Into The Hive Mind: BBC's 'Sherlock' And The Adventures Of The Fandom That Waited
(Also, beware of spoilers. This column will operate under the presumption that readers already seen both series.)
When I first heard that a couple "Doctor Who" writers had banded together to create a modern version of "Sherlock Holmes" for the BBC, I was warily excited. On the one hand, I love both "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock Holmes", so naturally, taking some of the talent from the former and applying it to the latter sounded like a good idea. But on the other hand, I was skeptical of the present-day adaptation. Previous adaptations may have placed Holmes and Watson in the 1940s fighting Nazis, but that time seems alien—Holmes always a figure of the past, and to place him in the present seemed, at first, unnatural.
Then again, I do enjoy a version of the Baker Street boys in which they are crime-solving mice, so a modern adaptation doesn't seem all that far-fetched in retrospect.
My hesitance was unwarranted. I was blown away with the first series with each of the three 90-minute episodes.
With the quality of the first series, the 18-month hiatus between series one and series two seemed a necessary punishment for the excellence the series produced. Even if it required us to agonize over the resolution to the series one cliffhanger all that time, making the show's return in Jan. 2012 all the better.
With over two years since the first episode aired (and only six episodes in total), this fandom has had plenty of time to draw, write, analyze, make gifs of everything and cultivate a creative culture that rivals nearly every fandom that comes to mind, even those that have more material to work with or have been active for many more years.
Subject: BBC's "Sherlock"
Years before its premiere, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, "Doctor Who" alums and long-time "Holmes" fans, had discussed a modern version of the Conan Doyle stories on train journeys to Cardiff, where "Doctor Who" production is located. After Moffat's 2007 modern adaptation of "Jekyll", based off the "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", it seemed natural that they would tackle one of their favorite series for the screen.
With the addition of Steve Thompson in Sept. 2008, they originally had planned to have six 60-minute episodes, but after the original pilot was rejected by the BBC, they retooled the series for three 90-minute episodes per series. The original, unaired pilot is available on the DVD of the first series, which was aired in late July and early August of 2010 in the UK, and on PBS in America in October of the same year. The second series, also three episodes, was broadcast in the UK in Jan. 2012 and on PBS in May 2012.
In order to update the stories to modern times, the BBC's Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, then well-known for his performance in "Atonement") and John Watson (Martin Freeman from the original version of "The Office") use cell phones, Internet and laptops and maintain blogs (Watson is Holmes' blogger, not his Boswell…although considering the speed at which Martin Freeman types, it seems remarkable to me that Watson updates his blog ever.) Like his canonical counterpart, Watson is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, invalided home after being shot in the shoulder, although he retains a psychosomatic limp for part of the first episode, a reference to canon Watson's mysteriously migrating bullet wound, one that is either located in his leg or his shoulder, depending on the story read.
The two still live in 221B Baker Street as tenants under the lovingly maternal eye of Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), who is their landlady, not their housekeeper, thank you very much. They are joined by "V For Vendetta's" Rupert Graves as D.I. (Greg) Lestrade, whose characterization in this adaptation is based off that of "The Six Napoleons", as Inspector Lestrade tends to be a bit inconsistent throughout the canon. In the show, the beleaguered and rather desperate detective inspector seems admiring and fond of the consulting detective, even if he's also irritated as all hell by him. Sherlock's older brother Mycroft (whose character has been expanded, making up for the decrease in his waistline) is played by Gatiss and presented as somewhat omnipotent, cold and rather distant—as well as being invaluable to the British government in some unknown capacity that allows him total control over the CCTV system, bespoke suits and an ubiquitous and characteristic umbrella (and an unlimited supply of sleek black town cars).
