Uncollected Thoughts: Gotham


There’s getting to be a lot of comic-book based shows on TV all of a sudden, and it’s interesting to see that Channel Five have taken up the two newest, taking a gamble on both The Flash and Gotham. I’ve already given my opinion on the former, which has yet to start in the UK, but Gotham‘s already made a heady start, pulling down an audience that exceeded Channel Four and BBC2.

Of course, the one word reason for Gotham‘s pulling power is, ironically, the one word that will never ever be spoken on the series (not unless they do something incredibly stupid, that is), and that word is *Batman*. Because the point of Gotham is that it’s not about Batman. It’s about the city that creates him, about the years that lead to his first appearance, about the slow disintegration of the city to where it needs Batman, and about the Police and villains as they slowly grow or deteriorate into the people who populate Batman’s world.

Which makes Gotham pretty much a Police-procedural, albeit it with a difference. And instead of Bruce Wayne being at the heart of it, the centre is – and had better remain if this is going to work at all – Commissioner Gordon. Or, as he currently is, newly-promoted, new-to-Gotham Detective James Gordon.

Before watching the pilot episode, I did read one or two responses, one of which pretty much nailed to the wall the total absence of Batman as the over-riding weakness in the concept. Certainly, a lot of the comments I’ve read on the actual episode do ring with the disappointment of it not being about the Caped Crusader, even though that’s the whole point.

However, watching it for myself, I’m certainly ready to give it a few weeks’ extra chances, my main reason being Ben McKenzie’s determined and direct performance as Jim Gordon, which I enjoyed. The episode – which begins with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the orphaning of their twelve year old son Bruce – throws a hell of a lot in, too much to be honest, mostly aimed at giving the naive and honest Gordon an idea of where Gotham stands and what he and the audience has to expect.

Basically: the Waynes get murdered and Gordon, and his senior partner and potentially corrupt guide to hell, Harvey Bullock, catch the case. When it goes nowhere, Bullock enlists the aid of rising gangboss Fish Mooney who sets up a patsy. This set-up is leaked to Major Crimes Detectives Montoya and Allen by Fish’s underling, Oswald Cobblepot. When Gordon learns of this, he insists on challenging Fish, who has him and Bullock set-up for a grisly death that is only halted by Carmine Falcone, the crimeboss of Gotham. Falcone wants Gordon in the ‘programme’: he can live provided he executes Cobblepot. Gordon is smart enough to make it look like he does so whilst letting Cobblepot live.

So far, so(deliberately) unspectacular, but promising. The tone is set, the challenge laid down, Gordon’s path shown to be incredibly difficult to walk. The fun, we hope, will be in watching him walk it.

Where the episode was OTT was in its rush to throw in as many future supervillains as it could, at least a decade before Bruce Wayne can possibly become that person we’re not going to mention but can’t stop thinking about. Oswald Cobblepot is already being called the Penguin by Fish and her thugs. And coronor Edward Nygma, with his fetish for riddles, is too blatant. A young street/rooftop woman thief doesn’t even have to speak for us to know her as the future Catwoman, and the nervous stand-up comedian is apparently just the first of mny hints as to who might become the Joker.

That’s where I feel Gotham is betraying a serious weakness. As long as they don’t go too overboard with the city-crying-out-for-someone-to-save-it stuff, making the absence of Batman into too much of a theme, this can work. But if Batman truly can’t arrive for, say, another decade, then it seems very short-sighted to be setting up major villains with their key characteristics so fast.

How Gotham intends to deal with time, I don’t yet know. As we’ve already got a 12 year old actor playing the 12 year old Bruce Wayne, I assume each season will represent a year. That’s why Walt had to be written out of Lost: because show-time was so incredibly slow in comparison to child-actor-growing-up-and-I-do-mean-up! time. To accommodate David Mazouz,something of that sort will be required.

It’ll also be interesting to see the core audience react to Gotham packing in Batman supporting characters whilst not being strictly faithful to their roles in the comics. Especially Alfred.

