BBC's new SHERLOCK Annotations: Episode 1, A Study in Pink

This summer, many TV viewers were riveted by the new program “Sherlock”, a modern-day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime-fighting duo of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson. Created by Mark Gatiss (actor and “Doctor Who” writer) and Steven Moffat (lead writer and executive producer of “Doctor Who”), this series aired on the BBC, then came to BBC America, and now it’s all available on DVD and Blu-Ray. So for those of you who have enjoyed this new take on the Great Detective of London but are curious about just how closely it ties to Doyle’s original tales, here are some in-depth annotations. Be warned though, these are full of spoilers so it’s important that you see the show before you read these.

Check out our annotations for Episode 1 Below, and come back soon for episodes 2 and 3!


Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes and was the first choice of this show’s creators. Though some folks may think he’s a bit young for the role, Sherlock was only about 27 years old when Watson met him in “A Study in Scarlet” (although author Laurie R. King has constructed her own theory, based on evidence from multiple stories, that Sherlock was as young as 20 when he and Watson first met).

Martin Freeman plays John Watson and was chosen because in his audition he portrayed the doctor as someone who would follow Holmes but also criticize him and show that he considered himself an equal friend. Several of the others who auditioned had made Watson seem like a subordinate. Interestingly, the first person to audition for John Watson was Matt Smith who later auditioned and won the role of the Eleventh Doctor on Moffat's Doctor Who.

The title is taken from “A Study in Scarlet”, the very first Sherlock Holmes story written by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which introduced the character and Dr. John H. Watson. The story opened up with Watson returning from Afghanistan where he served as an Assistant Surgeon of the Army Medical Department after having suffered shoulder injury on the battlefield that shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. Watson said he recovered largely from the wound but then came down with enteric fever and was forced to be sent back to England. He had fought in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which lasted from 1878-1880 and was the second time that British controlled India had invaded Afghanistan. Watson mentioned that he fought in the Battle of Maiwand (July 27th, 1880), which was one of the war’s final major battles.


The episode displays a group of people who all vanished and then apparently committed suicide. One of these victims is named James Phillimore, who goes home to get his umbrella and then vanishes, only to be found dead later. In the original Sherlock Holmes story “The Problem of Thor Bridge”, Watson revealed to readers that he kept a tin dispatch box full of files on the cases that Holmes was never able to really solve. He said, “among these unfinished tales is that of Mr. James Phillimore, who, stepping back into his own house to get his umbrella, was never more seen in this world.”

Before we meet Holmes, we meet Detective Inspector (DI) Lestrade. In the original Doyle stories, Holmes was often annoyed by Inspector Lestrade, who half the time dismissed the consulting detective’s skills as mere luck at guesswork and if he ever asked Holmes for help it was with obvious reluctance. However, Holmes himself admitted that Lestrade was a skilled inspector (referring to him as the best “of a bad lot”) who was “quick and energetic, but conventional - shockingly so.” On occasion, such as in the story “The Six Napoleons”, Lestrade admitted genuine admiration for Sherlock’s abilities and simply wished he had joined the official police force. Moffat and Gatiss decided to focus on that aspect of their relationship and so this series gives us a Lestrade who is much more open to asking Holmes for help and fully admits his talents, even if he does criticize his behavior.

In the original “A Study in Scarlet”, Watson ran into his old friend Stamford at the Criterion Bar. In this episode, Watson runs into Stamford during a walk and then they grab a cup of coffee together. Notice the name on the coffee cup? It says Criterion.

In “A Study in Scarlet”, Watson tells Stamford he’s looking for a roommate to share “comfortable rooms at a reasonable price,” and Stamford remarks that earlier that same day, he heard Sherlock Holmes use the exact same phrase. In this episode, Watson instead asks, “Who would want me as a flatmate?” and Stamford says, “You’re the second person to say that to me today.”


Sherlock’s test of beating a corpse is another direct reference to “A Study in Scarlet.” When Stanford is taking Watson to meet Sherlock Holmes in that story, he warns that Holmes is rather eccentric and took part in strange experiments such as beating up corpses to see how bruises formed differently after death.

Sherlock is apparently unaware or doesn’t care about Molly Hooper’s advances towards him. He later tells Watson that women are not his area of expertise. In the original stories by Doyle, it was clear on several occasions that Holmes did not focus any energy on romance at all. In Doyle’s story “The Lion’s Mane”, Holmes himself says, “Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart...” Watson remarked that when he first was working with Holmes, the detective considered romance to be “abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind... a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.” Iin Doyle’s story “The Second Stain”, Holmes remarks how annoyingly difficult it is for him to read women sometimes since “their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin...”

Holmes did, however, seem to change his mind about women. The first thing to soften his opinion was when the actress Irene Adler proved successful in outsmarting and escaping the detective, which Holmes admired so much that he always referring to her afterward reverently as “The Woman.” And he seemed to have greater compassion towards women in later adventures, even showing signs of an attraction to a woman in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” and later again “The Lion’s Mane.” In Doyle’s story “The Devil’s Foot”, Holmes says he understands what love for a woman could make a person do, even though he admits, “I have never loved...”

In the original “A Study in Scarlet”, Holmes immediately concludes that Watson spent time in Afghanistan since he sees that he is a military man only recently returned from the battlefield and at that time the Second Anglo-Afghan War was just ending. In this episode, since modern-day English troops could be in different parts of the middle east, Holmes is forced to ask, “Afghanistan or Iraq?”


Holmes quickly shows he is constantly using a smart phone. In the original stories, Holmes was very much a modern man who constantly sent out telegrams to contact people for basic information so he wouldn’t have to waste time physically visiting and speaking with them (he, of course, visited people when he required serious interrogation). He was also constantly searching through his own files, guide books, collected newspaper clippings, and saved tabloids when he needed to research information. Hence, it makes sense that he would constantly check his phone to send texts and do internet searches.

Sherlock concludes that Watson’s leg injury is psychosomatic, but later learns that he did receive an injury in the shoulder. In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle initially said the injury that forced Watson to come home was in Watson’s shoulder but a later story had him complain about an injury in his leg. Many fans came up with theories to explain this. Some have suggested that his leg was injured in a less serious way in a previous skirmish, before the shoulder wound happened that forced him to leave Afghanistan. Some have suggested that one or both injuries were entirely psychosomatic. Some have even suggested that Watson was actually injured in a very embarrassing place and lied about the placement of his wound rather than admit it.

The address 221 B Baker street did not actually exist in London when Doyle published his stories, though it often received fan letters from children addressed to Sherlock Holmes himself. The address of 221B Baker Street was assigned to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in 1990, a museum that has been made to be a replica of the apartment that Holmes and Watson shared and is situated in a building that stands on Baker Street between 237 and 241.

Sherlock’s explanation of how he and Mrs. Hudson met is a new idea created for this show. In the original stories, nothing was said of Mrs. Hudson’s past or if she and Sherlock had met before he and John had moved into the upper floor of her building. In the original stories, Watson described Mrs. Hudson as “a long-suffering woman... [Holmes’s] incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London. On the other hand, his payments were princely... She was fond of him, too, for he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealing with women.” In the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”, Holmes (or Doyle) mistakenly refers to Mrs. Hudson as Mrs. Turner.

Upon entering the main apartment, we see that Holmes has already left if a cluttered mess. In the original stories, Watson at first found Holmes very easy to live with, but then later often complained about the detective’s habit for making a mess with his files and his chemical experiments and that he would do strange, untidy things such as keeping tobacco in one of his slippers.


Sherlock shows Watson his website where he has posted up articles about the science of deduction. In “A Study in Scarlet”, he showed Watson an article he’d published about the science of detection called “The Book of Life” which had been published in a local magazine.

We see that John is practically dying of boredom and is eager to join Sherlock on an adventure. In “A Study in Scarlet”, Watson remarked “how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention... I had no friends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my companion...”

Mrs. Hudson’s complaint that she is a landlady and not a house maid is a reference to the original stories by Doyle, where she often did the cooking and cleaning for the two men without question, despite the fact that she owned the place.

Sherlock jumps for joy at the thought of a serious murder investigation he can get his hands on. Similar behavior happened a few times in the original stories, such as in “The Sign of Four.”

In this episode, Sherlock is eager to run off to the murder scene of Jennifer Wilson. In “A Study in Scarlet”, Watson was eager that Sherlock head to the murder scene but the detective said there was no point, having gotten into the habit of rarely leaving his apartment to solve cases since police and clients came to him instead and would often take the credit for his work anyway. It was Watson who pushed him to go to the scene of the crime and actually investigate the case directly. Taking Watson with him to the murder scene, Holmes later remarks, “There is nothing like first hand evidence... I must thank you for it all. I might not have gone but for you...” Thus, in the original stories, Watson is very much the catalyst that moves Holmes from being a strange, hermetic consultant to a world-famous detective.

Sherlock is called to investigate the death of Jennifer Wilson at Lauriston Gardens. In “A Study in Scarlet”, he investigated the death of Enoch J. Drebber at an inn at #3 Lauriston Gardens.

Sherlock tells Mrs. Hudson that the game is on. This is a take on Holmes’s famous battle cry “The game is afoot!” The phrase has been used in many adaptations and was first exclaimed by the Great Detective in the story “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.”


On the way to the crime scene, Sherlock explains how he figured out that John has a brother named Harry thanks to an inscription on the back of the doctor’s cell phone. From the scratches around the port where you plug in the charger, he realizes that Harry is a drunk. In the Doyle story “The Sign of the Four”, Holmes sees that Watson’s pocket watch has the letters “H.W.” inscribed on the back and concludes that this watch had belonged to Watson’s father and was originally given to John’s elder brother. Holmes notices damage on the watch and infers that John’s older brother is careless and that the scratches on the key-hole mean that he is a drunk, adding, “You never see a drunkard’s watch without them. He winds it at night, and he leaves these traces of his unsteady hand.”

Sherlock sees the word “Rache” on the floor, written by the victim, and considers that it might be the German word for revenge but then immediately dismisses this. In “A Study in Scarlet”, that is exactly what the word meant and it was a vital clue left by the killer, not the victim, to explain his motive.

The wedding ring informs Sherlock about several things that help him in solving the case. Similarly, a wedding ring found on the scene was a vital clue in the original story “A Study in Scarlet.” In the original story, Holmes later used this ring to lure the killer to his home but in this episode he uses a text message as the lure.

Sherlock asks John and Lestrade what it’s like to live inside such tiny minds. In the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor Dances”, also written by Steven Moffar, the Doctor asked almost the exact same question to his friends Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness.

The man Watson meets is implied to be Moriarty to anyone familiar with the Holmes stories but we find out later that this is actually Mycroft Holmes. Mycroft was first introduced in a story called “The Greek Interpreter”, where he was described as Sherlock’s older, fatter and smarter brother. According to Sherlock, Mycroft’s detective reasoning was far superior and he could have been the greatest crime-fighter in the world but he detested physical activity and legwork, preferring to spend as much time as possible in the Diogenes Club, an anti-social club for people who wished to be left alone by the rest of London and whose members were not permitted to speak to each other unless they were in a specially designated room. Originally said to have a minor government job due to a talent with numbers, Holmes later told Watson that in reality, Mycroft was the nerve center of the British government, acting as a walking data base for many of its greatest secrets and using his incredible mind to manipulate events through secret operations. We can certainly see his influence and powers in the British government by the fact that he is able to control street cameras and has access to John’s therapy files. This version of Mycroft is not quite as physically lazy as Doyle’s original version and is more hands on with his operations.

Mycroft Holmes is played by series creator Mark Gatiss, who also wrote the third episode “The Great Game.” Mark Gatiss, like Steven Moffat, is a famous author of Doctor Who novels, short stories and penned multiple episodes of the new television series that started in 2005. He also played the role of a Doctor Who villain in the episode “The Lazarus Experiment.”

Sherlock is seen wearing three nicotine patches and explains that this is a “three patch problem.” In the original stories, when he knew he had to think and consider things for some time, he would sometimes call it a “three pipe problem” and take a pipe down to begin smoking. Here he uses patches because, as he explains, it’s “impossible” to maintain a smoking habit in modern-day London when its restricted in so many places.

John laughs off the idea that drugs might be find amongst Sherlock’s possessions but Sherlock then gives him a look that he either does or has had a drug habit in the past. In the original stories, Sherlock occasionally injected himself with a 7 % solution of cocaine. Although some media adaptations would show him doing this whenever a desire took him, the original stories by Doyle made it clear that Sherlock only did this if at least several weeks had passed without an interesting case to pass his time, telling Watson (who was appalled by the habit) that his brain suffered from stagnation and that if he had no problems to solve then he desperately needing the drug to keep his mind stimulated. In later stories by Doyle, the drug use vanished entirely, and many fans took this to mean that Watson’s warnings to Holmes about the damage he was risking to his mind eventually convinced him to stop.

On the commentary for this episode, producers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat also note that they didn’t want to focus on Holmes’s drug use because it didn’t fit in with the mentality of modern times. During the time of Doyle’s original stories, a man using a 7% solution of cocaine to keep his mind stimulated could seem exotic and Watson was very progressive to suggest it was dangerous and should be stopped. But Gatiss and Moffat felt that a modern-day detective doing this would too easily come off as a weak-willed man with an addiction. They did, however, concede that it was easy for them to imagine that Holmes would have developed a drug habit or done something equally dangerous to keep his mind stimulated before eventually realizing he could work as a detective.

Sherlock snaps that he is a “high-functioning sociopath.” He certainly shows some characteristics of this, given his lack of empathy most of the time, seemingly solving crimes for the enjoyment of solving a puzzle rather than a true desire to help people. And he certainly does have a grandiose sense of himself. But he doesn’t have behavioral control problems. He may compulsively fire off a gun when he’s bored, but not if there’s a chance that someone could be injured by the act. His biting remarks are insensitive but usually not done to deliberately hurt another’s feelings. And while he may appear unsympathetic in general, in the original stories by Doyle he would occasionally allow a criminal to go free if they had committed a crime to avenge or protect a woman they loved. He also displayed a willingness to sacrifice his life for Watson and to kill for him if his friend were put in danger.


Lestrade comments that Sherlock Holmes could possibly become a good man. In the original stories by Doyle, Holmes does seem to become more altruistic and heroic as the stories go on. Initially, he seems to be purely about the problems and mysteries he solved and the effect it has on victims is an afterthought. Later on, he make remarks that he would gladly die simply to stop Moriarty’s criminal network from victimizing people and he allows crimes to go unpunished if they were done to avenge the innocent. Moffat and Gatiss wanted to show a “raw, unrefined” Sherlock in this initial episode, one who will become less cold as Watson has greater influence on him.

“A Study in Scarlet” involved a man named Jefferson Hope who worked as a cabbie and gave his victims a choice between two pills, one of which was poison, as part of a revenge scheme. In the original  story, the victims were not random but had caused the death of the woman Hope had loved. In the original story, Hope didn’t fear choosing the wrong pill because he was suffering from an aortic aneurism that could kill him at any moment.

Sherlock remarks that Watson’s shot was an extremely difficult one to accomplish. In the original Doyle stories, Watson was described as a crackshot and a better marksman than Holmes. Although he brought his gun along with him on many adventures written by Doyle, he never actually fired it in those stories.

The name “Moriarty” is mentioned. We’ll discuss this enemy of Sherlock’s in more detail in our annotations for the episode “The Great Game.”

It’s interesting to note that in this episode, Hope knows he was sponsored by someone named Moriarty, whereas in the original Doyle stories the villain operated through a network of operatives so that those who committed the crimes were unaware of who the true mastermind was. Even a spy within his organization would only refer to him as “he.”

At the end of the episode, the Holmes brothers discuss their mother. I feel it’s necessary to point out that these two must have had a very singular mother indeed to have raised them to be such interesting people and have named her two sons Sherlock and Mycroft. I wonder if there are other siblings with equally unique names.

Watson tries twice in one night to pick up the same woman. In the original Doyle stories, Watson was said to be handsome and that he was known as a ladies man in several countries. In “The Adventure of the Second Stain”, Sherlock deferred to Watson’s experience when he found a woman difficult to understand and in “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”, Holmes told his friend, “With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady if your helper and accomplice.”

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