Ranking The SHERLOCK Episodes

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Alright, alright. Girls. Calm down. It's only a ranking of the Sherlock episodes.


Spanning four series plus a Christmas special Sherlock notched up 13 feature length episodes, propelled its stars to international success and received much worldwide critical acclaim. But how do the episodes stack up against each other? Let's enter our mind palaces and deduce which order we should put them in.

Warning: There are spoilers a plenty for just about every episode of Sherlock below.


13. The Hounds Of Baskerville
I'm going to say this up front, I'm not a fan of Mark Gatiss. (Much like himself) I can't decide if he's a writer who acts or and actor who writes. Either way I personally feel he does neither particularly well. I think he's very lucky to have a friend like Steven Moffat or I'm not sure he would've had half as much work over the last decade.

These bottom three episodes are all equally as poor as each other for me. These are the times when Sherlock as a series got by on the charisma of its lead (and sometimes guest) actors alone. What puts The Hounds Of Baskerville in bottom place though is that it is based on, what is surely, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous work and Gatiss wrecks it. Not even Russell Tovey's presence can save this episode which would be best fed to the hound itself!


12. The Final Problem
The final episode of Sherlock to date is aptly titled as it's riddled with problems. After The Reichenbach Fall Moffat and Gatiss spent the remaining episodes writing themselves out of the massive cul-de-sac they had steered Sherlock into (which is why the more stand-alone episodes from series three and four work better). The Final Problem is the culmination of their excessive reworking of the Sherlock Holmes mythos and here, for me, they go way too far. Holmes & Watson are now seemingly superheroes, able to leap out of first floor windows without a scratch. Eurus seems an interesting but unnecessary addition, and the fact that Sherlock doesn't remember her doesn't ring true at all. The tacked-on Mary Watson ending is equally unnecessary. The brief flashback appearance of Andrew Scott's Moriarty is a high point but the explanation of his supposed return from the dead is flimsy and does not ring true for the character. It's really a contrived mess and if it does turn out to be the final episode of Sherlock then it's a sad way for the show to bow out.


11. The Blind Banker
Utterly, utterly forgetful. Sherlock was very lucky that its first series was bookended with two exceptional episodes as, on the strength of this installment alone I doubt the show would've gone on much longer.

The Blind Banker is also one of the only Sherlock episodes that will have you looking at your watch and wondering just how much more of this is left. The conclusion, especially, is overly long. This would be the first time that Sherlock as a series got by on the strengths of its actors rather than the story it was trying to tell. It wouldn't be the last though. Thankfully, we're moving into much stronger territory...


10. The Abominable Bride
There's a lot to like in The Abominable Bride, not least its back-and-forth-timey-wimey-ness between Victorian Sherlock and modern-day Sherlock. It's position on this list is more to do with just how strong Sherlock as a series was overall, and because at times The Abominable Bride can come across as a little fan-wanky. A case of Moffat and Gatiss having their cake and eating it. But it's a delicious cake so I can forgive them that. Talking of cake...


9. The Sign Of Three
This and the next four episodes are all close in quality and pretty interchangeable in positioning for me. The Sign Of three is great fun with lots of actual sleuthing, deducing... and dancing! Overall it ventures more into romantic comedy territory than any other but it's, surprisingly, no bad thing. It's an episode that rewards on rewatch when you catch all the labels Sherlock assigns when he's wearing his beer googles.


8. The Six Thatchers
Kicking off series four with mixed reception, The Six Thatchers is by no means the highlight of the season but a solid Sherlock adventure. It's more of a John & Mary episode with, what should've been, a heartbreaking culmination to their story. I say should've been as perhaps the resurrection of Holmes and (supposedly) Moriarty by this point maybe numbs us as viewers to the finality of death in this series.


7. The Empty Hearse
Some people will point to this episode as the moment Sherlock jumped the shark. I don't really buy that but it is the start of that Moffat & Gatiss 'writing themselves out of the hole' which I referred to earlier.

The Empty Hearse is a Gatiss script but you can't help but spot the touches of pure Moffat all over it. Whether that's down to friendship-osmosis, Gatiss absorbing up some style tips, or thanks to Moffat's big red pen and a heavy edit I couldn't say, either way it works. From 'I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes' through to the 13 possible scenarios for how Sherlock faked his death, complete with one involving Derren Brown, this might not be the most loved episode but it's great fun and full of fantastic moments throughout.


6. His Last Vow
The last installment from series three works really well because 90% of it is one of those stand-alone episodes I mentioned earlier. Even though Charles Augustus Magnussen had been teased across the previous two episodes, his story begins for real here, and what a story it is. There are superb performances throughout from all the main players but still Lars Mikkelson manages to outshine them all. Flicking John's face was a close second but pissing in Sherlock's fireplace has to be his finest moment. Also we find out the truth behind Mary, although at this stage I doubt anyone was too surprised. Her shooting Sherlock, however, well I don't think many people were expecting that.

