BBC's SHERLOCK Annotations: Episode 3, The Great Game

SHERLOCK Annotations: The Great Game


The opening scene has a criminal who hopes to trick Holmes into proving his innocence. A similar thing happened in Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.”


Sherlock is lying on his couch out of boredom. In “A Study in Scarlet”, Watson noted that he would sometimes do this for days when he was in-between cases and fell into a melancholy mood.

In the original stories by Doyle, Sherlock Holmes would occasionally fire off a revolver when he was bored. In the story “The Bruce-Partington Plans”, it was said he had fired off enough rounds into his wall to spell out the letters “V.R.” for “Victoria Regina”, a patriotic nod to Queen Victoria. Since Queen Victoria is not alive in the modern-day and since this interpretation of Sherlock would seem to be more critical of the British government, Steven Moffat wrote that he shot the design of a smiley face instead.

In the original stories by Doyle, the adventures he published were supposedly the same exact memoirs that Watson published about his adventures with Holmes in the pages of the Strand magazine that existed in the fictional universe. Thus, people in the stories who recognized Sherlock’s name often did so because they’d read the same stories Doyle’s readers had. In this fictional universe, John keeps a blog rather than publishing stories in a magazine. Audience members can actually visit this fictional blog at

The first Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet” was when we learned that the Great Detective didn’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun. In that story, he explains to Watson (as he does in this episode) that he deliberately does not waste the space in his brain with information that does not directly help him in his life and career, causing Watson to exclaim, “But the solar system!”


Mycroft asks for Sherlock’s help in recovering the plans for the Bruce-Partington Progam, a special missile system. In Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”, Mycroft recruited Sherlock’s help to recover the planes of a Bruce-Partington submarine. Like this episode, that case involved an apparent spy being found dead by train tracks.

Sherlock asks Mycroft how his diet is going, a reference to the character being described as fat in the original stories.

Sherlock plucks at a violin, an instrument he would sometimes play in Doyle’s stories for enjoyment or to help him think.

“Don’t make me order you.” “I’d like to see you try.” This mirrors a scene to the Doctor Who episode “The Green Death” when two very similar lines were spoken between Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and the Doctor. As Mark Gatiss is a Doctor Who episode writer, novelist and long-time fan, this doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

“I’d be lost without my blogger.” This is a reference to the story “A Scandal in Bohemia” when Holmes told Watson “I am lost without my Boswell.” This original remark was a reference to the historical figure James Boswell, a lawyer who was also the great friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson. In British society, his name became a term for someone who was a constant companion and/or observer, so it was definitely a term that suited John Watson.

While examining stationery, Holmes remarks that it is Bohemian, then clarifies that its from the Czech Republic. This mirrors a scene in Doyle’s story “A Scandal in Bohemia.”


Holmes is able to tell whether or not handwriting was done by a man or a woman. He displayed this ability several times in Doyle’s original stories.

Sherlock talks about how the five pips are a warning. In Doyle’s story “The Five Orange Pips”, five pips (or seeds) from an orange were used by the Klu Klux Klan to send warnings.

Moriarty finally offers a direct challenge to Sherlock in this episode. The villain Professor Moriarty only actually appeared in one story by Doyle, “The Final Problem”, but the story had Holmes explain that he had known about the villain’s vast criminal network for years and had been foiling its operations for some time. Holmes told Watson, “I have felt the presence of this force, and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted... Again and again he strove to break away, but I as often headed him off. I tell you, my friend, that if a detailed account of that silent contest could be written, it would take its place as the most brilliant bit of thrust-and-parry work in the history of detection.”

Although Watson had never heard about Moriarty before the events of “The Final Problem”, Doyle later published a novel “The Valley of Fear” that retconned this by saying that Watson had been aware of the master criminal earlier and that Holmes had revealed to him that he had a spy working close to Moriarty. The same novel also established that Holmes had learned about the arch-criminal after inheriting the research of a detective who had realized the truth behind the secret villain earlier. “The Valley of Fear” also gave Moriarty the first name of James, despite Doyle writing that James was the name of the villain’s brother in “The Final Problem.”

Little point of trivia here. As has been noted, this show was created by two Doctor Who writers who started off as fans and there are even a couple of Doctor Who references in it. Another small connection to that franchise is that Holmes’s enemy Moriarty was the inspiration for the Doctor’s friend-turned-enemy known as the Master.

Sherlock shows John the pair of shoes Moriarty left for him and suggests that Watson attempt to draw conclusion using the methods that he’s seen the detective use. Holmes tested Watson in this way in many different stories, often complimenting that Watson’s powers of observations were superior to the average person but that the conclusions he drew were often sloppy.


Sherlock guesses that Molly has put on three lbs. and she immediately protests it’s only two and a half. In “A Scandal in Bohemia”, Holmes observes that Watson gained seven and a half lbs. since getting married, causing Watson to protest that he only gained seven lbs.

