Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

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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Tags: cult tv, reviews, sherlock holmes, tv

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