Basicaly, though, I enjoyed it and thought it has potential. If I change my mind, I’m sure I’ll let you know.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash


DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.

Uncollected Thoughts: Terry Pratchett – Dragon’s at Crumbling Castle


Pratchett

The first of two Pratchett books due for publication this year, Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of fourteen children’s stories written by Pratchett when he was a young journalist, and published between 1966 and 1973 in the ‘Children’s Circle’ section of the Bucks Free Press. There’s been some minor tinkering with the originals, to make them less dated – references to the Lottery and the Council Tax – but otherwise these stories have not been interefered with since their original publication. This is very much ‘prentice work from Pratchett, and his introduction hints that he would have preferred to keep these buried and forgotten, and on the evidence of the first couple of pages of the title story, that would indeed have been the wisest course.

These are not children’s stories as Pratchett has written them during his professional career: Johnny Maxwell, the nomes, Nation. These are k children’s stories to be read by fathers and grandfathers to toddlers on their laps, until they reach the age of about seven. They lack even the merest scintilla of depth, the lines are only marginally less spaced out than in a board book, and even then are bulked out to 336 pp by applications of large, shouty letters in a fantastical variety of typography and a constant stream of sub-Quentin Blake illustrations.

When Pratchett agreed to have his debut novel, The Carpet People, (written during this period) reissued, he insisted first on a thorough re-write. Frankly, he should not have let these stories out without doing the same, though to be honest I doubt there’s enough in any of them to provide a basis for a better treatment. Not even the two ‘Carpet People’ tales reprinted here, which are the most substantial of the bunch, and the only ones to come anywhere near suggesting the foreshadow of the adult Pratchett peering through the fog.

I shalln’t be keeping this book: in fact, it was listed on e-Bay less than eighteen hours after I bought it. It’s for two classes of people only: Terry Pratchett completists, and the parents, grandparents and uncles of children aged seven and under who still think sitting on laps to have stories read to them is a cool way to spend their time.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Twelfth Doctor


I’ve been here before – five years ago, was it? A new Doctor, Matt Smith, the Eleventh. What would he be like? Would the show be better under Stephen Moffat than the turgid treacliness of the last half hour of David Tennant under Russell T. Davies?

Funnily enough, those weren’t the questions in my head. The only question I had was: did Karen Gillan look as good onscreen as her photos suggested? To which the answer was a decided yes, plus I loved the accent, and that Matt Smith seemed interesting in his own right.

After not having watched the series regularly since the days of Baker (C), I found myself back with Doctor Who. And, with a few reservations here and there, usually in the places where everybody else was cheering, I’ve enjoyed the ride, none more so than in that final sequence of stories: The Name of the Doctor,The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor.

So here we are, with another new Doctor to assess: Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the oldest Doctor, a reversal of New Who policy, an experiment in changing more than just the face of the Doctor. And unlike five years ago, I was watching the start of this new series for the Doctor himself, and not his companion. Though they are both Scots, so I suppose the difference isn’t that great.

And?

Well, I could start by saying that they had me at the moment the Dinosaur wading down the Thames hacked, and coughed up the Tardis. Then Strax knocks on the door, and the Doctor pops his head out and says, “Shush!” and shuts the door again (and when are we going to get the Madame Vastri, Jenny and Strax soin-off, Moffat? Come on, we will not be patient forever). And they did. I was on the hook and ready to be wound in.

But by the end of this extended introductory episode, things were different. By then I was no longer roaring with laughter, and fully into the swing of the old madness once more. Because, as the episode deftly progressed, that was the madness of Matt Smith, of Number Eleven. There’s always a perod of unsettlement with Re-generations, as the Doctor’s new form shapes his mind in the new direction it will take, with the old self acting as a conduit. Capaldi made an excellent job of hosting the spirit of Smith, especially in some of the early boasts he was making, ruffling the startled Clara’s feathers.

And this section of the programme confronted explicitly some of the questions about Capaldi’s appointment, the abrupt (and chancey) reversion to the Doctor as an adult, almost grandfatherly figure. From Clara’s doubts, her instinctive shying away from the stranger, her unconcealed distaste for the lined face and the grey hair, her conviction that she didn’t know the Doctor any more, to Twelve’s own confusions about himself and how he looks.

