TV Break – The Unaired “Sherlock” Pilot

We’re going to take a slight detour for a moment. I know the purpose of this blog is supposed to be the Holmes stories, but my enjoyment (and fervent consumption) of televised Holmesian pursuits, particularly of the BBC variety, isn’t exactly a secret. Sure, I have a story I should be reading (and a blog post on it I should be writing), a first draft I’m in the middle of editing, two Star Trek movies I should be watching, and a short story I should be writing (unrelated to Holmes entirely – because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes in an alternate history Kansas is what the Community Novel project planners had in mind this year), but I have zero motivation for anything directly productive right now. Unlike Holmes, I’m seeking out a little boredom. Or at least a little lack of activity.

Maybe I’m embracing my inner Mycroft.

Tonight, I decided to test out the blu-ray portion of my blu-ray player – it’s mostly existed as a means to watching Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube since I got it – by watching the unaired pilot of BBC’s Sherlock. While I’ve seen the aired “A Study in Pink” a few hundred times, which may be an underestimate, I’ve never taken the time to watch the unaired version. I’ve owned it. I’ve just fallen into that lazy trap where, if I can’t pull it up on Netflix or Hulu, if I have to resort to the act of getting up, grabbing a DVD, and popping it into a machine, it’s almost too much work. This is also why I haven’t watched Doctor Who since February 1st. I own the entire series digitally and through season seven on DVD, but I’d have to actually put in some effort to get to either source.

Definitely embracing my inner Mycroft, when I look at it that way.

So much of this version of “A Study in Pink” is different, even if it’s just in small ways and remains more or less the same story. There’s the final confrontation, which takes place in the sitting room of 221B and not an empty cafeteria and ends with Watson shooting the cabbie from a building across the street. There’s no “Find My Phone” moment, no drugs bust, no chasing a cab through the streets of London, no creepy Mycroft playing up the anonymous and suspicious arch-nemesis. We still get the awkward “I’m married to my work” misunderstanding, the “Come if convenient; come even if inconvenient” text exchange, and Mrs. Hudson insisting she’s definitely not the housekeeper. Donovan’s still a witch, even if she’s just a uniform sergeant, and apparently still “cleaning [Anderson’s] floors.” But Anderson never gets to call Sherlock a psychopath and we never get to hear Sherlock quotably correct him with “I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research.”

Oh, the shock blanket is still there, of course, because the officers still need to take pictures.

New things we never got to see in the original televised version (and I wish we had) include Sherlock’s epic drunk-acting and watching him momentarily outsmarted by the killer, drugged Sherlock flopping around on the floor of the hideously salmon pink 221B sitting room, and Batlock – a pair of shots of Sherlock, perched on a roof, backlit by a bright and nearly full moon, with his coattails flapping like some image taken directly from a Batman comic book panel. 


A screengrab of Sherlock Holmes standing on a roof, in the rain, wirh a mostly full moon behind him.

Seriously, just missing the bat signal…

We also meet a much less trusting Watson. He’s still awed by Sherlock’s skill, but there’s a suspicion under the surface that would have been interesting to see played out over the course of a series. For all of that, he still shoots a man dead when he thinks his new friend is in danger, and delivers a much better (not funnier, but more heartfelt, maybe) response to having done so:

Sherlock: “Are you all right?”

Watson: “Of course I’m all right.”

Sherlock: “You have just killed a man.”

Watson: “I’ve seen men die before, and good men, friends of mine. I thought I’d never sleep again. I’ll sleep fine tonight.”

Not as quippy as “Well, he wasn’t a very nice man,” but it gives us a definite peek at the heart of John Watson.

It’s a shorter episode, just under an hour long, and that’s probably why subplots like Mycroft’s mysterious introduction and the filler bits of the drugs bust and the cab chase aren’t there. The final confrontation focuses less on the cabbie pushing the buttons of Sherlock’s ego as well, the existence of it hinted at by Lestrade’s asking Sherlock if he picked the right pill and Watson still calling him an idiot for planning to take it. This is, after all, what was created to whet the BBC’s appetite and thus likely just a bit shy of Moffat and Gatiss’ full vision for what the story should be. Or maybe, when they filmed, they had a longer season in mind, with shorter episodes, and planned to unravel some of those plot and character bits, including the shadow of Moriarty, later on. There’d be time yet for Moriarty and Mycroft, car chases and disagreements with Scotland Yard, Watson’s constant disapproval and Sherlock’s careless ego.

There’s something endearing about the final shot in this episode, whether it’s the aired or unaired version. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lestrade or Mycroft delivering the final “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” line (Lestrade to Donovan in the unaired, Mycroft to his assistant in the aired); it’s that shot of Sherlock and Watson, strolling off, grinning like fools as their names are tucked just as neatly together for the first time. It’s the absolute perfect way not just to wrap the episode, but to really begin their adventures to come. That’s the compelling essence of Holmes and Watson, isn’t it? The mysteries and the adventures and the deductions are all well and good, but it’s the stories of two men, two good friends, that make us keep reading and watching.