Whilst there have been more Sherlock adaptations than I could count, I’m talking about the BBC adaptation. This ran from 2010-2017. The notable difference is this Sherlock adaptation had three hour length episodes a season. This in theory and practice allowed for greater character development and exploration of more serious themes. I’ve linked all the episodes in case this list makes you want to watch Sherlock. So, let’s get into some history before beginning every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked.
The BBC’s adaptation of Sherlock ran from 2010-2017. It featured 3 seasons and had 13 episodes. Created by then Doctor Who writers Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, the show is set in modern London. This is a far cry from the traditional 1900s setting. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson. The supporting cast features Andrew ‘Hot Priest’ Scott as Moriarty, writer Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes and Rupert Graves as Inspector Lestrade. This was a hit with fans and critics, not least due to its cast. Also, the limited episode count allows for longer and more in depth exploration of serious topics. The series also adapts classic Sherlock mysteries like the Hound of the Baskervilles. It also introduces new episodes which are more suited to the modern setting. So without further ado, here is every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked.
Number 13: The Empty Hearse (S3, E1)
Coming in last in every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked is the Series 3 opener The Empty Hearse. Most people’s problem with this episode is it gives itself a herculean task that it couldn’t really accomplish. What was that task? Dealing with the emotional fallout of Sherlock’s ‘death’ in the Series 2 finale AND the inevitability of his return. Even in an hour long episode, that is a very tall order. In the end, Sherlock emotionally manipulates Watson into forgiving him by acting like they were going to die. That’s not how emotions work…. Although, there are a couple of saving graces to an otherwise bad episode. They include Sherlock’s pun-filled return, the introduction of Mary Morston and the Holmes Brothers fun game of Operation.
Number 12: The Final Problem (S4, E3)
This entry in every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked suffers from similar problems to The Empty Hearse as it tries to deal with too much emotional context. Also, Moffat seems to have thought what’s better than one high functioning sociopath? Two high functioning sociopaths and why should we stop there? This episode introduces us to Eurus Holmes, Sherlock and Mycroft’s older sister, who spends the episode as Sherlock’s personal torturer. An interesting concept, right? Well because of how rushed her backstory and motivations are, she feels more like a plot device than a character. Whilst seeing little pirate Sherlock and Mycroft having to deal with high pressure situations is good, the Final Problem works better as a concept than episode.
Number 11: His Last Vow (S3, E3)
Another episode for Series 3 this low on every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked? That’s not a good sign… Anyway, whilst this episode was an intriguing one, fans felt this went against everything that the show seemingly stood for. Why? Sherlock solves the crime by shooting the villain, John Magnussen, in the head and avoiding deportation to Eastern Europe because reasons? Yeah, I still don’t get it. Many fans felt like this episode yet again gave itself too much to do because Watson’s wife turns out to be an assassin who then shoots her husband along with the Magnussen story. Also, the whole point to Sherlock (at least to me) was that he solved problems without shooting his way to answers. So to have an episode end that ends on a deflating note potentially felt like an omen to future episodes.
Number 10: The Six Thatchers (S4, E1)
Like most episodes on every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked, this one would have ranked higher if not for its ending. Why? This episode sees Mary Watson get killed just to create an emotional rift between Watson and Sherlock. Up to that point, the episode felt like a return to classic Sherlock with a greater emphasis on detective work when the mystery kicks in. Someone is destroying Margaret Thatcher statues rather than Napoleon statues. Could that be the left wing BBC bias? Anyway, when Sherlock works out who’s behind the smashing they attempt to shoot him only for Mary to take the shot in the chest. For a show that seemed to be anti gun, they sure do have a lot of characters getting shot in the chest. Also, the very weak flirting between John Watson and E just to set up the Eurus storyline felt very out of place.
Number 9: The Abominable Bride (Special)
This episode was a very fun one at points as it imagines what Sherlock would have been like in Victorian England. Moffatt and Gatiss clearly are having fun with some fun references to other Sherlock stories and it both does and doesn’t address a major problem with the show. What is that? The lack of prominent female characters with agency. Just as this mystery starts picking up steam, it is revealed this is all in Sherlock’s mind palace. Whilst this might feel lazy, it does explore how Sherlock feels about those in his life. This episode is good as it feeds into a wider narrative of Sherlock working out Moriarty’s next move. Overall, a fun but flawed episode especially Sherlock explaining proto-feminism to a group of Suffragettes.
