Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss is warning fans to “expect tragedy” in the upcoming fourth season of the BBC detective series. Gatiss’ comments come as no shock whatsoever to longtime fans, who are already used to him and his writing partner Steven Moffat describing each new season of Sherlock and Doctor Who as the darkest and most emotionally complex one yet.
Gatiss previously described Season 4 as “devastating,” although he’s carefully sidestepping the issue of whether John Watson’s wife Mary is doomed to die as she does in the books. What “devastating” and “tragedy” actually mean is something of a mystery, as Gatiss and Moffat’s Sherlock/Doctor Who promotional strategy tends to follow a certain formula.
Back in 2012, Moffat described Sherlock as “a dangerous and dark man,” a quote that could easily come from one of his many Doctor Who interviews. The sixth season of Doctor Who began in 2011 with an episode that was “darker than any other opener of a season,” while Season 7 was “a dark fairy tale.” Naturally, Peter Capaldi is meant to be the darkest Doctor of them all.
The second season of Sherlock ended with an apparent double suicide by Sherlock and Moriarty. Season 3 saw Sherlock murder a man in cold blood, drug his family unconscious, and trick a woman into a relationship so he could use her to break into her boss’s office. There was also that whole thing where Watson’s new wife turned out to be an assassin who tried to kill Sherlock. As we pointed out the last time Mark Gatiss started talking about the tragedy and drama of Sherlock, it’s difficult to see how much darker the series can get. Gatiss could just mean that they’re removing the show’s more comedic moments, but that seems unlikely.
Doctor Who is technically a Moffat production, with Gatiss as a contributing writer, but their Sherlock partnership means they’re often thought of as a unit: Moftiss. Their interview strategies are certainly similar, to the extent that it’s possible to predict how the next few months of Sherlock publicity will go. If the last few seasons of Sherlock and Doctor Who are anything to go by, it’ll be something along these lines:
Dire warnings about how the new season will be dark and tragic and realistic (but with a hint of comedy, obviously).
All story details will be guarded with a fanatical devotion to secrecy, but both showrunners will still overhype the fact that there are lots of unexpected plot twists… thus spoiling the plot twists in question.
Steven Moffat will attempt to appeal to “the fans,” but in doing so will unintentionally insult his target audience. (For example, attributing Sherlock’s popularity with women to the idea that female fans “all believe that they’ll be the one to melt that glacier.”)
Right now, we’re somewhere between the first and second stages of the Moftiss promotional cycle, but it’s still early days. Sherlock’s fourth season doesn’t premiere until late 2015, so there’s plenty of time for Steven Moffat to hit stage three. Watch this space for more prevaricating over Mary Watson’s widely-rumored death, along with more nonspecific warnings about how much darkness and despair we can look forward to next year.
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