Series returns after two-year break with a few surprises

In the end, the mystery of how Sherlock Holmes survived his rooftop plunge proved even more complicated than the BBC drama’s most ardent fans could have imagined.

Stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman returned for the third series on January 1, promising answers to the puzzle that has confounded the show’s 10 million viewers for the last two years (if you have not seen the episode and do not want to know, stop reading now). But by the end of the long-anticipated return, they still had no clear answer as to how exactly he managed to topple off the roof of St. Bart’s Hospital and live to solve another clue.

An exhilarating opening sequence, featuring Holmes, played by Cumberbatch, smashing through a window on a bungee rope, proved a red herring, as did a subsequent explanation involving a giant inflatable landing pad and a secret plan called Lazarus. In fact, the super sleuth revealed, there were 13 possible ways he could have faked his own death — he only explained two of them — but viewers were left none the wiser as to which saved his skin.

It was not the only surprise in the episode, with a cameo appearance by Holmes’s parents played by Cumberbatch’s real-life mother and father, actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.

The show was full of references to the show’s enormous fan following in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world, and fervent speculation about Holmes’s fall and exactly how intimate the relationship is between the two lead characters.

Playful and at times even slapstick, the latest episode was greeted with whoops and cheers at a preview screening last month but may prove a little too much for more purist fans of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

Mark Gatiss, who co-created Sherlock with Steven Moffat and wrote the latest episode, told the preview audience: “It felt like the right thing to do at the start of the third season to be even cheekier.” Moffat said it was when “all the stories were starting to kick off” about how Holmes survived that they thought they would “make up a bananas one”.

Gatiss said the introduction of Holmes’s parents was “the first time we have gone beyond ... I don’t know if Sherlock’s parents have ever been shown before”.

After a first half dominated by the great detective’s return, the episode returned to more familiar territory with a plot to blow up parliament. With Moriarty very definitely dead at the end of the second series, a new, sinister-looking villain was revealed, with two episodes to come in this run and a cliffhanger promised for the finale.

The show is expected to be the most watched show of the holiday period. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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