Adroitly, given that Capaldi has already twice appeared in the series with other Doctors, this was dealt with by Twelve trying to recollect where he’d seen his face before, and asking himself the rhetorical question about why he’d chosen this one? Interesting word, ‘chosen’. But did not the Curator himself all but state outright that he had chosen to return to a favourite face, or were our nostalgic tears brimming too much at that moment? I’d like to see that investigated a little deeper, Mr Moffat, the extent to which a Re-generating Doctor can choose his new incarnation.

But once he began to concentrate, Capaldi’s Doctor began to take on gravitas. The Smithian flipness dropped away, the confusion realigned itself, and the new Doctor, a more serious, and darker version, began to take shape. With age, Capaldi brings gravitas back to the role. What’s more, he’s set a theme for this series: he’s lived for over 2,000 years, during which time he’s made mistakes: it’s time to go and sort them out.

I’ve not really discussed the plot, as it wasn’t really what mattered in this episode. It was just a vehicle for Twelve to emerge, just as the Victorian setting was a welcome excuse to have the Paternoster Gang around (spin-off! spin-off! spin-off!) as well as a basis for Capaldi’s ‘costume’ as Twelve. Though it can’t be completely ignored: the Doctor persuades the big bad villain, the Half-Faced Man to accept death, though we are left ignorant of the final detail of jump or push. But it leads to a beautiful moment at the end, when the Half-Faced Man finds himself taking tea in a delightful garden, with a familiar dark-haired woman, talking of her ‘boyfriend’: if I say she’s an uncredited Suranne Jones, would you recognise her?

Boyfriend. That’s a loaded word now. Clara, 27 years old and looking pretty darned pretty in her twenty-first century cardigan/blouse/short skirt/opaque tights ensemble, is very unsure about continuing her journey without Eleven’s youthful buoyancy. Twelve solemnly tells her, he’s not her boyfriend (but we know whose he is, don’t we?). And then, in an unheralded cameo, we get Matt Smith on the line, moments before Re-generating, basically pleading the Impossible Girl to stay with Twelve and help him.

It’s a bit weepy and manipulative, and it’s the one thing in the whole episode that I found to be a bit dodgy, and a bit of a nervous let-down: did we really need a bit of Eleven just to buttress things? Are we that nervous about the new direction?

On the whole, I think I’m going to enjoy this new incarnation, and I’m certain the series needs to row back a bit on the daffiness of Smith. In the end, though, Deep Breath was a transition episode and we haven’t seen all that much yet of what it’s transitioning into. It took me three weeks befoe concluding that I really did not like the Davies/Eccleston Doctor. We’re on the brink here, but I think the balance will tip the right way.

 

Salamander: Fairly considered Thoughts


Maverick cop, check.

