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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride Spoiler-free review * 01 January 2016

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After two years of waiting, we have taken a parallel side step that still propels us forwards.

What transpires in this 90 minutes was so top secret the press weren't allowed to view the completed episode before its first airing on BBC One and in UK cinemas. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is crowd pleasing and rather self indulgent (while all the better for it), razor sharp in the scripting, tangled in the narrative, occasionally broad in the comedy, all while capable of cutting to the heart of the characters in new and exciting ways.  

Indeed, the characterisation is resolutely familiar to the canon stories, while also forging ahead with the characters as we know them in the series. It's an incredible feat by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, playful and daring in equal measure. Sherlock and John are gone, Holmes and Watson are instead present and correct. Benedict Cumberbatch is a stiller presence as this version of Holmes, clipped, often polite and full of acid wit, but still frequently curt and losing none of the brilliance. Watson meanwhile is a boiling kettle of frustration coupled with gentlemanly honour and more human observation, clearly essential to Holmes in ways even he does not realise - there is genuine concern for his friend here, both emotional and stern, and not unwilling to stage an intervention when necessary.   

Always known as a television show rich in cinematic flair, The Abominable Bride ramps this up still further in full justification of its cinema release. This episode looks utterly ravishing in the hands of director Douglas Mackinnon, not least thanks to the work of production designer Arwel Jones and costume designer Sarah Arthur in ensuring that the world onscreen feels truly Victorian. Despite the old-fashioned looks though, there's no way you could mistake this story as glacial in the telling. The episode features some rollicking, action packed adventure, fashioned around a genuinely chilling ghost story that has other concerns bubbling along under the surface.  

There are numerous other observations that rocket to mind. It is intrinsically a cutting look at Victorian gender politics, sometimes in laugh out loud, show stopping form; in others, emotional tragedy. Appearances of numerous characters who never appeared in the trailers is a very conscious decision. The new, period ways of implementing the trademark onscreen graphics are works of subtle, clever genius. At times, it intentionally plays as a subversive package of greatest hits from the canon. And everything that occurs after an hour in we're simply desperate to talk about. But this is a spoiler-free review, and that first reaction is one to savour.    

We wouldn't want the series to do this forever, but we'd gladly visit again, from time to time.