The series is rife with small nods to canon, even outside of the overall adaptations of the cases, such as shooting the wall of Baker Street not with "V.R." for Victoria Regina, but with a smiley face; this Holmes has nicotine patches instead of a pipe, searches for his cigarettes in a Persian slipper (in which canon Holmes had kept his tobacco in the stories)—being such (lucky) ascended fanboys, Moffat and Gatiss are very good about including canon tidbits for fans to find. That being said, the episodes aren't exact adaptations of the original stories. The first episode, "A Study in Pink", based off "A Study in Scarlet", the first novel, changed its plot significantly because, if you've read "A Study in Scarlet", you'll know that the second half of the story is all about Mormons and it's probably a bit offensive to stereotype an entire religious sect. A bit not okay in modern society.
Even though there are only six 90-minute episodes in total, the series is set to return…eventually, hopefully in late 2013, as filming begins March 18, after which, presumably, we will be psychologically tortured as set photos and production stills are released online and we are left to suffer alone. Or, if you prefer, suffer together with the fandom.
Fandom name: Sherlockians (Also a typical title for fans of the canon, and although this name is not exclusive to fans of the BBC series, it is the one preferred by fans of this adaptation)
The fandom itself is one of the three that comprise the Holy Trinity on Tumblr, as I refer to it, the SuperWhoLock fandom—"Supernatural" from the CW, and the BBC's "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock". The fandom tends to have a lot of crossover from the three and is one of the most active and visible presences, both online and in the…real world.
The most common reasons I hear for fans developing interest in "Sherlock" is because they were first "Doctor Who" fans and it seemed a natural progression, because they saw so much material online that they were drawn in, or that they were canon fans first and wanted to see what this adaptation had to offer. That being said, the second series had higher ratings than the first, over eight million viewers in the UK alone, per episode. Better yet, on March 12, Benedict Cumberbatch revealed that both he and Freeman are signed for a fourth series of the show. So after waiting what will likely be over two years between series two and series three, we can presumably have another cliffhanger and wait at least another 70 years between series three and series four. It's okay. We'll wait.
I managed to convert nearly all of my friends after the first series, because I got the DVDs and forced them to watch. I think we watched all three episodes in one night and we have no regrets. I also managed to irritate many of my high school newspaper staff into watching by talking incessantly about "Sherlock Holmes" and the recent adaptation. I am very good at persuading, one way or another. Word of mouth has been rather effective in spreading the subject and fandom, leading to the vastness and diversity that it has today.
Fandom activity: Basically everything. Fan-made media and work, activism, cosplay, creating a world-wide campaign, attending conventions, theorize with SCIENCE, analyze and weep - mostly
Some of you may have heard of the "Believe in Sherlock" campaign that exploded after the final episode of the second series, "The Reichenbach Fall". One of the most insane fan-made schemes I've ever seen (and I mean insane in a way that means crazy awesome), this campaign is one in which fans make flyers, posters, occasionally deface public property (which I cannot condone because it's illegal, even if it is kind of cool) with the words "Believe in Sherlock", or some variation thereof. The plot of "Reichenbach" has Sherlock Holmes' reputation tarnished by a vicious media campaign orchestrated by Moriarty, leading to his apparent suicide.
Other variations include "Jim Moriarty Was Real" and "Richard Brook Was a Fake", but, of course, there's also a fan-made counter-campaign, "Richard Brook Was Real", and it's rather amusing to watch the campaigns faux-fight online.
Fun fact: I made friends with one of my professors when, during his office hours, he suddenly asked me if I watched the show. When I responded, he desperately asked me if I knew "how he did it", to which I simply smiled and started outlining all the theories I had memorized at the time. (I think he probably got a bit more than he bargained for, to be honest.)
I've made so many friends since coming to college through mutual fandoms, "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who" being the two main ones. There always seems to be someone out there who can freak out a bit with me when news comes out, or understand just how tragic fandom life can be.
As for creative fanwork, this is one of the most prolific fandoms I've seen. I suppose people need something to carry them through the long hiatuses. Fic writers and readers are well-respected, some of them achieving high status in the fandom, and some of the works are novel-length, breaking 200,000 words. For reference, this column is just under 5,000 words long. On Archive of Our Own, "Sherlock Holmes & Related Works" as well as "Sherlock (TV)" are two of the most popular tags; fanart is equally popular and there are some extremely talented artists in the fandom. And funny, many of them with snarky and irreverent humor. I'll include links to some of the artists and Tumblrs of people who were suggested to me in the "resources" section below.