Practically anything was going to struggle if asked to follow the second series of The Bridge, which set the bar for great television incredibly high for anything else in 2014 to measure up to. After two weeks, and four episodes, Belgium’s Salamander is not going to cut it.
However, let’s try to assess BBC4’s first essay in Belgian crime thrillers in its own right, and see whether it’s worth watching for himself.
Frankly, I’m disappointed. After opening with a superbly executed, very detailed and absorbing theft from the private Jonkaere Bank, the series has gone downhill from the moment it introduced its hero, Chief Inspector Philip Gerardi (played by Filip Peeters).
Gerardi is a maverick cop, from the top of his silvery, curling, unkempt hair to the bottom of his jeans. You don’t have to watch him in action to know it, the look of him telegraphs it. And that, by itself, is the big giveaway as to what is fundamentally flawed about this series.
The plot, so far, is that the safe deposit accounts robbed – 66 in total – belong to a cartel of powerful and influential Belgians in positions of public, political, industrial, financial and royal power. They belonged to an exclusive, long-established cartel known as Salamander. The safe deposit boxes contain personal items that can be used to blackmail the owners: exposure of so many would destroy Belgium as a country.
Therefore the theft, and any investigation of it, must be carried out in conditions of the strictest secrecy. And that’s where Gerardi comes in. In his quiet, understated way, Gerardi is the proverbial bull in search of a china shop. He’s a dedicated cop: people have died covering this operation up, and their killers must be brought to justice, no matter who they are. He’s been suspended, threatened, his wife and 15 year old daughter harassed, and had to take refuge in a monastery, but Gerardi is pure of heart and motive and will not give in.
Which is exactly the problem with Salamander: it’s so utterly conventional. Four episodes in and I know that there will be nothing in this series that will surprise me in any way.
Currently the two big mysteries are what, exactly, is Salamander and what does it do (which seems likely to be no more than the obvious, namely that it’s an association of the rich and powerful intent on ensuring that they remain the rich and powerful, and that nobody who looks to become rich and powerful can do so without being co-opted), and who has gotten all this damaging material; and what do they intend doing with it?
This latter is, to date, the more intriguing of the questions: we see the break-on leader coolly addressing and posting envelopes, to devastating effect, but that’s all we know. At the moment, that’s the main thing keeping me from doing something else on Saturday nights, in the hope that this will prove to be interesting in some way.
Another thing that disappointed me in the first week is the absence of strong female characters. That’s something that the Scandi-dramas have done superbly: not merely placed female characters front and centre, but to have done so in so matter of fact a manner, as if it is no big thing, which has been great to watch. So far, Salamander has given us exactly three female roles of any significance: Gerardi’s wife Sarah, who is frustrated at the amount of time he spends working as opposed to with his family, who once had a short affair with Gerardi’s ex-partner Carl Cassimon (who has now become a monk, but not necessarily a good one), his daughter Sofie, who is devoted to her father but, having now guessed about her mother’s affair, has run away into night-time Brussels, and, introduced in episode 3, Madame Karin Rasenberg, wife of Salamander member Guy Rasenberg, who has taken the traditional immediate shine to the maverick detective and who seems eager to help him against her husband.
None of then have yet made any substantial impression on the course of events: Sarah and Sofie in particular seem only to be capable of reacting to things.
Looking at the trailers for episode five, it looks like they’re going to make a meal of the apparent killing and disposal of Gerardi, who is in the hands of the secret forces controlled by Public Prosecutor Persigal – another of the Salamander 66 – but who has refused to work for him to find out who is behind this. Meanwhile, Cassimon is helping Sarah look for Sofie, despite the fact that Sarah seems more eager to jump back into bed with him than to find a fifteen year old loose on the mean streets of Brussels.
Salamander may yet improve. It’s got a lot to do though to achieve that.

The Bridge 2: Uncollected Thoughts


This isn’t going to be one of those full-scale, first impression analyses that usually go under the rubric of Uncollected Thoughts, more of a gosh-wow-holy-fuck sort of reaction to the kind of thing that, if there was more of it around, would have me looking for somewhere to wedge a TV into this pokey living space of mine.

For the past four weeks, like a million or so discerning others, I’ve spent large chunks of my Saturday evenings watching The Bridge series 2 on BBC4, all sub-titles and all, just like I’ve done with The Killing (x3) and Borgen (x3). I watched the first series, a year back, and loved the interaction between its stars, Kim Bodnia as Danish Police Detective Martin Rohde and Sofia Helin as Swedish Police Detective Saga Noren. It had its flaws, such as one particular red herring plot that got too big to contain and instead just got shut off, but overall, the stunning ending, and the performances of irs two leading lights made superb drama.

As evidenced by the clueless, inept, carbon copy plotting of the British-French remake, The Tunnel, which got a lot of praise from people who had no idea just how big a rip-off it sought to be of the original, nor who had any idea of the weight and life given to Martin and Saga by Bodnia and Helin, which Stephen Dillane and especially the hopeless Clemence Poesy couldn’t begin to even dream of matching.