According to Mark Gatiss, one of the cases in this episode is based on a true crime that happened in France where a man was murdered by a cat’s scratch because his brother-in-law had soaked the animals claws in poison.

At the crime scene by the docks, Lestrade asks Sherlock if he has any ideas and the Great Detective answers, “Seven so far.” This is similar to Doyle’s story “The Naval Treaty” where Holmes is asked “Do you see any clue?” and he answered “You have furnished me with seven...”

Sherlock tells Lestrade “You see, you just don’t observe.” Holmes repeated this sentiment many times in the original tales by Doyle, first telling Watson “You see, but you do not observe,” in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Holmes uses homeless people as agents, a reference to the Irregulars, the homeless orphans he sometimes used as an information network in the original stories by Doyle.

Moriarty knows that the painting in this episode is a fake because of an astronomical event. In the original stories by Doyle, Professor Moriarty was said to have a keen interest in astronomy, which makes him very different from Holmes who doesn’t bother to understand the basics of the solar system.


John’s discovery of an unused train ticket and its key in solving his case is similar to how he discovered an unused theatre ticket which helped solve the mystery of “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.”

John discovers that Sherlock was only pretending to let him do his own investigation. Holmes did this in the original Doyle stories, including “The Solitary Cyclist”, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.”

After meeting with John at the train tracks, Sherlock suggests that they need to do a little burglary now. In Doyle’s stories, Holmes often broke into places when he felt he needed to explore them. In “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”, he remarks, “Burglary has always been an alternative profession had I cared to adopt it...”

The culprit behind the theft of the Bruce-Partington plans turns out to be Joe Harrison. In the original Doyle stories, Joseph Harrison was featured in the story “The Naval Treaty” and elements of that story are present in this episode. Likewise, Holmes stopping to admire the stars is similar to his admiration of a rose in that same story.

The fact that Sherlock and Moriarty meet at a swimming pool may be a reference to their famous confrontation at the Richenbach Falls in “The Final Problem.”

Sherlock realizes that Moriarty is a “consulting criminal.” In creating Moriarty, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was apparently inspired by the historical criminal Adam Worth who was called the “Napoleon of crime”, a nickname Holmes also gave to Moriarty.  A career criminal for years, Worth later went to London and organized a criminal network, controlling robberies through several intermediary agents, with almost no one in the network knowing his real name or of his existence. He was only finally captured in 1892 when he improvised a robbery with two criminals he hadn’t worked with before. The operation went wrong and Worth wound up captured by the police. A year after Worth’s capture hit the news, Doyle introduced Moriarty in the pages of “The Final Problem.”


Many also believe that Moriarty, a mathematics genius, was also partially inspired by American astronomer Simon Newcomb who was internationally famous during Doyle’s lifetime and had a reputation for sabotaging rival scientists.

Moriarty is an Irish last name and so he is played here by Irish actor Andrew Scott. Scott’s physicality in the role is inspired by a passage in “The Final Problem” where Holems tells Watson that Moriarty is “forever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion.” Although Moriarty is several years older than Holmes in Doyle’s stories, here they are closer to being contemporaries, enhancing the sense that they are actually very similar when you break them down.

Sherlock claims he has a British Army L9A1 pistol in his pocket. He’s actually holding an SIG Sauer P226, which replaced the L9A1 as the British Army standard side arm. The fact that Sherlock is hiding a gun in his pocket when he meets Moriarty is a reference to Holmes doing the same thing when Moriarty first meets him in “The Final Problem.”

Jim Moriarty has an agent with a rifle hidden. In Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Empty House”, readers learned that Professor Moriarty’s most trusted agents was Sebastian Moran, a former army colonel and expert marksman who attempted to kill Sherlock Holmes with a special, noiseless air-rifle that had been specially built for Moriarty’s organization. According to Holmes in that same story, Moran actually briefly served as Moriarty’s chief of staff for some time.


Jim Moriarty tells Sherlock that he’s enjoyed their game together but it has to end now. This mirrors Professor Moriarty’s remarks from “The Final Problem” when he told Holmes, “It is necessary that you should withdraw. It has been an intellectual treat to me to see the way in which you have grappled with this affair...”

For the first time in the season, we see that Sherlock is visibly rattled once he’s assured that John is safe. This matches some of Doyle’s stories where he lost his cool when Watson was in danger and shows us that Sherlock is beginning to allow himself emotional connections thanks to John’s influence.

“Everything I have to say has already crossed your mind.” “Probably my answer has crossed yours.” This is very similar to when Moriarty first meets Holmes in “The Final Problem” and tells him, “All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.” To which, Holmes replies, “Then possibly my answer has crossed yours.”

And that wraps it up. Hope you enjoyed this!

What did you think of the closer of the season? What did you think of the closer of the season?

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