I also see some truly excellent cosplays, particularly wingsunfurled’s Sherlock. The Australian-based group Viclockians is notable for having some very good cosplayers in their midst, and can be found on Tumblr here.
One thing I have noticed about the “Sherlock” fandom is that it seems especially generous—not to say other fandoms aren’t, but the amount of money donated on actors’ or the show’s behalf is astounding. Not only are charities benefited, but with the help of Sherlockians and word of mouth (as well as Mark Gatiss) the “Save Undershaw” project was successful. Fan activism can also benefit individuals—if a fan is in need of help, a plea to his or her fandom is generally recognized and passed around. Fans will purchase art from other fans to support business, and will fight for proper sourcing and credit to be given to artists, creating a system that requires proper recognition where recognition is due.
No fandom is perfect, though. Refer to this earlier column about fandom rules, some of which I will reiterate here. Remember that even if you don't read or produce fics or art, you have no right to disparage those who do. You are not better in any way than any other fan—if you have read the canon, it doesn't make you "more" of a fan than those who haven't. All it takes to be a fan is to enjoy the work. Also, you should know that this tends to be a very slash-happy fandom, but you don't have a right to bash on other ships (or lack thereof). Also, as I mentioned in the previous article, stop with the "Elementary" bashing—or of any other fandom, really. Same goes for other fandoms on the "Sherlock" fandom. It's fine to poke fun good-naturedly, but recognize that fandom is supposed to be a safe place, an equalizer, and a refuge for those seeking solace from the outside world with others with mutual interests. So no bashing. No hate. And if someone does happen to break the rules, getting mad is just hurtful—reminding someone politely and gently is far more productive than shouting abuse at someone. Besides, if that person is being genuinely awful, you're still the better person for remaining level-headed, giving you the upper hand.
That being said, when I found out that members of the Trojan Marching Band met Benedict Cumberbatch (???) at a Vanity Fair photoshoot (???), I laid down on the floor for about 45 minutes, unmoving and totally silent. No one is allowed to talk about this anymore.
Good people to know: Writers, producers and directors, Arwel Wyn Jones, David Arnold and Michael Price, castmembers, Amanda Abbington, the Baker Street Babes
While Moffat and Gatiss co-created, they both also have written two episodes each, with the other two written by Stephen Thompson (“Damages”). Moffat wrote “A Study in Pink” and “A Scandal in Belgravia”; Gatiss wrote “The Great Game” and “The Hounds of Baskerville” and Thompson wrote “The Blind Banker” and “The Reichenbach Fall”—and note parallels between “The Reichenbach Fall” and “A Study in Pink”, as well as several tie-ins to “The Blind Banker”. So when you curse Moffat’s name for “Reichenbach”, remember it’s actually Thompson who has hurt you so.
You should know the names of the producers, as well, as it seems “Sherlock” is a family business. Mother and daughter producers Beryl and Sue Vertue work with Sue’s husband Steven Moffat on the show, and had previously worked as a unit for the comedy “Coupling”, which is based in part off Sue and Steven’s relationship.
Also, the directors! The show has been nominated for four separate awards for its direction, including an Emmy, and has won three times. The directors are Toby Haynes, Paul McGuigan and Euros Lyn, as well as Coky Giederoyc (“The Hour”, “Spies of Warsaw”), who directed the unaired pilot. However, it has been revealed that McGuigan will not be returning for series three, and Jeremy Lovering (“In Fear”, a major 2013 Sundance breakout film) will be directing the first episode of the third series.
David Arnold and Michael Price are the composers for the series, and, like their predecessors in “Sherlock Holmes” composers, should be noted for just how great the music is. The compositions and theme for the show are Emmy-nominated in both the 2011 and 2012 Emmy Awards.
