Search Menu



9 Classic References to Watch for in Sherlock's "His Last Vow"

9 Classic References to Watch for in Sherlock's "His Last Vow"

Across the pond, the last episode of the new series of the BBC’s Sherlock just aired this past Sunday. With the U.S. premier of “The Empty Hearse” coming this Sunday, there is still plenty of time to rifle through your Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books for little kernels of Holmes and Watson wisdom. Want to feel extra smarty-pants when Cumberbatch or Freeman utters a particular line? Well, “His Last Vow” was jammed with classic references from the stories. Here are nine we caught.


The Master Blackmailer is Back

The blackmailing antagonist of the 1904 story “Charles Augustus Milverton,” is described by Holmes in the original text thusly: “Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous, creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me.” The newest episode deals with a new version of Milverton, here renamed Charles Augustus Magnusson, though the slithery nature of the blackmailer is not only intact, but even more horrifying than before. The above quote from Holmes is recreated similarly in this episode along with several other descriptions and actions of Charles Augustus. And like the original character (who was also based on a real life art dealer/blackmailer) this blackmailer is oddly above the law and not doing anything which can be proved to be illegal. Like the Sherlock Holmes of the stories, our Cumberbatch/Sherlock doesn’t really care, though, and as he says in the original text “I think there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.”

Sherlock Holmes, Agent of Brittan

Though much of the story of “His Last Vow” is derived from “Charles Augustus Milverton,” the title is a reference to “His Last Bow,” a story published in 1917, which features an older Sherlock Holmes helping England out in matters of state. Often seen as overly nationalistic (and maybe even jingoistic) this Holmes tale is also notable because it is one of the few original stories not told from Watson’s perspective. Interestingly, the latest Sherlock episode also keeps Watson in the dark about a great many things.

Holmes in the Drug Den

In the excellent 1891  story “The Man With The Twisted Lip,” Holmes and Watson have infiltrated an opium den to retrieve a missing man by the name of Isa Whitney. In this new episode, Watson finds Sherlock in a crack den, but is Holmes actually undercover or just up to his old drug addict tricks? Though not intoned directly in the stories, many adaptations (including Sherlock) have made direct references to the fact that Sherlock Holmes is a recovering addict of hard drugs. We’re also introduced to “Billy Wiggins” here, who is another reference to the classic stories.

Wiggins and the Baker Street Irregulars

Also related to “The Man With the Twisted Lip” as well as A Study in Scarlet, is a new Sherlock character named Billy Wiggins. In the classic stories, Wiggins is an urchin who assists Holmes in getting various information from the street. This homeless network is “The Baker Street Irregulars,” used by Holmes in several stories and pastiches. Additionally, “The Man With the Twisted Lip,” featured a faux-beggar character named “Hugh Boone,” who was extremely intelligent, and full of wise-cracks which didn’t match his scruffy appearance. The new Billy Wiggins seems to be a kind of mash-up of the original Wiggins with a touch of Boone.


Hardcore Holmes fans know Sherlock’s eventual fate is to retire to the countryside where he takes care of bees all day long. Watch for the cottage/beehive reference in the new episode! It’s quick!

People All Pass Out in a Room Mysteriously

One of the more phantasmagorical stories in the canon, “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,” begins with a scene of tons of people passed-out dead a dinner. How did it happen? How can you poison a whole dinner party? Something similar happens in this one, though the perpetrator of the “crime,” might not be a bad guy!

A Literal Empty House

In the first story featuring the return of Sherlock Holmes, Watson and Holmes enginner a dummy of the great detective in order to confuse Col. Sebastian Moran into non-shooting Sherlock Holmes. “His Last Vow,” feature a house which is actually empty (like the title of the story “The Empty House) but also a tricky reference to Watson and Holmes’s use of a dummy to fool an enemy. But is it a real dummy and is the person really an enemy?

Holmes Gets Faux-Engaged

Without ruining any of the fun of these scene, in the original text of “Charles Augustus Milverton,” Holmes becomes engaged to Milverton’s housemaid in order get close to the evil action. Let’s just say he pulls a very similar, nearly identical move in this episode. Though, unlike the original, this is decidedly more fun.

A Third Holmes Brother?

Very casually, Mycroft Holmes makes a quick jab in this episode to “the other one,” referencing the idea that there is perhaps a third Holmes brother outside of Sherlock and Mycroft. What this means for the future of the show Sherlock is unclear, though in terms of classic references might be the long-held fan theory about Sherrinford Holmes. Because it was the original name Doyle was considering for naming “Sherlock,” Sherrinford has become something of a shadowy older brother of both the Holmes boys. Some even speculate that the Sherlock who returns from the dead in “The Empty House,” is not actually Sherlock at all, but rather, Sherrinford, who simply takes up the Holmes mantle. Could a future episode of Sherlock, deal with this idea? Perhaps even invert it?

Get ready for the return of Sherlock! Our spoiler-filled reviews of each of the three episodes will begin on the evening of Sunday the 19th!

Love this post? Like the MindHut on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for more updates!

Tags: tv, sir arthur conan doyle, bbc, benedict cumberbatch, martin freeman, sherlock

Write your own comment!

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.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email