How the BBC managed to adapt Sherlock Holmes to modern times

The best and most creative consulting detective in London first debuted in print in 1887 through The Strand magazine, in a serialized tale in which he squared off against a gang of villainous Mormons alongside his friend and confidant, Dr. John Watson.

Ever since, Mr. Holmes has been called for hundreds of cases, with only a tiny number of them (approximately 60) penned by his original creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Novels, short tales, radio plays, video games, television, and, of course, movies have all included him.

With his unique way of crime-solving by observing and deducting, he’s inspired many other investigative characters. The BBC adapted Sherlock with Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat at the helm.

With a rating of 9.1 on IMDb and 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, the big question is: How did BBC manage to bring Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century and make it work? Let’s have a look.


An Affinity for Science

Currently, we have many iterations of the character, with varying degrees of success. To keep this short, we will talk about some of the deviations, brilliant choices, and other observations we made during our binge of the BBC show.

Two somewhat opposing inclinations are at the heart of Holmes’ logical brilliance: a passion for advancing scientific knowledge and mastery of the mundane. In Conan Doyle’s writings and this BBC version, we first meet Holmes beating corpses in a morgue to observe how much longer they continue to bruise after death.

Sherlock Holmes is the inspiration for today’s fictional depictions of contemporary, scientific, and psychological investigation. It’s only fitting that he gets a chance to use scientific advancements to solve a fresh set of crimes.


The Drug Habit

The drug habit is one thing we get in the original and the BBC versions. Sherlock Holmes, literature’s most renowned consulting detective, took cocaine and morphine occasionally to escape the monotonous routine of living. Because selling opium, laudanum, cocaine, and morphine were legal in Victorian times, this was not rare. These deadly substances were used for self-medication and recreational purposes in Victorian times.

There are two possible explanations for Holmes’ recreational drug usage. He felt, like other Victorians, that he required stimuli for his ‘overactive’ brain when he didn’t have intriguing cases to investigate. He also wasn’t fully aware of the adverse consequences of drug usage.

Aside from narcotics, Holmes was a chronic smoker and a frequent drinker of high-quality alcoholic beverages – although never in excess. What’s more, if he lived today, the odds of him tearing it up in online casinos with everyone else during lockdown would be pretty high, at least in our opinion.


The Personality Change

In Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes appears to be sometimes mean. For example, he tells some kids that their grandfather is decomposing in the ground, and he is seen being flippantly nasty to a potential customer of Russell Tovey.

He was also a tad over the line when he told Kitty Reilly, the journalist in The Reichenbach Fall, that she repels him. Even though she may have been selfish, ambitious, and a touch manipulative, why would SHE repel him, a guy who interacts with criminals daily?

However, despite their differences in behavior, one might argue that all Sherlocks share the same underlying character that distinct societal influences have shaped. In the novels, Holmes is restrained and confined. He is a product of Victorian England as much as a forward-thinking scientist.

His goal is to do an excellent job, honestly. Moffat and Gatiss’ Sherlock is more blatantly narcissistic and selfish, as one might expect from someone born and raised in the late twentieth century, the era of rudeness, self-promotion, and embracing the real you.


Adapting Watson

In the classic book and the BBC series, Watson is a veteran who served in Afghanistan. As many fans know, Watson is not just some supporting character or a buffoon who has to rely on Holmes for everything.

However, he is often cast in the role of someone whom Sherlock can bounce ideas off of and as an anchor to keep the mercurial detective on an even keel.

Watson’s job is to not comprehend things most of the time. “The butler did it!” exclaims Holmes as he enters a room. “But Holmes!” Watson’s role is to say. “How did you figure that out?” Then Holmes will explain everything. The issue is that, while Watson is not as intelligent as Holmes, he is nonetheless capable and helpful to Holmes; otherwise, he would not keep him around. As a result, Watson can never be shown as a moron.

In the BBC series, Martin Freeman plays him so different from what we usually know, but it is nonetheless a take on the Doctor that we have not seen before. However, we would be remiss if we did not mention that it is an adaptation that fits well into our modern world.


What made this series work?

Ultimately, we have to say the narrative, casting, and writing choices determined how successful the show would be.

Sherlock, like most of Moffatt’s work, is a meta-commentary on itself. The series also forces the characters to confront their personalities as Sherlock and John solve riddles and long-time battle foes like Moriarty and Irene Adler. Sherlock is frequently reminded that he is not like everyone else.

He never regrets anything, but his too-analytical mind prevents him from communicating with or understanding ordinary people in the same way that John does. Watson has to cope with the public’s perception of him as Holmes’ pet or even his boyfriend regularly.

The strong connection between Holmes and Watson has always sparked curiosity about whether or not the two had a sexual relationship.

The protagonists in this story face this head-on by growing closer as friends over time despite being considered a couple by casual spectators. At some point, Watson yelling violently, “I’M NOT GAY!” turned into a running gag. Surprisingly, this humor has led some fans to hope that the characters would eventually be united. We don’t know if we will get more seasons in the future (there are only four available at the moment).