Sherlock: The Story Behind Its Success

Series writer and co-creator Mark Gatiss explains how he remade the great detective for the 21st century.

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1 | The personality

“The stuff that made us excited reading the Arthur Conan Doyle stories as children was that Sherlock was almost sociopathically rude and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He’s incapable of dealing with people in ordinary situations but also has a brilliant ability to pretend he does. Doyle often stresses how incredibly gentle and caring Sherlock is with women but in the same breath, how dismissive he is of them as a sex. He’s just pretended [at the start of the TV show’s third series] he’s been dead for two years, which is as cruel as it gets.”

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2 | The brain

“Sherlock is a brain. The rest he sees as an encumbrance. He’s only interested in problem solving but then when he meets Doctor Watson, he is gradually humanized. By the series end he is definitely a warmer human being. He is never going to be one of us but is definitely a warmer human being. He is insufferable and that’s one of his great charms. One of the tiny elements of resistance from the BBC was on the fact that he wasn't very nice. But that’s the point. It makes you want to solve him. He’s a human problem.”

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3 | The face

“We were definitely looking for a younger Holmes and Watson. Benedict was on the verge of being a star. He just looked right, slightly more Byronic than Sherlock is generally done. The illustrations of Sherlock are much more handsome than the man Doyle had in himself. I think it had an effect on the readership. There’s something Mr Darcy-like about the inapproachable man, who is not interested in you, and who therefore becomes an object of fascination.”

4 | The coat

“The coat is Belstaff, the suits from Spencer Hart. All Doyle ever says is that although Sherlock is an incredibly messy man in life – his flat is always a tip – he nevertheless has a certain quiet primness of dress. In the illustrations he is always immaculate in his coat and waistcoats. It’s very clear lines. We wanted something similar. The coat was an accident. You need a big coat for Holmes. He put that scarlet thread in the buttonhole, the scarlet thread of murder, which set it all off.”

5 | The technology

“The technology is a key element in the update. In the original stories, Holmes is an ultra-modern man. He has everything at his fingertips – sending telegrams, his massive store of data. In updating, he would now be using the internet and everything that’s now at his fingertips. Paul McGuigan, who directed the first series, didn't want to do any cutaways to phones. He thought it was clumsy. We shot episode three first and it looked brilliant. Steven Moffat was rewriting episode one so we incorporated it as a technique to show how Sherlock does it.”

6 | The setting

"Setting the show in contemporary London was a very exciting thing to do. We were interested in celebrating contemporary London and not in a picture postcard kind of way. And obviously Sherlock’s world is heightened. It’s not a police procedure show. It’s a world of lurid crimes like it always was. We have tried to find our equivalent of the smoggy, opium den London with the thrusting metropolis.”

7 | Bringing it up to date

“There were some things that were immediately apparent. They would have to call each other Sherlock and John as they wouldn't call each other by their surnames in this day and age. Sherlock wouldn't smoke a pipe because he’s only 33 but that led to lovely things like the nicotine patches he wears instead.”

8 | The friendship

“It’s called Sherlock but it was absolutely conceived as a co-lead. It’s about the pair of them. Our main intention was to get back to the importance of the friendship between Sherlock and Doctor Watson. It was really about dusting off the Victoriana. When I reread the stories, I often read the fireside bits in Baker Street and not the rest because the bits when they are just having a chat are the ones l like the best.”

Episode two of the third season of Sherlock is on BBC 1, Sunday at 8.30pm

This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our new iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand. Get your copy today by downloading the Esquire UK app to your iPad and either buying an individual copy for 99p or taking out a three-month, six-month or year’s subscription (all of which include digital copies of the monthly magazine)

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