Number 8: The Blind Banker (S1, E2)
The next entry on every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked is the best episode you don’t remember. A flashback to a show at it’s creative peak that still has to use lazy Orientalism as a plot device. As this is only the second episode, we see Sherlock and John settling into a roommate routine in a reasonably grounded episode. This was a simpler time for Sherlock as we all laughed at John wrestling with self checkouts and going on dates that became kidnappings. Whilst the episode is about an antiquities smuggling ring, it’s really about how John and Sherlock are better together. I can’t really explain it but this episode always makes me giddy.
Number 7: The Hounds of Baskerville (S2, E2)
Calling this entry a perfectly competent case episode might seem like damning with fake praise but it’s really not. This episode sees both John and Sherlock face real fear but John’s is just Sherlock emotionally manipulating him. A dangerous precedent I wonder? Anyway, this departs London to create fear and mystery in the English Countryside. Whilst there are serious liberties taken with the source material, it is nice to get a direct adaptation of a Sherlock story. This makes a difference from the hybrid story episodes. In the end, this is a well grounded and not overly ambitious episode that tells a great story.
Number 6: The Lying Detective (S4, E2)
First of all, props to Toby Jones for an incredibly unsettling performance. This episode is about a billionaire philanthropist who turns out to be a serial killer and a cereal killer. If you’ve seen the episode you get that joke. But what makes this episode really good is how it plays into how unlikeable Sherlock is as a character. This is because he uses Jones’s character to make Joh forgive him for Mary’s death. This episode also features the chilling reveal of Eurus by having her shoot John… off screen. But, the return to a more visually cohesive style makes this episode great as Sherlock is a show that can’t be style over substance. Overall, a very good episode.
Number 5: The Great Game (S1, E3)
The episode that tied every Moriarty clue together to reveal the not yet hot priest: Andrew Scott. Following two episodes of relatively low stakes this episode went right up to 11. Moriarty leads Sherlock on a deadly cat and mouse game with people’s lives at risk. Oh and for good measure, he’s strapped some bombs to Watson. This forces a hostage situation which genuinely shows how much the men have grown being with each other. Oh god, I’ve watched too much Sherlock. Now I’m shipping John and Sherlock. Anyway, this hammers home that whilst Sherlock might seem like he doesn’t care, he really does underneath.
Number 4: A Scandal in Belgravia (S2, E1)
Now every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked is going to get controversial. A Scandal in Belgravia is a terrific episode that just doesn’t stick the landing. Yet again Sherlock’s problem with underdeveloped female characters is evident with Irene Adler. A genuinely good episode that goes with the safe, predictable ending rather than an ending which could have benefited the show thematically. Up to the letdown of an ending, this episode is great with John and Sherlock celebrating holidays, learning about Mycroft’s role in government and tied together with a wonderful visual style.
Number 3: Sign of Three (S3, E2)
Narrowly beating out A Scandal in Belgravia for third place is Sign of Three. This is arguably Benedict Cumberbatch’s funniest performance as Sherlock. Why? He tries to solve a case in front of everyone at John and Mary’s wedding, the centre point of this episode. To reinforce this point, seeing Sherlock trying to solve the case whilst drunk at John’s stag do is hilarious. This is completed with unhelpful word prompts popping up on screen. The other part of this episode, John and Mary’s wedding is also great as it doesn’t present Mary as an obstacle to John and Sherlock’s friendship. Hilarious and well plotted, this episode remains the funniest of the show’s run.
Number 2: A Study in Pink (S1, E1)
The episode that started it all. This episode firmly grounds the show in the modern day with Sherlock’s love of blogging and the use of GPS to track down criminals. But what the show does best is its ability to create a mystery surrounding Sherlock. Is he a sociopath? Does he have any ability to care? The show works best when it’s mystery centres around Sherlock as a person which this episode does better than any other. Also, the fact that no one has ever stuck around long enough to know Sherlock before John is a nice touch to add more depth to their relationship.
Number 1: The Reichenbach Fall (S2, E3)
And at number one on every Sherlock 2010 episode ranked is the Reichenbach Fall. Now, yes the follow up episode was a massive disappointment but ignore that and this episode is genuinely brilliant. What starts out as Moriarty heisting the crown jewels turns into a mystery with everyone but Watson believing Sherlock did it. This episode also delivers on the stake with Sherlock having to make the lesser of two terrible choices. Opening the episode on Watson confessing to his therapist that Sherlock is dead is haunting. It also foreshadows the stakes at play. Also, bear in mid this episode had people talking about it’s second part for TWO YEARS. Whilst it is hard to ignore everything that comes after, take this episode on its own merit and it’s the best Sherlock 2010 episode.
What are your thoughts on the best Sherlock 2010 episode? Let me know down in the comments?