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The Great Game   * S1E3

Directed By
Running Time
90 minutes
Written By
First UK Broadcast
08 August 2010
(7.3 million viewers)

Returned from a pointless case in Belarus, the calibre of criminal seems to have dropped in the eyes of Sherlock Holmes. After an apparent gas explosion next door, even a case of seek and find for some stolen missile plans, given to him by his brother Mycroft, fails to peak his interest. John Watson takes that on privately, while Sherlock suddenly finds his worthy distraction - a clinical and brilliant bomber holding people hostage, their lives subject to the solving of a series of riddles.

Sherlock and John race around the capital trying to outpace their mysterious foe, but it all comes down to the first confrontation between them and the man who stands revealed as Sherlock's ultimate opponent: Moriarty.


A relentless, ferocious, dark and highly funny ninety minutes, 'The Great Game' is memorable for finally pitting this version of Sherlock against his most famous and indeed dangerous nemesis. As Jim Moriarty, Andrew Scott was divisive on the first airing of the episode, but is undeniably not what you were expecting. Far from a shadowy moustachioed villain, this Jim is high pitched, keen edged and darkly amusing, but still somehow hugely threatening and provocative – a gigantic departure from what your mind’s eye imagined this most famous of opponents to be. The masterstroke of the performance is Jim’s earlier appearance in the episode, literally hiding in plain sight from the characters and the audience – nondescript, not giving a hint that this is the world’s finest Consulting Criminal – no need for shadows when you can adapt to any situation, exactly like Sherlock.

Once again directed by Paul McGuigan, though actually the first to be filmed after the series was commissioned following the Pilot, the episode is nigh on exhausting in its pacing, flying from case to case in a chase that leads our two heroes across London. Sherlock and John form an effective team, one going after a lead before being followed up by the other. Reconfiguring the Greenwich Pips countdown used by BBC Radio to mark the start of the hour – and indeed, as they decrease in number becoming a nod to the Conan Doyle story ‘The Five Orange Pips’ - Moriarty’s diabolical forced phone calls are at times genuinely chilling and uncomfortable viewing, the micro cases they produce testing Sherlock to the mental – and in the memorable fight with the Golem – physical limit.

A work of breathlessly brilliant writing from Mark Gatiss, the episode is completely laden with references to numerous Conan Doyle stories, from the missing missile plans that are drawn from ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans’, asides from ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ – including the amendment of Sherlock's original “I’d be lost without my Boswell” to the modern pun of “I’d be lost without my Blogger” – and Sherlock’s apparent ignorance of the solar system which appeared in ‘A Study in Scarlet’, to the aforementioned Pips, and the wholesale lifting of dialogue from ‘The Final Problem’ in the closing scene, Gatiss weaves the most complex narrative of the series into a startling cohesive and thrilling whole. More than any of the other episodes, this rewards repeat viewings the most.

And ultimately, yes, it does come down to that final scene. Undoubtedly one of the cruellest television cliff-hangers conceived in years – at least until the final scene of 'The Reichenbach Fall' anyway – it’s a work of extreme cunning and pitch perfect highly strung tension, with multiple possible avenues of escape for all concerned, but only one definitive answer...