As for series 2, though, which has combined complex and intricate eco-terrorism plottings with an amazing number of personal stories, not least those of Martin and Saga themselves, this started strong and just got better and better with every double-episode, until tonight’s finale just crackled with unbearable tension, leading to an ending that will have us all churning our minds to think of a way of getting out of that.

Throughout it (except in the moments I was screaming mad at my connection running slow or dropping out), I couldn’t help thinking at every moment that if there was one piece of British Drama that you could given an unequivocal 10 to, The Bridge would rate somewhere around 300. It can’t be that difficult to create television of that quality, we used to do it all the time. But then that was whem we trusted our audiences to understand up to the level of our shows’ intelligence.

The ending, when it came, was foreseeable from the outset of the final episode: the crucial clue was casually presented but nonetheless immediately noticeable, and both Saga and Martin acted as they had to, foreordained by who they were and what they had experienced, understanding the necessity of it for each other.

The writers have set themselves an even higher bar that Sherlock series 2 when it comes to getting out of that one convincingly.

Fi9nally, now that it’s over and I can go on Wikipedia to check out the casting without stumbling on a spoiler, let me just say that Tova Magnusson, who played Viktoria Nordgren, not only acted the part superbly but was bloody gorgeous to look at, and it’s nice to put a name to the eyes (and other associated features).

Sherlock: series 3, episode 3 – Uncollected Thoughts


A monster

I want to say that this is the episode that answers all the critics of series 3, that was all that we hope for and expect from Sherlock, and there is so much of this story that would make it absolutely right to begin by crowing that, and shaking a fist at those who have expressed their disgust at the series so far. Yet I’d be dishonest, guilty of simplification, if I were to do so. For, what, forty five minutes approximately, His Last Vow was on course for just such an outcome but then there was…

Was something I can’t define, even to myself, not yet. It seemed as if the programme lost focus, became detached from its narrative thrust, and for a long period it seemed to float, removed entirely from any motivating force. It ceased to move, as if caught in an eddy, away from the downstream flow, and we became trapped in that eddy, for much too long.

Yes, I think that’s the appropriate metaphor for what I felt. What we were treated to during this eddy was, frequently, brilliant of itself. But it was a stall, and not until the decision was taken, by John Watson, to forgive and accept his mystery of a wife,could the episode begin to move forward again. And as soon as it did, the episode once again took on the mark of genius that had sustained it for its first half.

First thing to say is that all my dire expectations about Mary Watson and her death were confounded entirely. Two people died in this episode, and two people came back to life – and one character cropped up in both lists and he’s the one with his name above the door, which wasn’t what we expected – but Mary Watson was not one of the dead. Nor was she the character I suddenly flashed on her being, during the bit where Sherlock was tricking her into spilling the beans to John, a flash of intuition that had me saying “oh, fuck” whilst I was revealing that I was being a bit too obvious about such things.

So, how do we describe this story? The first thing to say was that it depicted a monster, a true, unalloyedly evil monster, a creature of power and venality, of control, brilliantly incarnated by guest star Lars Mikkelsen. I know Lars from his role as the charismatic Troels Hartman in the first series of The Killing, a seeming good man, a hero, and yet self-centred, self-obsessed, unable to see beyond his own advantage and ultimately a monster.

But not such a monster as here, as Charles Arthur Magnussen, newspaper proprietor, Napoleon of Blackmail and a character who does whatever he wishes in the knowledge that he owns everyone. Mikkelsen was not just cold and precise, using only the faintest hint of a Danish accent, but he was creepy as hell. The early scene when he licks Lindsay Duncan’s face, just because no-one can stop him, established him as something not human. After that, his pissing in Sherlock’s fireplace as he and John stand by was comic with a very sharp edge, and his game with John’s face at the end, in which he let slip the callousness enough to show that he was enjoying himself, was icing on the cake.

This came on top of his revelation that his ‘Vaults’, into which he would disappear to search for material, making curiously precise yet stylised hand-movements, was a Mind Palace equivalent to Sherlock’s. The revelation that there never were, and never had been, physical documents to retrieve did set up the obvious conclusion, yet even there I got it wrong as I expected John to put a bullet through Magnussen’s head, instead of Sherlock: mentally outwitted but taking the curiously obvious step.