Also, if you’ve seen Sherlockians passing around photos of empty rooms, that’s because of production designer Arwel Wyn Jones, who is systematically torturing us by Tweeting photos of the “Sherlock” set as it is built. He’s the guy who makes 221B look like it does. Be appreciative of him, even if it’s not nice to tease us like this—I’m not exactly complaining.
As for the cast, it includes regulars Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, a performance for which he’s been nominated for a slew of awards, including the BAFTA Best Actor, Emmy and Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, among others. He plays opposite Martin Freeman (both are also in “The Hobbit” series, with Freeman as the Hobbit although Cumberbatch will be “appearing” more in the second film, as he’s the voice of Smaug the Dragon and the Necromancer.) Freeman plays a very solid counterpoint to manic and hyper-intelligent Sherlock, and grounds him (of course, the sarcasm and comedy Freeman brings helps, even if, for the moment, he plays the character straight and serious). As mentioned above, Scott is the wild and unhinged and very Irish Moriarty; Gatiss is the “iceman” Mycroft Holmes; Stubbs is the adoring and doting not-housekeeper Mrs Hudson and Graves is D.I. Lestrade, who always seems to have problems in one way or another, whether it’s from criminals, bombers, his wife or Sherlock Holmes.
There are individual appearances in episodes by Phil Davis (who plays a Jeff, or at least, that’s his name, if you’ve read the stories…), Paul Chequer as D.I. Dimmock, Bertie Carval as Sebastian Wilkes, Gemma Chan as Soo Lin Yao (“The Blind Banker”), Zoe Telford (Dr. Sarah Sawyer, John’s love interest in the first series), Lara Pulver (Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Belgravia”), Russell Tovey (“The Hounds of Baskerville” as Henry Knight, playing another character obsessed with canines, although, in this case, he’s not a werewolf, unfortunately) and Katherine Parkinson as journalist Kitty Riley (“The Reichenbach Fall”), who is much beloved by the “Richard Brook Was Real” campaigners.
(In truth, I’m a little jealous of Loo Brealey.)
Other series regulars include Vinette Robinson as Detective Sergeant Sally Donovan and Jonathan Aris as Anderson, the forensics expert who has a tendency to muck up the crime scenes, according to Sherlock. Both Donavan and Anderson harbor animosity towards Sherlock, who hurls that animosity right back in their faces. While Anderson is nearly universally hated, Sally does have some fans, especially in fics, where she’s regularly given redeeming features and her character and backstory is sometimes built upon, according to one of my sources, a writer who wishes to remain anonymous.
Also, you should know who Amanda Abbington is. Much beloved by fans (and lovingly referred to as “the queen” of the fandom, a title she absolutely deserves), she’s Martin Freeman’s equally sassy partner who seems very, very, somewhat suspiciously aware of fandom goings-on. Although she is no longer on Twitter, the fandom (at least, on Tumblr, as far as I know) is very appreciative her, even going so far as to create blogs dedicated solely to how awesome she is. She has given several interviews to the Baker Street Babes (BSBs), a small collection of some of the wittiest women I’ve ever heard, online or otherwise.
The BSBs run a podcast, appear at conventions and different events—plus, they talk about canon and Sherlockiania quite often, are all young and female and I just want to follow them everywhere and shower glitter and love and flowers onto them, because they do all this for free like I do, and spend time working on this because they genuinely love the fandom, and have done something rather impressive with a so-called “hobby”. They also have a Tumblr, a Twitter and a complete collection of their podcasts can be found on iTunes or listened to online.
Need some help? These sites are here to help: First, you should check out the official character blogs of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and Molly Hooper, although spoilers abound. These are updated in tandem as episodes are released, so always be sure to check them out to see the corresponding posts after an episode. Sherlockology is the leading aggregator of information on BBC “Sherlock”, but there’s also the Baker Street Wikia and the TV Tropes page. Check out the Baker Street Babes’ site here, which also has links to their Tumblrs, Twitter and Facebook pages, among others. Some Tumblrs you might want to check out include finalproblem, which has a complete index of theories as well as some very in-depth analysis and bizarre humor trends, such as the magic traffic cone from “The Reichenbach Fall” and the disco pigeon from “The Blind Banker”. The Tumblr for bbcsherlockftw also does similar analysis. Also, soon to be available in the United States, the offical "Sherlock" companion, "The Casebook", provides basically anything you could ever have wanted from the creators, except, maybe, more of the actual show itself.
