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Sherlock: unaired pilot

I picked up the new Sherlock DVD set yesterday, and snuggled down in the evening to watch the feature I'd really been looking forward to: the unaired pilot. 'Cos more Sherlock is definitely a Good Thing, and it's all we're going to get for another 18 months, too. *sadface*

The pilot is basically a proto-version of A Study in Pink, but less fully developed and only 55 minutes long - i.e. clearly designed for a one-hour broadcast slot rather than an hour-and-a-half one. Most of the script for the scenes which it includes is the same as in the longer version, although there are some changes towards the end, since the plot is slightly different there too. On the whole, the broadcast version is definitely an improvement on the pilot. It is slicker and more immersive, and the extra material generally helps to build the characters, improves the plot or creates more of a sense of ongoing story arcs by setting up the development of things which would happen later in the series. But there are a couple of plot changes which I found detrimental, too - things which had actually struck me as problematic on first watching the broadcast episode, and which now turn out essentially to have been padding added in to a script which would have been better off without them.

Apparently, I can think of no better way to spend my Sunday afternoon than analysing every single difference between the two in great detail. So the rest of this post goes under cuts, to save you all from length and spoilerage...

To start with the changes to the plot, the pilot includes the same introductory scenes as the broadcast version with Watson in his apartment and Sherlock in the morgue, but the murder plot jumps straight to the discovery of the lady in pink. That actually makes more sense of the episode's title, since the pink lady is more central to the action than she appeared in the broadcast version. But it does mean less room for the characters to emerge and develop. We don't see any of the previous victims, Lestrade's attempts to figure out what is going on, or the press conference at which Sherlock simultaneously texts all the journalists present telling them that Lestrade's current theory of serial suicides is wrong. So both Lestrade and Sherlock miss out on important character-developing moments without all that.

Both Mycroft and Moriarty are completely absent from the pilot, so we don't get Mark Gatiss being all ambiguously super-villainish, while the taxi driver murders people purely for his own reasons and on his own initiative, rather than on the suggestion of Moriarty. Obviously those were changes made for the sake of the wider arc of the season, rather than the story told by the first episode, and I think the addition of Mycroft makes the broadcast version more fun anyway. But actually, in the context of this story in its own right, I think I like the cabbie better as his own man, rather than as someone who turned out to have been encouraged and directed by Moriarty. It makes him rather more creepy in my view.

There is no point in the pilot, either, at which Sherlock does not realise that the murderer must be a cab driver. When he and Watson sit down together in the restaurant together to watch the road outside where they expect to see the murderer loitering, Sherlock states that he knows 'what' the murderer must be. It's then only Watson who is puzzled, and Sherlock gets to explain that all the victims have gone missing in plain sight without any sign of a struggle - so a cab driver would fit the profile. This is one thing that definitely works better in the pilot. I noted myself on first viewing the broadcast version that the identity of the murderer had seemed pretty obvious by the time Sherlock worked it out, and know from other people's reports that I wasn't the only one shouting "FFS, it's a cabbie!" at the TV screen.

There's also no scene with Sherlock and Watson1 chasing wildly after the wrong cab (or the wrong person in the right cab). Instead, the cab which pulls up outside the address which they are watching from the restaurant is the right one in the first place. Arguably, that makes the pilot tighter - but that chase in the broadcast version is also a really important 'bonding' moment for Sherlock and John2. They end up laughing at their own foolishness in the hall at 221b Baker St together, and it's also the moment when Watson realises that, thanks to Sherlock, he has completely forgotten his limp in all the excitement. Something similar does happen in the pilot, when Watson suspects that Sherlock is getting into trouble with the cab they've been watching from the restaurant, and runs after the departing cab to try to rescue him, leaving his stick behind. But it's then rather overshadowed by subsequent events, so never quite gets the emotional impact that it does in the broadcast version.

And the pilot version does not show us Sherlock cleverly working out how to to trace the pink lady's mobile phone using GPS... only to then have the cab driver just bring it to 221b Baker St in person anyway. In the pilot, there is no password written on the floorboards next to the victim's body, and once Sherlock has spotted the taxi cab from the restaurant, he connects the phone with the driver by pretending to be drunk, leaning up against the cab, and then calling the phone - which the driver picks up and answers. Again, this is something that I complained about in the broadcast episode, and liked better in the pilot. The password and GPS business gave Sherlock something to be clever and superior about in the broadcast version (and indeed provided the screen-cap I needed for my 'Aha!' icon, above). But I felt that the impact of that was seriously undermined by then having the cab driver need to come right into Sherlock's flat to fetch him for their final confrontation. Meanwhile, the pretending-to-be-drunk scene in the pilot gave him the same opportunities to show off his L33T detecting skills anyway.

