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7 Classic References to Watch for In Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"

7 Classic References to Watch for In Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"

On January 19, after two years (years!) of its absence, the BBC’s Sherlock returns to U.S. TV screens! But, because it’s already aired in the U.K. some of us have seen it! There will be no spoilers in the following, so take that deerstalker/death Frisbee out of your hand and put it right back on your head. Instead, in anticipation for those who are huge fans of the original Doyle stories almost as much as they love Benedict Cumberbatch, here are seven references to original canon Sherlock Holmes stories to watch for in the first new episode of Sherlock; “The Empty Hearse.”

Okay, maybe there will be some light spoilers. Think of these more as clues!

7. Sherlock Holmes Appears to Watson, but He’s in Disguise

Following The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, the third set of original Holmes short stories is collectively referred to as The Return of Sherlock Holmes, primarily because all the stories take place after “The Final Problem.” And the first story “The Empty House” chronicles how Holmes “comes back from the dead.” In the original story, Holmes appears to Watson as a deranged raving old man trying to sell some antique books. References to this scene are sort of made twice in “The Empty Hearse.” (Also, obviously, as with many of the other Sherlock episode titles, “The Empty Hearse,” is a play on “The Empty House.”)

6. Lord Moran

There’s an antagonist in this episode named Lord Moran, which is a direct reference to Col. Sebastian Moran  from “The Empty House.” In the story, Moran is a sharpshooter with a long-distance air gun capable of snipping Holmes from across Baker Street. (This tech was a big deal in 1903) In “The Empty Hearse,” this Moran has a different form of long-distance attack.

5. Professor Presbury and the Monkey Glands

By mentioning both Professor Presbury and monkey glands, Sherlock makes a quick reference to a 1922 story called “The Creeping Man,” in one scene. It’s interesting not just because it’s a great (and slightly underrated) original Conan Doyle story, but also because in the story certain monkey glands make a very old man, really strong and also insane. Is this also a sideways reference (Star Trek Into Darkness SPOILER) to the genetically engineered Khan who Cumberbatch played in Star Trek Into Darkness?

4. Baritsu

Though Sherlock doesn’t outright mention the word “baristu” there is a sly reference to a kind of “Japanese wrestling” in the episode.  In the original “The Empty House” short story, Holmes says he used “baristu” to defeat Moriarty. This is all a little weird, because the actual word for this specific martial art is “bartitsu,” and it’s not really, entirely Japanese.  So, Conan Doyle maybe got it wrong, but maybe he did it on purpose? But really, the main thing to remember is that short-story Sherlock Holmes beat Moriarty by wrestling him. Why was there never a WWF wrestler named Sherlock Holmes? (Actually, let’s be thankful for that.)

3. Mary

In the original stories, John Watson does get married to a lady named Mary. It should come as no surprise then, that this new return of Sherlock story features a lady named Mary who is John's fiance! But unlike the stories, she's way more interesting!

2. Eliminate the Impossible!

“The Empty Hearse” also contains a nice version of that famous Holmes maxim “when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This line pops up in various original Holmes stories, but appeared for the first time in the novel The Sign of The Four. (Or sometimes as just The Sign of Four.)

 1. A Giant Rat of Sumatra!

The ultimate reference for Holmes fans since forever, this one is a story which is referenced in the canon, but never actually seen in canon. In “The Sussex Vampire,” we’re quickly told about a case which Watson has not prepared to write called “The Giant Rat of Sumatra.” This “giant rat” turns up in a strange way in “The Empty Hearse.” Watch for it!

Sometimes even big Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Fans can’t catch everything, or as Holmes might say, “we see, but we do not observe.” So, when “The Empty Hearse” debuts on the 19th on PBS, see if you can detect even more references to the fantastic stories of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes lives!

What do you want to see in the first new Sherlock episode?

Tags: tv, spoilers, reviews, bbc, benedict cumberbatch, books-and-comics, sherlock

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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