Proving that the game is never over, after nearly (oh, so nearly) getting themselves out of that proverbial cul-de-sac Moffat crashes the car straight back into it by tacking on a brilliant ending with the supposed resurrection of Moriarty. A brilliant ending for us the viewer that is, not the best when it comes to future story-telling.


5. A Study In Pink
I think it's fair to say that prior to July 25th 2010 Benedict Cumberbatch was not exactly a household name, and Martin Freeman was simply that bloke from The Office. But the next day they were both very much water-cooler material as the first installment of the new retooled modern day Sherlock Holmes series bought the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to an audience who, a large percentage of, were never likely to go out of their way to discover.

Moffat's updating of Conan Doyle's work here is as brave as it is clever, and the episode itself is perfectly paced, never missing a beat throughout. As Holmes, Cumberbatch blew the bloody doors off, but, just as we have done many times in Doctor Who, we enter the series through the eyes of the companion. John Watson. And Freeman is eminently watchable and relatable in the role.

(Excuse me why I put my Gatiss-bashing hat on)

Of course, when Sherlock premiered in 2010 it wasn't the only take on the famous private detective that appeared that year. The first Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr big-screen version was playing in cinemas, but just about every single aspect of the BBC series was far superior than the cinematic films. Except one. That being Mycroft Holmes. Guy Ritchie got himself Stephen Fry for his sequel and one can only imagine just what could've been if he'd played the role on the small screen series instead of Mark Gatiss. I'm not saying Gatiss is terrible in the part as over the years I warmed to him as Mycroft. He's just nowhere near the calibre of Cumberbatch or Freeman.

Still, two out of three ain't bad!


4. A Scandal In Belgravia
The woman. The. woman

Series two of Sherlock took things up a notch. Or two. After establishing that they could update Sherlock Holmes to the 21st Century, Moffat & Gatiss set about tackling three of Conan Doyle's most well known adventures. Gatiss bombed miserably with The Hound, but Moffat more than excelled with his take on A Scandal In Bohemia.

The two leads are a lot more comfortable and established in their roles, and just as Andrew Scott did with Moriarty, Lara Pulver makes the character of Irene Adler her own. Totally her own.


3. The Lying Detective
The penultimate adventure and another Moffat script, dealing with powerful men and the despicable things they can get away with because they have that power (hello, Mr. Trump). The highlight of series four, The Lying Detective features a case which is a largely standalone affair, arriving just when it was needed as Sherlock was getting bogged down in the ongoing story-arc.

Toby Jones, who frequently makes anything he appears in better, is truly menacing as Culverton Smith. It's interesting, in retrospect, that this episode aired right at the start of a year which would go on to see an awful lot of men who have abused their power finally getting exposed for who they truly are and facing the consequences of their actions. Sadly many of them, like Culverton Smith was, are still hiding in plain sight (hello again, Mr. Trump).


2. The Reichenbach Fall
The series two finale could've so easily have been the end of Sherlock. Cumberbatch and Freeman were both big Hollywood stars by then and had come so far in just six episodes. I suspect Moffat, Gatiss and writer Stephen Thompson had that thought in mind when they threw everything at the screen with a balls-to-the-future attitude to deliver one the finest 90 minutes of television from the last decade.

It's twisty, it's turny, it's head-fuckery at it's finest as the nation spends two years trying to figure out just exactly what went down on the roof. And before that there is the most wonderful Moriarty-fest you could ever wish for. This is perfect season finale material and although I've placed it second, for reasons I will explain shortly, it's pretty much on par with the my choice for the top spot on this list...


1. The Great Game
It takes a very special someone to equal, and even occasionally outmatch, both Sherlock Holmes as a character and Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor.

Step forward Andrew Scott.

The series one finale tops my list because it's jam-packed with actual proper detective work for Holmes and Watson, plus it's riddled with references to Conan Doyle's work throughout. It's a tense, dramatic, edge-of-your-seat affair, complete with a jaw-dropping performance from Scott as Moriarty who threatens to burn the heart out of Sherlock. And you believe him too.

And you know what? This masterpiece of television was written by Mark Gatiss. Proving that I clearly know nothing! If we have to sit through ten Hounds to get one Great Game then it's worth it as when Gatiss hits home, he really hits home.

(Still not keen on his Mycroft though.)

So that's how we'd rank all thirteen Sherlock episodes. Agree? Disagree? Let us know your ranking in the comments below.

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