The Great Game (Sherlock)

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For the use of the phrase in Sherlockian studies, see Sherlockian game.
"The Great Game"
Sherlock episode
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 3
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Written by Mark Gatiss
Produced by Sue Vertue
Featured music David Arnold
Michael Price
Editing by Mali Evans
Charlie Phillips
Original air date 8 August 2010 (2010-08-08)
Running time 89 minutes
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"The Blind Banker"
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"A Scandal in Belgravia"
List of Sherlock episodes

"The Great Game" is the third episode of the television series Sherlock. It was first broadcast on BBC One and BBC HD on 8 August 2010.


Sherlock is bored and lacking a case. Moments later, Baker Street explodes. Meanwhile, John, finding Sherlock impossible to be around, spends the night at his girlfriend's flat, and sees news of an explosion at Baker Street on the television. He rushes home and finds Mycroft pressuring Sherlock to investigate the murder of an MI6 clerk and the disappearance of a flash drive with important defence plans. Sherlock refuses. Sherlock is called to Scotland Yard. Inside the bombed-out flat was a strongbox containing a cell phone similar to the one belonging to the victim from "A Study in Pink".

A message leads Sherlock to a pair of trainers in a basement, and he then receives a call from a terrified woman, reading a message from a third party. If Sherlock doesn't solve the puzzle in twelve hours, the explosive vest she is wearing will be detonated. While Sherlock examines the trainers, he's interrupted by Molly Hooper, who introduces her new boyfriend Jim, an IT employee; Sherlock deduces Jim's gay, and Molly storms out. Sherlock traces the shoes to a schoolboy named Carl Powers, who drowned in a pool in London. Sherlock, who was underage at the time, was unable to convince the police to take his theories seriously, but he proves Powers was poisoned via his eczema medication. The booby-trapped woman is freed.

A second message shows a sports car, stained with blood, and another hostage gives Sherlock eight hours to solve the mystery. Sherlock interviews the missing man's wife, and then the owner of the agency that rented the car, deducing he has a distinct suntan and was recently in Colombia. Finding the blood in the car had been previously frozen, Sherlock concludes the lost man, Ian Monkford, paid the agency owner to help him disappear. Once again, the hostage is freed.

A third message and hostage point Sherlock to the death of television personality Connie Prince, apparently from tetanus. Supposedly, she cut herself on a nail, but the wound was made after her death. Sherlock pins the crime on the housekeeper (also her brother's lover), who murdered Prince by increasing her botox injections. Although Sherlock solves the puzzle, the blind hostage starts describing her kidnapper's voice, causing the bomb to trigger. The blast kills her and eleven others.

The fourth message is a photograph of the River Thames, though no hostage calls. Sherlock finds a security guard's corpse on the riverbank, identifying it as the work of "the Golem", an assassin. Sherlock traces the Golem through his network of homeless persons, but is too late to stop the murder of another victim, an astronomy professor the guard talked to, having realised a recently discovered painting by Vermeer was a fake. While Sherlock is examining the painting at the museum, the fourth hostage (a child) calls, giving Sherlock ten seconds to prove the painting is a fake. He does so, and the museum curator admits to faking the picture, and her secret "partner" was called Moriarty.

Investigating Mycroft's case in secret, Sherlock and John trace the MI6 clerk's death to his prospective brother-in-law, who confesses he stole the flash drive and accidentally killed him. The man stole the memory stick because of his money troubles, but still has it since he'd no idea how to sell it. Sherlock waits for John to go out and then arranges to meet Moriarty. He is met instead by John, wearing an explosive vest. Moriarty appears and turns out to be someone Sherlock has already met; as Molly's boyfriend, Jim. Moriarty tells Sherlock to stop interfering, but Sherlock refuses. Moriarty leaves momentarily but soon returns, having multiple snipers target both Sherlock and John. Sherlock aims his handgun at the explosive vest - mutual assured destruction.

The episode (and the first series) ends on this cliffhanger.

Sources and allusions[edit]

As with all episodes of Sherlock, the plot combines those of a number of works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • The title of the episode itself refers to what scholars have dubbed the Sherlockian game, a pastime attempting to retrace the biographies of Holmes and Watson.
  • Sherlock's surprising ignorance, discussed on John's blog, about several commonplace subjects including astronomy, comes from A Study in Scarlet.[1]
  • Holmes' annoyance, about ordinary people filling their minds with useless subjects and unable to use their brains in the right errand, also comes from A Study in Scarlet.
  • Andrew West, the name of the MI6 clerk, comes from "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans",[2] in which the victim is called Arthur Cadogan West; the idea of the culprit being the brother of the victim's fiancée appears in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty".
  • The pink mobile phone receives messages with Greenwich Pips, with their numbers decreasing with each message, pointing towards "The Five Orange Pips".[1]
  • The investigation of the death of Connie Prince resembles "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman", especially Watson's idea about masking tetanus with calcium hypochlorite on the cat's paws and Holmes reading internet forums to gather information about the TV star's relatives.
  • The conversation between Holmes and Moriarty in the final scene mirrors and quotes the confrontation in Holmes' study in "The Adventure of the Final Problem".
  • The "thick Bohemian paper" comes from "A Scandal in Bohemia", as does the scene where Sherlock notes Molly's weight gain.
  • Sherlock's statement "I'd be lost without my blogger" echoes his "I am lost without my Boswell" from "A Scandal in Bohemia".
  • Holmes' network of homeless persons who help him locate the Golem are referred to as his "eyes and ears all over the city", similar to the Baker Street Irregulars who appear in many of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
  • Sherlock firing a gun at a smiley face spray-painted on the wall at the start of the episode and the holes left in the wall is a reference to "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", in which "Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an armchair... and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks".
  • The scene where Watson examines the shoes resembles a scene in "A Case of Identity" where he tries to deduce information about Miss Mary Sutherland. Sherlock's remark that Watson "missed everything of importance, but...hit upon the method" is also from the same story.
  • The conversation between Holmes and Watson after investigating the house of Connie Prince, where the former says, "We have to do some burglary", is from "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton".

The "Golem", a large, hulking murderer with a long face may be based on the Hoxton Creeper, played by Rondo Hatton, in the Sherlock Holmes film The Pearl of Death (as well as its spin-offs starring the Creeper character); he may also be a tribute to the seven foot tall henchman, Dredger, in Sherlock Holmes (2009 film).


According to the DVD commentary, "The Great Game" was the first episode of Sherlock to be produced after the BBC accepted the series.[3] The series was filmed in reverse order because co-creator Steven Moffat, the writer of the first episode "A Study in Pink", was busy with the fifth series of Doctor Who.[4]

Andrew Scott made his first appearance as Jim Moriarty in "The Great Game". Moffat said, "We knew what we wanted to do with Moriarty from the very beginning. Moriarty is usually a rather dull, rather posh villain so we thought someone who was genuinely properly frightening. Someone who's an absolute psycho."[5] Moffat and Gatiss were originally not going to put a confrontation between Moriarty and Sherlock into the first three episodes, but realised that they "just had to do a confrontation scene. We had to do a version of the scene in 'The Final Problem' in which the two arch-enemies meet each other."[3]

Sherlock's residence at 221B Baker Street was filmed at 185 North Gower Street.[6] Baker Street was impractical because of heavy traffic,[7] and the number of things labelled "Sherlock Holmes", which would need to be disguised.[3] The laboratory used by Sherlock was filmed at Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.[8]

"The Great Game" was partly set in a disused sewage works.[9]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

"The Great Game" was first broadcast on BBC One on 8 August 2010.[10] Overnight figures had been watched by 7.34 million viewers on BBC One and BBC HD, a 31.3% audience share.[11] Final viewing figures rose to 9.18 million.[12]

Chris Tilly of IGN rated "The Great Game" a 9.5 out of 10, describing it as "gripping from start to finish".[13] Of Moriarty's appearance, he said it "didn't disappoint either, the villain of the piece being unlike any incarnation of the character yet seen on screen". He also praised the writing, saying, "Credit should go to writer Mark Gatiss, his script the perfect combination of classic Conan Doyle storytelling with modern-day plot devices and humour, creating a sophisticated mystery that was the perfect marriage of old and new.", and the performances of Cumberbatch and Freeman.[13] John Teti, writing for The A.V. Club, awarded the episode an A- and called it an "extraordinarily dense 90 minutes". He further singled out Andrew Scott for praise, writing that his "portrayal of Moriarty is a thrilling departure from earlier incarnations of the man".[1] The Guardian's Sam Wollaston was optimistic for the programme, describing it as "smart, exciting, and just the right level of confusing" and described "The Great Game" as "a mash-up that totally works" and "an edge-of-the seat ride".


  1. ^ a b c Teti, John (7 November 2010). "The Great Game". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 4 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Wollaston, Sam (8 August 2010). "TV review: Sherlock". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Cumberbatch, Benedict; Martin Freeman; Mark Gatiss (2010). Audio commentary for "The Great Game" (DVD). Sherlock Series 1 DVD: BBC. 
  4. ^ Levine, Neil (17 April 2010). "Mark Gatiss talks 'Who', 'Sherlock'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 4 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Frost, Vicky (10 August 2010). "Sherlock to return for second series". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  6. ^ "Sherlock – did you know?". BBC Entertainment. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "Sherlock Holmes, and the riddle of the packed sandwich bar". Daily Mail. 15 August 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "University's starring role". Cardiff University. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Benji, Wilson (1–7 August 2009). "One Final Question: Mark Gatiss". Radio Times (BBC Magazines). p. 146. 
  10. ^ "Network TV BBC Week 32: 7–13 August" (Press release). BBC. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Millar, Paul (9 August 2010). "BBC One's 'Sherlock' surges to 7.3m". Digital Spy. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  12. ^ "Weekly Top 30 Programmes". Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Tilly, Chris (9 August 2010). "Sherlock: "The Great Game" Review". IGN. Retrieved 4 April 2011. 

External links[edit]