From Deerstalker Hat to Black Wool Overcoat: Timelessness in Sherlock Holmes’ Speculative Stories and Drama

This review contains spoilers.

BBC’s Sherlock is  my favorite TV series. The 2012 reboot of the Victorian detective solving mysterious crimes retains the curious aura of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story. Brain-twisting crime plots, breathtaking adventures, devilish Moriarty, eccentric yet intelligent Sherlock—all of the exciting elements that led to the success of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are contained in the British TV series. After replacing Sherlock’s smoking pipe with a nicotine patch, how did the producers of the critically acclaimed show manage to preserve the enigmatic quality of 20th century speculative fiction in 21st century TV adaptation?

There is one thing that does not change over time in the franchise— Sherlock’s heroic figure!


The detective and his super-brain solves mysteries that would seem impossible to solve to common brains. Despite the fact that the fiction is strictly confined to the Victorian period and contains strong Victorian moral discourse, the plot revolves around crime and stresses the need to bring justice back to society.


You may be curious as to why Sherlock bothers to catch criminals and bring them to justice while complaining about how “bored” (S1E3 “The Great Game”) he is. When the world offers Sherlock stimulation in the form of mystery, he gallantly participates in the realm again, along with his exceptional knowledge of chemistry and forensic science. Solving crime is a piece of cake for Sherlock.


It seems to be a different story in S2E3 “The Reichenbach Fall”. This time, the detective demonstrates his humane side. Learning that his archenemy Moriarty is acquitted in the juridical court, Sherlock murmurs to himself (or to the judge): “you must find him guilty.” This is a powerful yet interesting moment in that Sherlock does not find the intellectual tango with Moriarty entertaining (as he usually does when solving crimes), but addresses the matter with seriousness. Being crowned as “the Napoleon of crime” (“The Final Problem”) by Sherlock, Moriarty is a threat both to society and to Sherlock himself, for he has sworn to bring Sherlock and his reputation down. When the law fails to bring Moriarty to justice, Sherlock decides to do it himself, alone.


The obnoxious villain plots a series of kidnappings and murders in London to attract the detective’s attention. With so many human lives being taken hostage or even taken away, Sherlock becomes increasingly uneasy, fearing that more victims will be involved in the conflict between him and Moriarty.


The rising tension between Sherlock and Moriarty reaches a breaking point when both men confront each other on the rooftop of the Reichenbach Hospital. The criminal mastermind leaves the detective no option but to kill himself to save his friends (John, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade) from being murdered by assassins. Sherlock tells Moriarty that he is “prepared to do anything, prepared to burn, prepared to do what ordinary people won’t do” in order to save his friends from death.


The mighty Sherlock turns humble in the face of friendship. For Sherlock, stepping off the rooftop to commit suicide in order to save three innocent lives is an appealing deal. Sherlock’s selflessness makes him heroic; he risks his life in order to save people who mean a great deal to him.


Although Sherlock’s death turns out to be a lie (as we are told in S3E1 “The Empty Hearse”), he successfully manages to avoid the tragedy. You may argue that Sherlock’s faked death is overly dramatic and that it breaks everyone’s heart (especially John’s), but do not forget that during his two-year absence Sherlock has eliminated Moriarty’s criminal network singlehandedly. That is no mean feat for one man working alone.


From client’s hand written letters to email, Sherlock’s biography to blog, the 21st century adaptation of the fiction is an upgrade. The producers have done a brilliant job in balancing innovation and preservation. While technology has improved drastically over the past hundred years, the detective’s heroic act is still celebrated.


If you are fangirling/fanboying over the great detective after reading this article, keep calm and #sherlocked.


-contributed by Michelle Luk


One thought on “From Deerstalker Hat to Black Wool Overcoat: Timelessness in Sherlock Holmes’ Speculative Stories and Drama

  1. Reblogged this on Telling Tales and commented:
    Interesting look at Sherlock and how it relates to the Conan Doyle stories. I have a large section in Chapter One on the trope of the great detective as an example of sustained adaptation leading to myth-making. I hadn’t considered “timelessness” as a quality that participates in this process before now. Definitely something to consider.

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