Geothebio, reapersun, sexlock, coeykuhn, thebritishteapot, ireallyshouldbedrawing, ilovemyjawn, mystradedoodles, artbylexie, inchells, scrickiras, ineffableboyfriends, navydream, ask-bbcsherlock have done quite a bit of “Sherlock” art, many of them comics or cartoons that are simply hilarious, although not all of those are necessarily solely “Sherlock” blogs (some are, although some have other fandom or adaptation art). Keep an eye out because there may be some NSFW material on the blogs. If that’s not your thing, be wary and make sure you click the SFW button on Tumblr. Also, for a variety of Sherlock Holmes art, for “Sherlock” or “Elementary”, or, mainly for canon, check out ghostbees. Mark Gatiss, Lara Pulver, Loo Brealey and Arwel Wyn Jones have Twitter accounts. Oh, so does the Sherlock Set Floor. Naturally. Also, check out areyoutryingtodeduceme’s art and her fandom tea blends. Here in the “Sherlock” fandom, we make art you can drink.
And we’re finally for memes, jokes, trivia and a various and sundry collection of bizarreness:
Because of this comic by Kate Beaton, there is a running joke that Watson’s first and main love is jam. This has been extended to Martin Freeman, who is made of kittens (I guess because he seems cute and cuddly?), rage (because he is wrath embodied) and jam. Cue relentless references to John’s love of jam amongst the fandom.
Moriarty's barrister in "The Reichenbach Fall" is played by Ian Hallard, Mark Gatiss' husband. The lover of Sir Jeffrey Patterson in "A Study in Pink" is Olivia Poulet, Benedict Cumberbatch's then-girlfriend. Also, keep an eye out for "Doctor Who" actors on "Sherlock", including Phil Davis, Gemma Chan, Paul Chequer, and, of course, Gatiss.
Matt Smith auditioned for the role of Doctor Watson, but was turned down—he later was cast in Moffat's other production, "Doctor Who", as the Eleventh Doctor. Moffat has said he didn't think anyone else besides Cumberbatch would be right for the role, but it was harder to find a proper Watson to match; Martin Freeman's audition helped seal the deal, because the chemistry between the two actors was perfect. (I think the fandom would agree.)
Anderson. Oh, Anderson. First, because he’s nearly universally reviled by the fandom, he’s the common butt of jokes both in the series and online. Then there’s the Anderson/dinosaur meme, which, from a fairly unsavory Livejournal prompt has since spawned comics galore about Anderson’s deep and hidden love of dinosaurs. Also, Anderson is so far nameless, although there have been suggestions that his name is Sylvia, Moira or Gillian.
In “The Reichenbach Fall”, when Donovan tells Lestrade that there’s been a break-in, he responds rather casually whilst eating a pastry that it’s “not our division”, leading to an outbreak of memes that involve Lestrade being asked to do something and responding with the phrase, or translating the phrase into other languages and badly photoshopping cultural dress or items onto the still. This includes fictional languages and dead languages.
“Animals that look like ‘Sherlock’ actors” is one of the more common memes, particularly “Otters that look like Benedict Cumberbatch” by redscharlach and “Martin Freeman or a hedgehog?”, which has its own Tumblr. I’ve also seen variations that include silver and/or fennec foxes that look like Rupert Graves, owls that look like Mark Gatiss and lizards that look like Andrew Scott, which is valid, because Moriarty is described as somewhat reptilian in the stories. It’s fairly popular in fanart to depict one or more of the actors as their designated animal. Another popular one is that Benedict Cumberbatch looks like a hammerhead shark (possibly originating from this post), leading to shark!lock.
