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Over the past few years, producer Steven Moffat has emerged as the Midas of British television, taking the reins on the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who and creating, with Mark Gatiss, a compelling and wildly successful modern take on Sherlock Holmes, airing on BBC One in the U.K. and PBS in the U.S.. Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Moffat, Gatiss and producer Sue Vertue took to the stage to talk about all things Sherlock, including a bit of gossip about stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
The panel opened with a video of Cumberbatch and Freeman greeting fans. “Ask lots of belligerent, badgering questions,” Freeman said. Cumberbatch’s video began with him talking about his film roles before getting to Sherlock. “But that’s television?” he asked, feigning confusion. He said two episodes of Sherlock Series 3 have been shot, with the final one filming soon. He also joked that, being “sick of two years of not being able to tell anybody who I’m playing or what it’s about, fuck it, I’m going to tell you how Sherlock survived.” But, of course, the video read “signal lost,” although he could be seen acting out a sequence with teddy bears. Gatiss joked that Cumberbatch did actually explain it with the bears.
On working out the resurrection itself, Moffat said, “This is going to be ridiculous, people are going to be so cross.” But, “That’s when it got really fun.”
He added that the solution is something you could figure out from what’s been shown. “Yes, what’s taking you so long?” Gattiss added, “There are only a few ways you can jump off the roof and survive.”
The answer to Sherlock’s survival was plotted out at the time of the death sequence in Series 2. Moffat added that, “I don’t think that’s what people most want to see, because that’s just an answer. But the time when Holmes and Watson meet again, that’s the showstopper.”
Andrew Scott will return for flashback sequences as Moriarty. However, Gatiss, who also plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, said he’s really dead. “He shot himself through the brainstem; you don’t come back from that.” He added there was speculation that Moriarty was alive because “you don’t see the back of his head come off.” “This is BBC One, there are some things we still can’t show.”
Then, Moffat: “Do you think they were up on the rooftop and fake-suicided at each other?”
Gatiss said Watson won’t forgive Sherlock right away, as he did in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. He said the showrunners are also inspired by The Secret Files of Sherlock Holmes by Billy Wilder, with Mycroft as “the British government, but the sinister side of the British government.” But, he added, “it’s from a place of caring.”
While Cumberbatch previously said BBC had signed for a fourth series, it wasn’t quite true at the time – but Vertue confirmed it has now been commissioned, although they don’t yet know when it will air.
Announced episodes for Series 3 are “The Empty Hearse” and “The Sign of Three,” with the latter title referring to Watson’s new love interest. “Hot off the press, 110 years ago, John Watson does get married,” Moffat said. As the moderator asked if this means Sherlock will need a new roommate, Moffat joked, “Who said he’s moving out? Sherlock would think, ‘Why are you living with her?”
Moffat said fans who know their on-screen personas might be surprised to learn that, as people, “Benedict is the goofy one. Martin is the more dry, sardonic one.”
The panel then showed scenes from the second episode of Series 3, with Watson asking Holmes to be his best man. The situation plays out as awkwardly and as hilariously as one would expect, garnering more than a few “awwwws” from the audience.
Returning to the discussion, Moffat said he doesn’t really think Sherlock is a sociopath, but “He finds a convenient way of getting away with things.” Gatiss said that Sherlock encountering Moriarty led the character to realize, “No, I really am on the side of angels.”
Gatiss didn’t address how or whether Sherlock’s reputation will be redeemed, but said, “We can’t spend three episodes going over what happened last time.”
The production schedule, Gatiss said, works well for the actors because they can “go away and make a couple movies — or in Martin’s case, one really long movie — and then come back.” Moffat added that the regular television schedule has actors making many episodes each year “until everybody gets sick of it,” but this way the actors can keep doing a show they enjoy.
Moffat said that most Conan Doyle stories “would only give you about 20 minutes of screen time,” but there are moments from several that he’d like to incorporate, including “from some that aren’t very good.” One example was “The Engineer’s Thumb,” “which ends rather abruptly, I think because someone came round his house and said, ‘Do you fancy a game of cricket?'”
Asked whether Cumberbatch putting on weight for other roles “makes him look less like Sherlock Holmes,” Vertue said he wears it well and it’s never been a problem. But Moffat added that “people get more attractive as they get more famous.”
A fan suggested Cumberbatch as the Master in Doctor Who, to which Moffat responded, “Don’t you think my life is complicated as it is?” The fan then asked who would solve a crime more quickly, Batman, the Doctor or Sherlock Holmes. “Batman would be utterly lost,” Moffat said. And, “I think the crime wouldn’t get solved while they had a bitch fight.”
Moffat said Series 3 would be “slightly more human,” and would have “scenes we wouldn’t even have contemplated in earlier series.” Gatiss added that “some of our favorite stuff is in this series.” “What if Sherlock was John’s best man? It’s just an inherently funny concept.”