Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

Originally written for TV Pixie

What would Conan Doyle have said about Sherlock, Steven Moffat’s reinvention of his most famous creation?

Well, after the panicked tears and the awkward ‘what do you mean, I’m dead?’ chat, he’d almost certainly have said ‘It’s really, really good, but I’m not sure why the producers decided to cast Dec from Ant & Dec as Moriarty.’

A Scandal in Belgravia picks up where the last episode left off, with Sherlock in a Mexican standoff with Moriarty beside a dimly -lit swimming pool. Hardly the Reichenbach Falls, but a suitably moody setting for Holmes’ first confrontation with his arch-nemesis, although it was all speedily resolved by a quick phone call. Possibly from the producers at ITV offering him and Ant a new programme to host… or – more likely – the protagonist of this episode, who’s revealed to have been using Moriarty as a ‘criminal consultant’ in the final scenes.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s rewind to the beginning, which was funnier than the entire festive sitcom output of the Beeb combined. Never mind Bleak Old Shop of Stuff or Ab Fab, the scene where Sherlock stubbornly pitches up at Buckingham Palace in a sheet was far more amusing than anything else that’s been on screen lately. Even Watson’s barbed asides were sharp as Withnails:

– “I said punch me in the face, didn’t you hear me?”
– “I always hear punch me in the face when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext.”

During the first half hour we were treated to a host of great gags whilst being simultaneously bamboozled by false start after false start and potential new case after case: most notably The Dead Hiker and the Fat Man. It took a fairly substantial amount of time before we finally got to the ‘real deal’: The Mystery of the Naked Dominatrix Who’s Hiding Some Dodgy Photos.

Interestingly, they’re dodgy photos of said dominatrix with a famous Royal. A female Royal. Hmm.

While this was clearly supposed to be a ‘saucy’ updating of the original Conan Doyle story which saw Adler blackmail the King of Bohemia, none of our current options for a sex-starved female royal appeal. In fact, the only female royal famous enough to warrant such panicked intervention from the secret services would be Princess Anne. Or possibly HRH herself… and who wants to think about Liz Windsor being hogtied and whipped by a corseted woman?

Actually, don’t answer that.

Handily, when we finally encounter (a naked) Irene Adler, she wants to know who killed the hiker: a case that was left hanging slightly earlier. This means we get to learn whodunnit and tie up that particular loose end and see Irene’s formidable intelligence at the same time. Talk about killing two hikers with the same boomerang…

After that, twists and deductions are fired at us faster than Roadrunner in a Harrier jet. Appropriately, Sherlock’s flat is above a cafe called ‘Speedy’s’, but for all his quick-wittery he’s still denser than coal when it comes to women. And it’s women – or rather, The Woman – who are at the heart of this whole mystery. A woman’s heart, her measurements, a quickening pulse…

And it almost destroys him: women are his weakest subject, after all. After the sports round in the pub quiz, that is. No one’s ever good at that.

We’re given clues that sex and all things female are at the root of the problem throughout. People repeatedly ask if Sherlock has ever been in any kind of relationship and we watch as Holmes messes up Watson’s date. Not to mention the fact that (in the most cringe-inducing scene of the episode) Holmes manages to deduce that his pet pathologist Molly has her sights on someone without realising it’s him. Until he’s embarrassed and insulted her in front of everyone in a scene that makes him look less tactful than a herd of Clarksons.

However, all this talk of sex and sexuality was rather confused by less-than-clear inclinations of both Adler and Holmes. Initially introduced to us as someone who – to use the Sun’s terminology – ‘romps’ with both women and men, she tells Watson she’s gay while at the same time falling in love with Sherlock. While on the other hand Sherlock is, as usual, intriguingly asexual… although we’ve had more than a few hints that he might be a friend of Barrowman.

Unlike nearly everything else in this episode, it wasn’t handled terribly well. Why make Irene gay if the plot hinged on her falling in love with Sherlock? It made her sexuality (so central to the character) seem like a throwaway, disposable thing. It may well have been an attempt to spice things up whilst also misleading the audience, but instead having her fall for him just diluted her character, making her seem rather weak: a confused ‘damsel in distress’ rather that a formidable opponent.

But for all that Irene Adler was a double crossing pain in the bottom (literally), it was deeply pleasing when, in the final twist, she was revealed to have been saved from a Karachi beheading by a turbaned Holmes. Again, it forces her into a ‘damsel’ role, but she’s far too strong a character to be allowed such an unpleasant end – even if she had been learning how to be a arch-criminal from Declan ‘Moriarty’ Donnelly. Hopefully we’ll see her again.

At the end of the day, the only relationship with a woman our acid-tongued, faintly camp protagonist needs is with his doughty and formidable housekeeper Mrs Hudson. Ok, she might not be much use at the whole whip-wielding thing, but she knows how to hide a phone from angry CIA agents: a much more useful skill. And she’s 100% less likely to try and seduce our elderly monarch.


About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at

8 Responses to Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

  1. Nic says:

    No no no. I had hoped you wouldn’t address the ‘comfortable shoe’ argument. I thought Irene being gay made the falling in love all about the mind and not about her sex. It was a mental not physical love affair.

    I’m also the only on that thinks Andrew Scott makes a perfect Moriaty. Small men are surely the best unpredictable psychopaths? Much like Robert Carlisle in Trainspotting.

  2. I’m with Hilary on the Moriarty characterisation/casting. Moriarty always had an ego to match Sherlock’s own and I can’t see it in Andrew Scott. I can see Nic’s argument on the Irene being gay, or just bi for the plot to work. And I might mention comments made previously about one David Tennant to this review’s author 🙂

    • Hilary Wardle says:

      The gay thing was more confusing than anything else: her feelings for Sherlock seemed to coincide with her losing her edge and becoming a bit…regular. I’m entirely a believer in the fluidity of sexuality, but I liked her more when she was a whip-wielding badass rather than a confused Holmes-lover. I also felt it was a bit of an odd decision to have her state her gayness when bisexuality seemed to make more sense, plot-wise.

      Always happy to have a bit of a debate in the comments though!

  3. Hilary Wardle says:

    @GBB you’re quite right. I just panicked as the plot was making me confront my own confused feelings for David Tennant. LOVELY DAVID TENNANT. I’d rename my phone password after him, phwoar.

    • Nic says:

      All things considered its still probably the best the BBC will produce all year. I’m a fan of brainy being the new sexy so we can all have our fill of Mark Gatiss attempt of the Hounds next week.

  4. Ian Dunn says:

    In my house we assumed the royal princess who enjoyed being punished was Kate Middleton. Would be suitably scandalous.
    Anyway this was bloody good fun. I especially enjoyed Mark Gattis as Mycroft.

  5. Tim says:

    I’m in two minds about Adler. Yes, having her fall for Sherlock does undermine her a bit, as does having Sherlock pull off a damsel-in-distress rescue. But equally the fact that he did so in the first place when he had absolutely no need to surely demonstrates that if Irene shows weakness by falling for him, then the mere act of rescuing her proves that Sherlock had also developed feelings for her. Who else has exposed this weakness in Sherlock? Surely not a ‘weak’ woman?

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