Check out barachiki's photoshop madness, which is a source of crack in abundance, and reiterations of different memes, especially those founded by finalproblem. (By the way, finalproblem does Canon Fodder Friday, which goes into canon stories, and is definitely worth taking a look at.)
The inanimate objects that appear and reappear throughout the series have gained quite a bit of fan followings, even so far as getting crack!ships. Sherlock’s long, black Belstaff coat, John’s ubiquitous (some say ugly, I say comfortable) jumpers, John’s cane from the first episode, Mycroft’s umbrella, the skull on the mantelpiece (called “Billy”, according to the Casebook, but others prefer different names, including Yorick and Victor) are just a few. The riding crop from the first episode comes back sometimes too, as do Sherlock and John’s mugs.
AU!Lock is a common fanfiction and fanart trope, wherein writers and artists recreate “Sherlock” with some differing defining characteristic. Some of the most recent ones I’ve seen are Faun/Fawn!lock, Animal!lock (or insert animal of choice), Smaug!lock, Greaser!lock, Potter!lock (“Harry Potter” AU, not crossovers, which don’t typically have the exclamation point). Usually, with the suffix “!lock”, it applies to either the BBC universe or the character, and if the AU only applies to a character other than Sherlock, then the “!lock” suffix is switched with some other name. For example, “Papa!strade” is a popular tag for paternal or family Lestrade; “Bat!John” is a (pretty damn cute) recent AU with an anthropomorphized bat. Popular crossovers are Wholock, Potterlock, Avengelock, Treklock, and Superlock, or the big winner, Superwholock. A note, though: even with the more unusual AUs, there are people who are working very hard to create art (whatever the form), and should not be insulted by calling it “crazy” or “insane” or the authors “in need of series three”—if it’s not presented as crack, it shouldn’t be treated like that. Even crack art is created with the intention of art, no matter the level of humor, and should be respected.
Also, be sure to source and give credit to artists. To do so is a gross violation of common decency, and to present art without source (especially to present it as your own) or to remove watermarks is considered plagiarism and is not accepted by the fandom at large.
This is literally a show where fans will ship anyone with anyone. I’ve seen more ships than I can count. The most popular are slash ships, and are generally portmanteau names—John/Sherlock (Johnlock), Mycroft/Lestrade (Mystrade) and Moriarty/Moran (MorMor) are the most popular, with Johnlock far exceeding all others; in the latter two, the two characters in the ship have never once appeared onscreen together, especially considering the character of Colonel Sebastian Moran does not yet exist in the BBC ‘verse (we think). The "Sherlock" fandom has an armada. Yes. Everything is a ship.
If anyone was curious about series three, you should check out this Tumblr, which is really the only blog you’ll need.
That’s by no means the end of the fandom. There are depths that I don’t even know about, and items that I just didn’t have time or space to cover. But at the risk of cutting the article short (because 5,000 words is very short, I know), know that there’s plenty you can find on your own. To be honest, watching the series and interacting, even in the most minimal manner, with the fans will introduce you to a lot of the concepts, even the ones that I didn’t cover. And people have different senses of humor, too, so the memes and jokes that they include may be different from my own suggestions.
As for this series of columns, this is the last of the three “Sherlock Holmes”-related columns for Into the Hive Mind. Next week, I will be taking a very brief hiatus for spring break, but I will be returning week after with the first of two columns on “Doctor Who”, in honor of the midseason return.
In the meantime, if you're busy anxiously awaiting series three, I suggest you theorize, read or draw, or perhaps, if you're interested, check out "Cabin Pressure", "Game of Thrones" (which returns the day after "Doctor Who") "Supernatural", as these fandoms are also on the roster for the next few weeks.
Columnist Christine Bancroft can be reached here or found on Twitter here. According to her friends, if she were a “Sherlock” character, she’d be Moriarty because she looks cute and cuddly until she taps into her excessively wrathful inner rage.