Co-creator Mark Gatiss on the genius of Sherlock

Mark Gatiss, star and co-writer of BBC1’s Sherlock, gets under the skin of Conan Doyle’s iconic creation…

Are you pleased with how Sherlock fits into the modern world?

“The whole show makes total sense. Sherlock doesn’t have to be about hansom cabs and fog – it’s about the relationship between these two unlikely friends and the adventures they have, and it works.”

What is it about Conan Doyle’s writing that appeals to you?

“Conan Doyle was a genius writer. His Sherlock Holmes short stories particularly are models of their kind. They’re thrilling, lurid, funny, silly, strange and wonderful pieces of exciting adventure.”

Are you a fan of the period recreations of the stories?

“There have been hundreds of versions of Sherlock Holmes and there will probably be hundreds more. Undoubtedly the period ones are gorgeous and part of the reason you get into it. But I think the moment you start to think about making a very careful period recreation you start to lose the excitement of the stories.”

Can you reveal anything about the final episode?

“It’s the grand climax of our three episodes! We open little windows and you see flashes of Sherlock’s back-story. It’s lovely to tantalise an audience.”

Does Sherlock have a modern counterpart?

“There’s a comparison between Sherlock and Derren Brown. They both say something outrageous and then show you how they worked it out. Sherlock can fit things together and make massive leaps. It’s very exciting and when you think in his mindset you start to see things differently.”

What was it about Benedict Cumberbatch that made him right for the part?

“Your idea of Sherlock Holmes should look like Sherlock Holmes. I think Benedict has a great silhouette in a sharp suit and that amazing overcoat. He’s definitely a modern man but you need to feel there’s a sort of Byronic edge to Sherlock – partly because of the illustrations – and with Benedict that clicked. He was our first and only choice.”

And what about Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson?

“It’s all about finding the right match. We saw a lot of people for Watson – in fact the first person we saw was Matt Smith weeks before he auditioned for Doctor Who! Benedict and Martin got on immediately and physically it worked. It just clicked and that’s what you’re always looking for.”

Is London another character in your films?

“Definitely. London is such a character in the original stories. It’s always a very exciting city, but at the moment there’s a real vibrancy to it. It looks great, there’s a lot of brilliant new architecture and you can celebrate it without driving a Union Jack bus though the city! Also there’s a wonderful night-time aesthetic to it.”

What is it about Sherlock Holmes that inspires you?

“Sherlock is the genius in the room. Scotland Yard can take the foot casts and the fingerprints and do all the forensics but he’s the only person who can fit it together and make those massive leaps. His character is extraordinary and brilliantly fascinating precisely because he’s not one of us and his brain is so enormous. It’s no accident he’s the most filmed fictional character of all time.”