On the other hand, the pilot didn't give the cabbie any gun - whether real or fake. Instead, he got Sherlock into his cab and to the intended murder scene by drugging him, and then when he got out his two pills and Sherlock asked what would happen if he didn't take either, announced that he would simply grab him and force one down his throat. That didn't work anything like as well as the broadcast version from a character perspective. For one thing, it's probably unwise to compromise Sherlock's character by showing him as susceptible to something like getting shot in the arm with a syringe without even noticing it in his introductory episode. Maybe later, yes, but in the first episode you need to focus on building up your viewers' belief in him as being constantly one step ahead of everyone else. It also didn't fit with the pattern of the previous victims having no sign of physical violence on their bodies. Yes, Sherlock might agree to take a 50/50 chance anyway, just for kicks, but surely none of the cabbie's previous victims could have been persuaded to swallow their pills without the cabbie exercising some form of compulsion over them. So the fake gun in the broadcast version was definitely an improvement. Everyone else would believe in it, but Sherlock could see through it, thus still allowing the audience to watch a scene in which he is ready to take a huge risk with his own life just for the sake of proving his intellect.

The actors' performances were pretty sound, and definitely developing along the same lines as they appeared in the broadcast version. But, as you would expect really, they weren't yet quite as rounded out or convincing. Some bits of dialogue fell a bit flat, and had definitely been given more colour and resonance by the time of the broadcast version. Much the same was true of the direction. The cameras in the pilot are more static, the angles less interesting, and there is generally less sense of place and presence. The change is no surprise, since they're directed by different people - the pilot by Coky Giedroyc and the broadcast version by Paul McGuigan.

The costumes, sets and general design are all better in the broadcast version, too. Mrs. Hudson's dress in the pilot was needlessly ghastly, in a way which didn't add anything to her character, and even Sherlock's shirts weren't quite hitting that perfect line achieved in the broadcast version between looking dashing and debonair - but also as though he hasn't given them much thought. Watson's meeting with the friend who then introduces him to Sherlock takes place in a restaurant rather than on a park bench, which doesn't really fit with the whole line about him not being able to afford London on an army pension. The flat is both more self-consciously Victorian-looking and less grungy and grimy, and Sherlock's first meeting with Watson also takes place in a rather boringly-generic computer room, rather than an exciting-looking medical laboratory. Oh, and the cabbie takes Sherlock back to his own flat for the two-pills game, rather than to a deserted FE college - which necessitates some rather awkward dialogue about how Mrs. Hudson is out so it's no use shouting, and also means that we don't get the beautiful use of architecture and the metaphorical resonances about Sherlock furthering his, er, education which turn up in the broadcast version.

As for the small touches of design which make the final broadcast version so slick and evocative - they're noticeable only by their absence. In fact, the pilot doesn't even have proper opening and closing credits yet - just a very basic background with names scrolling across it. So it's pretty obvious that a whole chunk of the normal post-production process was just never completed at the point when they decided they needed to re-shoot. The brilliantly-innovative use of onscreen text to convey mobile phone messages and Sherlock's thoughts isn't in place yet - instead, we just get shown direct camera shots of actual mobile phone screens in traditional fashion. Little things like the pink flecks in the cabbie's pills, which help to extend the pink theme that is supposed to be central to the episode, also haven't been thought of yet. And nor do we have the very clever use of the reflected lights of the city - buses, traffic-lights, shop-signs - in the rainy windows of the cabs which Sherlock and Watson travel around in, and which I thought were a lovely way of evoking the busy, relentless pace of life around them in the whole series as broadcast. In fact, even the lighting in the cab scenes was a bit off. Though some effort had been made to show passing lights as they travelled through the city, the lighting on the faces of both main characters still just wasn't quite 'right' for how people look when they are in a taxi at night with moving lights all around them.

On the whole, then, I'd say the pilot is definitely worth watching if you can - partly because of the things it handles slightly better than the broadcast version, but mainly just for the insight which it provides into the process of how a television programme is developed and improved. Overall, the broadcast version is better, and I can certainly see why it had to be remade to fit in with the rest of the series. But the pilot is none too shabby, and I'm glad that we now have the chance to watch it.

1. Somehow, I'm perfectly comfortable with the producers' decision to call the main character by his first name, but feel odd extending that same principle to his best friend. Maybe it's just because 'Sherlock' is a really distinctive first name with rich associations, whereas 'John' could mean anybody. But anyway, it means that when I talk about them as a pair, I now end up saying 'Sherlock and Watson'. It's not very neat, but it just seems to be what I have to do when talking about this particular take on the characters.
2. Oh, OK - maybe sometimes I can manage an occasional 'John' after all. I am nothing if not consistently inconsistent...

