Paired with another BBC import hit, “Downtown Abbey,” the popular modern update to Sherlock Holmes will air at 10pm, forming a block of British drama on Sunday nights for PBS. Also featuring Martin Freeman, star of The Hobbit trilogy of films, as Dr. Watson to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, the series has been a hit both online and for U.S. public broadcasting, paralleling its massive popularity in the UK, where it is produced. The announcement ends a long period of mystery and speculation surrounding the release of “Sherlock” Season 3, the teaser trailer for which can be viewed below.
Rising star Cumberbatch’s popularity was part of what delayed the filming of a new season. Having already played the villain in this summer’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, Cumberbatch also now has two films in theaters at once: the Oscar-bait historical drama 12 Years a Slave, and the under-performing Wikileaks story The Fifth Estate (in which Cumberbatch has received high marks for his portrayal of Julian Assange). The actor also appears alongside Freeman in The Hobbit, providing the voice and motion capture for the dragon Smaug, whose confrontation with Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins is expected to be as pivotal a scene in the film as it is in the novel.
With the series’ two leads so in-demand, including the especially hefty shooting schedule for all three Hobbit films, just getting all the series’ principals together was a challenge even before production could begin.
“The first holdup was the boys, of course, and getting all of them together,” said Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS Masterpiece, through which the BBC imports are shown, in a quote for Entertainment Weekly. “Not just Benedict and Martin but also [co-creator and “Doctor Who” showrunner] Steven Moffat and [co-creator and “League of Gentlemen” and “Game of Thrones” actor] Mark Gatiss. They had to break up the production to accommodate all the movies they wanted to make.”
The break up in production Eaton describes actually separated filming into three separate parts, unlike most TV series, which are shot continuously. Each episode of “Sherlock” is the length of a feature film, and each season features only three episodes. When the final episode of season 3 airs on February 2, the wait for fans will begin again. Eaton said, “The season isn’t 13 episodes, which we would love. They’re complicated to make and we can’t do more than that.”
The mystery of when Sherlock and Cumberbatch would return in the new season now announced to play in the U.S. this January had been source of fan speculation. Interest was fueled by the cliffhanger finale of season 2, which ended with (spoiler alert!) the titular detective leaping from the roof of a tall building in front of several witnesses and falling to his apparent death. Watson even inspected the body himself at the scene. How, fans have wondered, could Sherlock have survived?
In fact, this mystery is a large part of the reason for the particular scheduling. In previous seasons, fans in the U.S. have waited three or four months to catch “Sherlock” episodes after their broadcast in the UK. Given such a long period of time and the existence of the Internet, it has been increasingly difficult for “Sherlock” viewers outside the British Isles to avoid spoilers for upcoming episodes.
Though the UK premiere of the new Sherlock season (or “series” in British vernacular) has not been announced, it is not expected before the end of the year, meaning this time Americans will only have to wait a few weeks to catch up.
In public statements, audience-favorite Cumberbatch, whose relationship to fans online is unusually enthusiastic and close, has already revealed that Sherlock will be attending a wedding, and it is believed that this will be in the season’s second episode, featuring Dr. Watson’s marriage to the character Mary Morstan. Morstan will be played by Martin Freeman’s real-life romantic partner, actress Amanda Abbington, one of the stars of another BBC show appearing in America on PBS, “Mr. Selfridge.” Cumberbatch also said that “there’s a bonding experience that throws Sherlock and Watson back together in a very firm way.”
Though not much else is known about the third season, the names of all three of its episodes—“The Empty Hearse,” “The Sign of Three,” and “The Last Vow”—have been released, along with assurances that the first episode will reveal the secret of how Cumberbatch’s Sherlock returns when it premieres in the U.S. this January.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing