Monday, December 15, 2014

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Sherlock Holmes casts such a long shadow’

Shrabonti Bagchi & Narayanan Krishnaswami

English actor, comedian, screenwriter and novelist Mark Gatiss is best-known today as the co-creator of the BBC drama Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman - a show that has had a profound impact on global popular culture. Along with his Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat, Gatiss has also written several episodes for the reprisal of the enormously popular and enduring Doctor Who. Gatiss is in India for Comic Con Mumbai, and says he is pleasantly surprised by the kind of following and adulation both shows have in India. Excerpts from an interview:

What is it about Sherlock Holmes that everyone wants to interpret and reinterpret in their own way?

Sherlock Holmes is the most filmed character in all fiction. That's indisputable. There are more Sherlock Holmes interpretations than anything else. I think after that come Dracula and Tarzan and Robin Hood. It's because Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are just fantastic characters. The public almost instantly fell in love with them when Conan Doyle created them. Poirot is too - Agatha Christie deliberately drew lines from Sherlock Holmes to create her detective. She made him small and fat and foreign - while Holmes is tall and thin and British. Sherlock Holmes casts such a long shadow. I think that periodically, every generation reinterprets him in a new way.

Which are your favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, and how do you weave them into the narrative of the individual episodes?

We both [himself and Steven Moffat] have very definite favourites. My favourite is The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, which was part of [the Sherlock season 1 episode] The Great Game... and others like The Speckled Band and The Red Headed League. Steven has his own favourites. So what we always try and do is find an overarching story like A Scandal in Bohemia or Charles Augustus Milverton that will be the spine of the story, and then we do all kinds of things within it which are actually from all kinds of different stories. It's really just about finding the right story and the right flavor of things. You could find a little moment in a story - there's a lovely story called A Case of Identity; it's not really big enough to dramatise but there are little moments in it. One of them is about a client who is hesitant to press the doorbell and is just walking up and down the pavement... I just managed to pop that in into one of the episodes.

Has there been any one story that makes you want to do it end to end, the way Conan Doyle wrote it?

Well I don't know if that is possible. The thing about the stories is - one of the brilliant things about them - is they are incredibly brisk, funny and exciting and short. If you look at something like A Scandal in Bohemia, it sort of takes the first 15-20 minutes of the episode and then everything after that is our invention and extrapolation. You can't really do them just as they are without padding them. You just use the stories as a seed and make it more elaborate.

When did you become a fan of Doctor Who? Who was your favourite Doctor, and did you ever hide behind the sofa for any of the episodes?

My earliest memory is of Jon Pertwee's first story, Spearhead from Space. Jon Pertwee was my doctor, always my favourite. I was instantly hooked. My brother and sister and my parents, obviously, watched it from the beginning. They would fill me in about things I hadn't seen. I've got very clear memories of the first few stories of Jon Pertwee. The one that totally terrified me was a story called The Demons. I was five and there was a moment where there is a live BBC broadcast which, in those days, was meant to be something in the far future. I thought, as a confused five-year-old, that Doctor Who had just become real. I was totally petrified, though I don't think I ever did hide behind the sofa. I was too excited. I've always been too excited to be scared enough to hide.

You have also written some episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot, and at some point were writing Poirot and Sherlock more or less concurrently. How was that experience?

I do often write things concurrently. I'm writing the Sherlock special with Steve (Moffat) and I'm also writing Doctor Who at the same time - as he is. I quite like having a couple of things on the go because if you get stuck on one, you move on to another. When they are very different sorts of disciplines, it's actually quite refreshing. Rather than thinking "I can't get on with it", you just go try something totally different.


  1. I didn't know he wrote episodes of Poirot. And he must be really talented AND hard-working to be writing episodes of Dr. Who, Poirot and Sherlock parallely.

    Enjoyed the excerpt. Loved the line 'I've always been too excited to be scared enough to hide.' :-)