Magnusson was the river. We rode its currents from the improbable start of finding Sherlock in a drug’s den, the hugely comic spectacle of everyone homing in on him to protect him from exposure, in the face of his weary claims that he was undercover, working a case: creating a Pressure Point for Magnussen to ‘use’ against him. The big laugh was that Magnussen, the kind of guy who, Sherlock-fashion, analyses everyone he meets for what he’s got on them before identifying said Pressure Point, had a torrent of red lines for Sherlock, zipping by too fast to be seen or even counted!

So the clues were there for us, if not Sherlock, to see all along, that there were no Vaults, not real ones. Sherlock pursues the retrieval of certain documents, going so far as to acquire a girl-friend (Magnussen’s PA) in order to get inside his flat (another lovely comic improbability, though by the end we do learn he hadn’t actually gone so far as to shag her). Inside, he finds Magnusson with a gun to his head, pointed by a black-clad figure wearing Claire-de-Lune perfume. The sleazy Magnussen had already impressed upon us that Lady Smallwood (Duncan’s character) wears Claire-de-Lune, but it’s also dropped in, in passing, that so does Mary Watson. And though Sherlock calls on Lady Smallwood to stop, when she turns it is Mary.

And she shoots him.

Now, of necessity, the storyline stops here, for a bravura sequence in which Sherlock, in the three seconds he has before collapsing, manages with the aid of Mycroft and Molly Hooper – not to mention the late Jim Moriarty, played to manic perfection by Andrew Scott – oh how I miss him – to self-diagnose how best to keep himself from dying. Yet die he does, his heart stopping on the operating table, until he’s spurred on by the desire not to be Moriarty into returning to life.

Now all this creates a situation that then takes precedence, forcing the story for a long period, into an essentially static eddy. John’s wife – who Sherlock has already categorised as a liar, who can recognise skip codes and has a bloody good memory of her own, is being black-mailed by Magnussen and has come close to killing our hero. Who is she? What is she? Why?

We never do get those answers, and we’re better for it, as these are all questions that are better put in the past tense: was, not is. What little we are allowed to share sounds grim, yet to Sherlock his Vow takes precedence. She loves John, and John needs her: she saved his life (by a shot so precise that it did not kill, and by calling the ambulance before John found him).

This is the sequence that basically pulls me up short from praising the episode unceasingly: that and the moment where I threatened to disconnect entirely, when John demands to know why it always seems to be his fault, and Sherlock explains that it is, because John is addicted to danger, which his why his best friend is a highly-functioning sociopath and he’s fallen in love with a psychopath. Oh well, if you put it that way…

Nevertheless, the episode gets itself back on track with its ending, with Sherlock’s desperately risky plan to bring Magnussen down, that leads to the revelation of the Mind Palace and the tormenting of John Watson (who has his gun on him and who knows that a bullet to the brain will destroy Magnussen’s hold over his wife). But again we are confounded, for it is Sherlock who takes the necessary, and not necessarily regrettable step.

His lot is exile, to an undercover role that Mycroft predicts will kill him in six months time. There’s a few parting words with John, in which the two have almost nothing to say, having done all this before, a private flight into exile and the closing credits begin without the slightest suggestion of an end-of-series cliffhanger…

Except that the credits turn into a pub TV showing football but experiencing interference. The same interference everyone is seeing, all over Britain, at the same time, which causes an awful lot of reactions and which is directly responsible for Sherlock’s exile being cut short after a record-breaking four minutes. It’s a face and a voice: it’s Andrew Scott, it’s Jim Moriarty.”Miss Me?” he asks. And oh but I did.

All I ask now is that somehow Messrs Moffat, Gatiss, Cumberbatch and Watson, not to mention Ms Abbington, get their act together to let us see this in 2015 because I seriously do not want to wait two years to see how they got out of that (although I suppose there’s a certain irony to it: this year’s cliffhanger is almost identical to 2012’s, and look what consternation that caused!).