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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 5th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
I's forgotten that was on so haven't opened mine since it arrived. Will watch then read what you wrote
Sep. 5th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's the main reason I bought it! Will look forward to hearing what you think. :-)
Sep. 5th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
I may have said this before, but I absolutely love these in-depth reviews of tv things.

One thing I noticed when re-watching (or attempting to do so, damned thing cut off half an hour in) on my ipod on holiday was that in the broadcast version, the first victims all had bottles with *three* pills in, whereas I felt sure that Sherlock was offered a bottle with two - if memory served they were to take one each, in a Princess Bride style.
Sep. 5th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! I've a horrible feeling I would write them anyway, even if nobody cared. But it's nice to know someone out there enjoyed it. :-)

As for pills and bottles, in both versions of this story, the cabbie has two bottles - one containing 'good' pills and one 'bad'. But you're right that in the broadcast version, we see the earlier victims taking pills from a bottle with multiple pills in it. I think we are meant to assume that they have already chosen either the good bottle or the bad bottle, and all the pills in it are the same. By the time the cabbie gets to Sherlock, his supplies must be running low, because each bottle only has one pill left inside. In the pilot version, we don't know what happened with the earlier victims, because we don't see the bottles at all before the final confrontation with Sherlock.
Sep. 5th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
ah, that makes sense - I missed bits of the opening on tv due to the Beans' bedtimes and other things, so was working on half-remembered initial viewing and abruptly curtailed rewatch.

Must go buy the DVDs. :-)
Sep. 5th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, do - they're ace. They've got commentaries for the first and third episodes and a 'making-of' documentary as well. Totally worth it.
Sep. 5th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Your review is interesting as always!

I don't have the DVDs yet, but will definitely pick them up at some point. I agreed with most of your criticisms of the first broadcast episode, so it's interesting to hear that some of those things made more sense in the original pilot. It's good, though, to hear that the broadcast version is better overall; it means they were moving in the right direction and will hopefully continue to do so!

Watson's meeting with the friend who then introduces him to Sherlock takes place in a restaurant rather than on a park bench, which doesn't really fit with the whole line about him not being able to afford London on an army pension.

I think (from memory) that that does fit with the original story (A Study in Scarlet) in which they meet in either a restaurant or a bar where Watson's got a bite to eat. And he had the same problem with his army pension not being much money then too, and the same reason for him sharing a flat with Holmes (i.e. neither of them could afford anywhere decent in London on their own). So I guess we're meant to understand that he has enough money to get by on (at least for the moment), but the horrific rents charged in London aren't going to be something he can afford for long!
Sep. 6th, 2010 08:45 am (UTC)
That's interesting about 'A Study in Scarlet'. It suggests that the pilot version of the story followed the lead of the original fairly faithfully regarding that meeting, but that by the time it was re-drafted for the broadcast version, Moffat and Gatiss had decided that it didn't entirely match up with some of the other things they were doing with the character of Watson. Their Watson is more obviously properly hard-up than Conan Doyle's - for example, there's the emphasis on him only having a smartphone because his sister gave him her unwanted one. Also, I would guess that coffee on a park bench was judged to feel more 'modern' than sitting down together in a restaurant, which is very much a staple of period dramas. So what had worked in the original story eventually became incongruous in the TV version, and was reworked. Again, a fascinating insight into the creative processes.
Sep. 6th, 2010 10:48 am (UTC)
Yep, I'd say you're right there. Actually, I'd forgotten that he had his sister's hand-me-down phone in the broadcast ep; was that in the unaired pilot too?

If you haven't read the original Doyle stories, I strongly recommend them. The early short stories, especially, are great. "A Study in Scarlet" does have a huge and largely unnecessary section set in America, but the part set in London is excellent. Holmes and Watson's characters evolved somewhat after that first story, but that only makes it more interesting. And of course it's fascinating to compare it to "A Study in Pink" and see all the references in the script, and how some of them have been used very differently (e.g. the whole "Rachel" thing is in the original story, but means something completely different). The third episode of this series also contained references to lots of different stories.

Also Watson's moving war wound; in "A Study in Scarlet" Doyle places it in his shoulder, but in "The Sign of Four" it's in his leg. Oops! I loved this show's answer to that.

I wonder if they'll deal with his changing name as well? (In one story, Mrs. Watson calls him "James", which seems impossible because his middle initial is "H". Some people have suggested the "H" stands for Hamish which is a Scottish variant of James, and James is her pet name for him!)
Sep. 6th, 2010 11:26 am (UTC)
Yes, everything with the phone is exactly the same in the unaired pilot, right down to 'Harry' being short for 'Harriet'.

I've read some of Doyle's original stories, but mainly from the Return of Sherlock Holmes collection, which is post-Reichenbach falls. So I haven't read 'A Study in Scarlet'. I'm quite keen to read more now that my interest has been reinvigorated by this series, though, and the example you give about Watson's moving wound is a brilliant case for doing so! I want to be able to pick up on stuff like that. I'm pretty sure they'll be available for free online because they are out of copyright now, so I might make that my on-the-bus / lunchtime reading when I've finished what I'm currently on.

As for James vs. John - I don't know about that, but interestingly Moffat was talking in the DVD extras about whether or not they might go down the line of Watson being married for a bit anyway. He was completely ambiguous - just talking about it as an example of the sort of material they would have fun batting about, exploring and deciding whether to use or not for future series. But it does at least mean that there might be a Mrs. Watson to call him 'James' at some point anyway.
Sep. 7th, 2010 11:53 am (UTC)
It would be interesting to see how they'd deal with the whole Mrs. Watson thing. It was a bit of a nuisance for Doyle, because once Watson was married (and his medical practice was providing him with a decent living), he naturally enough moved out of Baker Street. This made it difficult to keep churning out stories about him and Holmes investigating some mystery, of course, and he used every trick he could think of: "I had called round to visit Sherlock Holmes and got caught up in the events which follow", "My wife was away staying with family so I was staying in the old place in Baker Street", "This story happened back when I was living in Baker Street before my marriage".

Eventually he'd had enough and killed her off so he could justify Watson moving back in! (Though her death was entirely "off-camera" and we don't know what happened) But then in a couple of later stories, clearly set after Mrs. Watson's death, there are references to a living Mrs. Watson ... either Doyle made yet another impressive cock-up regarding Watson's continuity or he meant to imply that Watson had married again (but then why not say so?).

How would they untangle that web, I wonder? 8^)
Sep. 7th, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think continuity probably wasn't really that much of an issue, for Conan Doyle or his readers. I agree about the plot problems posed by the marriage scenario, though. Just the same as with Jeeves and Wooster, it's best avoided for either character, as it would break up the central partnership (not to mention upset the slashers!). Indeed, even after introducing just a girlfriend for Watson in the second episode, I couldn't help but notice that she then played very little role in the third. So I suspect the relationship won't be developed very much further, despite Moffat's love for marrying his characters off.
Sep. 7th, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
From memory, I think they met in the bar of the Criterion

Although it's a theatre, from the way it's referred to in Victorian literature, I get the impression people often treated it as a bar or restaurant, going to eat or drink there with no intention of seeing a performance.
Sep. 7th, 2010 12:14 pm (UTC)
That does ring a bell, yes!

And having checked in Wikisource's copy Watson does indeed meet Stamford at the bar of the Criterion, but they then go for lunch at the Holborn (presumably a hotel?).
Sep. 7th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC)
Ah, and thanks for that link! I knew they'd be out there on t'internet somewhere, so I shall bookmark that on my phone for future on-bus reading pleasure.
Sep. 7th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
No probz! I suspected there would be a copy on Wikisource, it's great that way. I was using it for H.P. Lovecraft stories, but it has the old full-of-errors versions rather than the "newer" ones (i.e. resourced from Lovecraft's original texts rather than the error-riddled published versions), so now I read them on hplovecraft.com, which is great!

I don't know if there's something like that for Doyle, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Sep. 7th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there probably is. I will have a scoot around, and see which version renders best on my phone!
Leave Comments
Sep. 7th, 2012 08:37 am (UTC)
I liked the unaired pilot better. That was the first thing I watched. I loved the comedy , the fast pace and the restaurant and cabbie sticking him with the needle and John realizing something has gone wrong. That all worked much better to me. When I watched the actual episode, it was in dark light and they added way to much other stuff, like the brother and the whole cabbie scene was totally different, I really did not like it as much. I felt like they dumbed it down a little, like they over explained everything, that was not as good.
I am on to episode 2.
Sep. 7th, 2012 10:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, as I've said above there definitely are some things in the pilot which are better handled than the broadcast version - and that certainly includes dumbing down the reveal about it being a cab driver! I guess for me neither is quite perfect, but the broadcast version edges it slightly, mainly just because of the slicker design. But I can easily appreciate how for some tastes the pilot would seem the better of the two.
Jeff Rittenour
Dec. 21st, 2012 06:25 am (UTC)
loved the pilot - didn't care for the spelling it all out for the dumb audience broadcast version. it looks slick yet cheap - the comedy doesn't work at all...and holmes seems less "aloof" in this version...no sir I didn't like it.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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