Last Night's TV: Sherlock, BBC 1

5.00

Sherlock and a sex scandal? It's eroticism, my dear Watson (and shockingly good TV)

Where does one start, frankly? With the fact that Moriarty uses "Staying Alive" as a ring tone, during a tense stand-off with his nemesis? With the brisk little flurry of jokes that make up the opening montage, in which Sherlock dismisses a series of clients on the grounds that their mysteries are too dull to command his attention? With his delicious indifference to ordinary social graces? (Two small girls are suspicious because they weren't allowed to see their grandad after his death. "Is that because he's gone to heaven?" they ask. "People don't go to heaven when they die," Sherlock replies impatiently. "They're taken to a special room and burned.") Or, and I promise I'll stop listing things soon, with the fact that that joke turns out to be knitted into the solution of a mystery that genuinely did give Sherlock a hard time?

I think the last pleasure can stand for them all, perhaps. Sherlock is a Rolls-Royce of a popular entertainment, beautifully engineered and beautifully finished. The doors close with a perfect thunk every time and a loose thread is unthinkable.

"A Scandal in Belgravia" resolved the cliffhanger of the last story and then idled deliciously towards the start of a new one, taking its time to refresh our memory of Dr Watson's blog, Mrs Hudson's difficult task as housekeeper (she finds a bag of human thumbs in the fridge's crisper drawer) and Sherlock's savant-like ability to see what is invisible to ordinary men. With another writer you might have got restive at the pace, but Steven Moffat enjoys himself so much in the writing that it's impossible not to join in. Summoned to Buckingham Palace for a briefing on a delicate case, Watson and Sherlock find that it is Mycroft who has called them in: "I'll be mother," says Mark Gatiss as he pours a cup of tea for his younger brother. "And there is a whole childhood in a nutshell," replies Sherlock tartly.

The case involves Irene Adler, a high-class dominatrix whose career providing "recreational scolding" has left her in the possession of compromising photographs of a young royal. Sherlock is given the job of getting the photographs back but finds himself competing for this MacGuffin with mysterious American bad guys and the confusing effects of an unprecedented attraction to Irene herself, a woman who wields a riding crop like a master but is herself more turned on by cerebration.

"Brainy's the new sexy," she whispers huskily to Sherlock, exemplifying the old sexy by entering the room stark naked. She is, it turns out, a follower of the blog and something of a fan, so she and Sherlock are able to flirt over unsolved enigmas. Her nudity is a mind-game, not a desperate bid for attention.

And where does one start, again? With the teasing eroticism of Sherlock and Irene's affair of the mind? With the way that Moffat gets some real poignancy and longing into a story so glossily fantastical? With the fact that barely a minute passes without a line that's worth making a note of? Or the fact that, in addition to lovely performances and great writing, the whole thing is filmed with such invention? What a way to start the year.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect