Sherlock brought the Great Detective to the modern world, but it took a lot of inspiration from the books. Here’s every case referenced by the show.
BBC’s Sherlock is a modern take on the famous detective, but that didn’t stop the writers from taking characters and other elements from the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and here’s every book case referenced by the show. Sherlock Holmes made his debut in 1887 in A Study in Scarlet and became widely popular thanks to a series of short stories published in The Strand Magazine, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia” in 1891. Sherlock Holmes appeared in a total of four novels and 56 short stories and continues to be one of the most popular and beloved literary characters.
The Great Detective has also been adapted to all types of media for over a hundred years, and recent adaptations have reignited interest in his original cases. Among those is the BBC’s Sherlock TV show, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. Sherlock brought the detective (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to modern-day London, alongside his unforgettable friend and partner Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) and other characters from the books, as are Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) and Moriarty (Andrew Scott). The series saw a version of Sherlock Holmes that used technology to his advantage but didn’t rely on it much to solve the cases, and his deduction skills were as impressive as in the books, though they became too unbelievable following his return from the dead.
Still, Sherlock was a success with critics and fans, who praised its writing, performances, and tone. As expected, the writers took some liberties when bringing Sherlock and company to the present day, but they took various ideas, elements, and characters from the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and some references were more obvious than others. Here’s every Sherlock Holmes case from the books referenced by the BBC show.
A Study In Pink – A Study In Scarlet
Sherlock’s first episode takes its title and premise from the character’s debut story, A Study in Scarlet. The source story tells how Sherlock and Dr. Watson met, as well as their first case together. Just like in the series, Sherlock and Watson investigate a murder where the only clue is the word “RACHE”. The murderer ends up being a taxi driver, who killed his victims by offering them two pills: one caused nothing, while the other poisoned and killed the victim.
The Blind Banker – The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
“The Blind Banker” is loosely based on the short story “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”, in which the suspect used a coded message of dancing men to communicate and ultimately threaten his victim. In the episode, mysterious symbols are used to send messages to the targeted victims and to those around them. “The Blind Banker” also takes elements from the novel The Valley of Fear, where coded messages are also used and a secret society is behind the murders.
The Great Game – The Adventure Of The Bruce-Partington Plans
“The Great Game” takes a couple of elements from the short story “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”, where these plans are stolen and Mycroft asks Sherlock for help to find the thief. The rest of the episode’s story, however, is pretty much an original one, though the five bombs might be inspired by the case “The Five Orange Pips”.
A Scandal In Belgravia – A Scandal In Bohemia
Sherlock season 2’s first episode is based on the short story “A Scandal in Bohemia”, which was the introduction of Irene Adler, who never appeared again in another Sherlock Holmes story. In both stories, Irene Adler was in possession of some compromising photographs and it was up to Sherlock and Watson to retrieve them. Of course, Irene’s motivations were very different in the book, and she ended up running away with her new partner, leaving a photo of her with a note addressed to Sherlock where she explained that she had no intentions of using the sought photograph to wrong anyone and only kept it for her protection.
The Hound Of Baskerville – The Hound Of The Baskervilles
Perhaps the most obvious title reference in the whole series, with some minor changes. In both stories, Sherlock and Watson investigate an attempted murder believed to be provoked by a diabolical hound of supernatural origin. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, however, there is a hound used to intimidate and kill the victims of the Stapleton “siblings” (who were actually husband and wife), who wanted to claim their inheritance as they were, in fact, descendants of the Baskervilles, whereas in the series, the hound was a regular dog believed to be a demonic creature thanks to the use of a hallucinogenic gas.
The Reichenbach Fall – The Final Problem
Sherlock season 2’s finale is inspired by the short story “The Final Problem”, where Sherlock came face to face with Moriarty for the first time. “The Reichenbach Fall” takes the general idea of the short story, as in both Sherlock and Moriarty end up dead, only for Sherlock to be brought back sometime later. While Sherlock’s return was planned for the TV show, Conan Doyle’s intention was to really kill the character, but after intense fan pressure, he ended up bringing him back for a couple more cases.
The Empty Hearse – The Adventure Of The Empty House, The Lost Special
The first story set after Sherlock’s supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls was “The Adventure of the Empty House”. Unlike the series’ episode, the short story does explain how Sherlock survived the fall and what he did for three years, before finally returning to London and Dr. Watson. “The Empty Hearse” also took some elements from the story “The Lost Special”, where Sherlock investigates the disappearance of a privately hired train, which in the series was changed for a passenger who vanishes from a train in the London Underground.
His Last Vow – His Last Bow, The Adventure Of Charles August Milverton
The title of the episode comes from the short story “His Last Bow”, but the plot comes from two other cases: “The Adventure of Charles August Milverton” and “The Man With The Twisted Lip”. Just like Charles Augustus Magnussen was doing with Mary Watson, Charles August Milverton was blackmailing Lady Eva Blackwell, and was known as the “king of blackmailers”. In order to get information on Milverton’s moves, Sherlock disguises himself as a plumber and becomes acquainted with Milverton’s housemaid, and even becomes engaged to her, as he did in the series with Magnussen’s assistant. The part where Sherlock is found in an opium den by Watson is reminiscent of the story “The Man With The Twisted Lip”, where Watson also finds Sherlock there while helping out one of Mary’s friends.
The Six Thatchers – The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The title of the episode is inspired by that of the story “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”, as well as the part where busts of Margaret Thatcher are smashed (which in the source material are busts of Napoleon) as one of them contains something valuable, but the plot also takes elements from other cases, particularly “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”. The episode took a couple of quotes from that story, and the yellow smiley face on the wall of Sherlock’s flat is a subtle nod to that case as well.
The Lying Detective – The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
“The Lying Detective” takes its title and main villain from the short story “The Adventure of the Dying Detective”. Both have Culverton Smith as antagonist, but in the book, Culverton Smith is only suggested to have committed one murder (that of his nephew), though he did try to kill Sherlock. In the series, Culverton is suspected of various killings, and also attempts to murder Sherlock while in the hospital.
The Final Problem – The Adventure Of The Musgrave Ritual, The Adventure Of The Three Garridebs, The Adventure Of The Gloria Scott
Sherlock’s series finale takes its title from the above-mentioned story “The Final Problem”, but the plot took elements from other short stories. First is “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”, from which the Holmes family house takes its name; “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs”, when Eurus challenges Sherlock to identify which of the three Garrideb brothers committed murder; and “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”, where a character named Victor Trevor, an old friend of Sherlock, is introduced. “The Final Problem” ends with a time-lapse montage showing Sherlock and Watson rebuilding the Baker Street flat and taking more cases, and there’s one direct reference to “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”, with a chalkboard with a coded message that reads “Am here Abe Slaney”.
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