After that pitch of melodrama and all that music building up, it gets such a roar of laugher when the next thing you hear is the Bee Gees, so it’s all thanks to the wife as usual.
How it came about was, originally, the very, very original version of the first series you weren't going to see Moriarty at all except in the role of gay Jim. If you remember he turns up and pretends to be Molly’s boyfriend who Sherlock deduces is gay. That was the only time you were going to see him and there wouldn't be any big pool resolution. But we needed to cast someone for that part who could play the demented Moriarty, and we did want a demented one. We moved away from the original just because every super villain since Moriarty has been a carbon copy of him. And if we did another suave, restrained, silky, sinister Moriarty, it would seem like the biggest cliche. It’s never much of an excuse to say, but it’s the original cliche.
So we wanted to move away from that, so we wrote up an audition scene in which Moriarty was being mental and scary and venomous. We auditioned various people for the part and Andrew Scott was so good at doing it, so frightening, that we thought not only would we cast him but we’d write him in. We actually decided we’ll do the poolside scene because we wanted to showcase him.
And we’ll see more of him this season, too, right?
Oh, yes, you’ll see. You’ll see him in a very major way in the third one, yeah.
Tell me about Irene Adler, your sort of feelings about her and her being Sherlock’s counterpart in intelligence and their little battle in the first episode.
Well, it’s one of the standbys of Sherlock Holmes movies. It has always been giving him the sexy female antagonist that possibly underneath the layers of glacier he might find quite attractive. And that’s always been one of the absolute standbys and is really rather good. I’m thinking of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” or the wonderfully barmy Spider Woman with Basil Rathbone. It’s always worked really well. And all those characters are sort of based on the original, which is Irene Adler, who, when you read the story, isn't that bad or that clever. In fact, her big victory at the end is that she runs off with her husband and moves house. That's what she does in the original.
And indeed, the thing when I was a kid, and maybe this is what I’m responding to when I read the story, Sherlock Holmes makes a big fuss about how clever she was and how much smarter she was than him. You read the story and think there's no evidence of that at all in the original. You think, “No, Sherlock, you just fancied her and you don't know that's what you're talking about.” [Laughs.]
We’ve taken Irene Adler and added to her all the iterations of her sins, in a way, as much more devilish character, a much more sexual character—well, she’s fairly sexy in the original—and really [made their relationship] into sort of this battle of wits that seems to be a kind of foreplay for the brainy. But that's what it’s about and just letting Sherlock know it’s one of the stages of his development as a character, that he’s not immune to that sort of thing the way he thinks he is.
He usually comes off as asexual or at least disinterested in the other sex. It’s very interesting to see him be a little confused by her and his feelings toward her.
Yeah, I think it’s quite important to remember that Sherlock, in the original stories, is neither asexual nor unemotional. He’s quite an emotional man despite what he protests to the contrary. And what he says is he doesn’t want emotion and the whole business of romance to get in the way of his reasoning. He thinks if he allowed that into his life it would cause his brain to malfunction. You see, being gripped in a scientific instrument is what he says about it. He doesn't want it.
So we just dramatized that. He meets Irene Adler and he’s a doofus for about an hour. He can’t cope with it. He’s right. He can't allow this into the precision instrument of his intellect because it does cause him to malfunction.
How difficult or easier is it to take Conan Doyle’s stories and adapt them and modernize them than to write the original "Doctor Who" episodes?
We tend to take bits and pieces of the Doyle stories. What we we’re much more excited about is Doyle’s storytelling. He’s such a brilliant storyteller, just sticking to the principles of his characters. Most of his stories, the problem isn’t modernizing them at all. You can modernize them quite easily. You can modernize anything quite easily. The problem is they’re all about 20 minutes long. They’re all short stories.
So what we tend to do is cherry pick, or in the case of “A Scandal in Belgravia,” the first 20 minutes are sort of an adaptation of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” then it goes off into new territory because we’ve run out of story. In the case of “The Great Game,” Mark’s “The Great Game,” he took about five Conan Doyle stories and jammed them all together the way that the old Rathbone/Bruce movies used to do, which I think is the right way to do it. You take the sparkling jewels of the original and make a new thing out of them.
But we have no compunction about making up a brand new story. I think if you want Sherlock Holmes to be brand new you have to feel as though you tell your own stories. And what's important about the original isn't the detail of the story. It’s the detail of the characters and the style and as I say of storytelling principles of Doyle.
So it doesn't feel, Sherlock, oddly enough, like doing an adaptation, even though we are in love with the source material and in love with the style of it. I suppose it feels exactly the same as “Doctor Who” because, in “Doctor Who,” we’re also adapting an original. You know, we didn't invent it. It was there before we started. So it’s just about that kind of storytelling and that principle.
After Season 1 was such a big success, did that change things for when you sat down to start working on Season 2, more pressure? Did it change things once you started filming with the stars or anything?
People always ask if it’s more pressure and more stressful doing a second season when it’s been a hit. No, it’s not. It’s more joyous. It’s more exciting. You're rubbing your hands with glee saying, “Wait until they see this.”
I’ll tell you. I have done the alternative. I’ve done a second series of something that was absolute flop and that's stressful because you just sit there thinking how do we make people like it given that they already hate it. How are you going to persuade them that they like it this time? That was stress. Ignore what anyone has ever told you; success is not a burden and it is not a pain. It’s just enjoyable.
In terms of the filming, it’s completely different. People turn up, particularly if we’re shooting in pretend Baker Street. There's a whole line of people with cameras waiting to get a glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch. And, when we were out shooting the first year, and my wife knows more about this than I do, but it is that people would recognize Martin Freeman from “The Office.” He’s quite a big star in Britain and is about to be an even bigger star all over the world, of course, [with "The Hobbit"] but not have the have the faintest idea who Benedict Cumberbatch was. He was as anonymous as me and possibly more so. Then, suddenly, in the space of 90 minutes, when that first episode went out, and he of course became the hottest actor in Britain, which was extraordinary.
So how would you compare Sherlock as a character to the Doctor?
Ah, the old, old question. I sometimes wonder do they really even have to be compared. But, actually, the big thing they’ve got in common is that they’re quirky and they're so of anti-heroes, I suppose. But beyond that is there much? They’re hugely clever. They're both hugely clever.
But the Doctor is lovely. He’s a lovely, lovely alien, at least on the surface and quite a long way underneath, he’s lovely. The line I always come out with is the Doctor is like an angel who aspires to be human, whereas Sherlock Holmes is like a man who aspires to be a god. So they’re tunneling in different directions and have different ambitions. Sherlock disdains all the business of humanity and wants to grow past it. The Doctor wants to go to a fairground and have fun. He loves all that. Sherlock is in love with his super intelligence, and, of course, the Doctor is even more super intelligent and is completely indifferent to it, in a way. He doesn't really mind. He just wants to have fun and help people and lark about.
You can read what Moffat told me about the upcoming season of "Doctor Who" and his plans for the 50th anniversary at this previous post: "Doctor Who" shockers