a lifetime. Far too much.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Want to see some more?

Mr. FREEMAN: (as Dr. John Watson) Oh God, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: So how do you see that relationship developing? Dr. Watson in this series is not an idiot, as he is in the Basil Rathbone series.

Mr. MOFFAT: No, he's not. I mean in the original stories, he's a reasonably intelligent man. But I think the defining thing about Dr. Watson, in all his incarnations, is he's the first man a genius would trust. Sherlock Holmes sees to the heart of everything and everyone. So if he trusts you, you must something special.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: The glue between them is sort of illustrated there in that clip. They become very trusting partners. I think Sherlock sees a reliability and a complete trustworthiness in this honest, good man. It's a man who misses the theater of war, the excitement, the adrenalin and the danger, and sees through Holmes' eyes and Holmes' London, a new theater of war and a new battle to take part in.

WERTHEIMER: It's also true that the thing that people really love are the deductive connections that Holmes makes. Now, here is Benedict Cumberbatch doing that.

(Soundbite of BBC series "Sherlock")

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) Van Coon(ph) was left-handed.

Unidentified Man: Left-handed?

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: (as Sherlock Holmes) I'm amazed you didn't notice. All you have to do is look around this flat. Coffee table on the left-hand side, coffee mug handle pointing to the left. Power sockets, habitually used the ones on the left. Pen and paper on the left-hand side of the phone...

Yeah, it did require quite a lot of dexterity and hard work, but it's relishable stuff to do. And...

Mr. MOFFAT: It's one of the defining things about a good Sherlock Holmes versus a bad Sherlock Holmes, is can you do all that stuff without just sounding like the smuggest git in the world, quite honestly. And which you do very brilliantly.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: Well, thank you.

Mr. MOFFAT: But, you know, a good Sherlock Holmes is, you got to sound like somebody who just high on the fact that he's clever...


Mr. MOFFAT: opposed to just thinking, ooh, I'm going to show off to everybody in this room, which is annoying.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: Well, true, it's - he's somebody who can't help - he has ownership of the material in a sense. There's no thinking time at all. So as an actor it's quite tricky, because obviously you have so many details and you have no time to think what the next link is. It has to come out at a machine-gun speed.

Most of the deductions were very well-plotted. But in this instance, we had to actually, on the day, think up quite a few. So I came up with the idea of the mug handle being turned to the right for the left-handed person.

I am not saying I am Sherlock Holmes, but I'm quite proud...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: ...quite proud to have had a hand in at least some of the logic of his deduction.

WERTHEIMER: Steven Moffat, are you thinking your way into the future with "Sherlock Holmes"? Are you planning more of them and...

Mr. MOFFAT: Oh, yes. We are. Yes, we're absolutely - well, it's been such a storm over here that, yeah, we're - Mark and I already thinking what we're doing next year.


Mr. MOFFAT: The critical words, I'd say, would be: Adler, Hound, Reichenback.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Okay, I've got that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOFFAT: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: Gentlemen, it's been wonderful to talk to you.

Mr. CUMBERBATCH: Thank you.

Mr. MOFFAT: Our pleasure.

Steve Moffat, he's the co-creator of the new series co-produced by Hartswood Films for BBC Wales and Masterpiece. And starts Benedict Cumberbatch, the new Sherlock. The first episode airs in this country on Sunday, October 24th.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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