Three Canonical References in “The Sign of Three”

Obviously, there’s more than three of them in the latest Sherlock epiosde, but a particular three caught my eye – ones that I consider to be slightly more obscure, and slightly more interesting than a simple adaptation of plot or name. Here (a bit belatedly) are my favorite subtle nods to the Canon in this episode.

John’s International Reputation

In the aftermath of John and Sherlock’s stag night, we see the two of them lying drunkenly on the stairs of 221b; Sherlock asks John “do you have an international reputation?”  after bragging about his own. John, modest as ever, says that no, of course he doesn’t have an international reputation.

How very wrong he is, and how that made me shout with glee. John “three continents” Watson. The nickname stems from a line in The Sign of Four, where Watson himself says

“In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents,  I have never looked upon a face…”

And there you have it, ladies and gentleman; John Watson is a player, a lover, a ladies’ man, with experience on three whole continents and, presumably, a number of different nations on each continent. He’s so very modest about it (despite his string of five or so wives, which probably explain everything), but a man who’s slept his way through three continents must have a reputation.

And there, I think, is another subtle nod by Sherlock at the Canon and at John’s supposed reputation.

Sherlock’s a Drama Queen

At least, that’s what Watson thinks. “You’re a drama queen!” he shouts at Sherlock at the climax of “The Sign of Three,” and yet again he’s hit upon the truth.

Throughout the Canon, Watson makes it a point to underline just what a drama queen Sherlock Holmes actually is. Canonically, he really, really can’t resist a dramatic situation: throughout the stories, he stages big, dramatic reveals; in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” he actually sneaks a stolen jewel into the thief’s pocket, tricks the thief to admit that possession of the stone would be incriminating, and then dramatically pulls the aforementioned stone out of his pocket. He spends a whole story putting on an act and pretending to die, parades through the stories in a variety of believable disguises ( clergymen, manual laborers, and women among them), and…oh yes, there was that actual time he “died,” which was also just an act. Watson constantly compares Holmes to “a conjuror performing a trick” (“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”), and, most significantly, he claims “the stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoned, when he became a specialist in crime.” (“A Scandal in Bohemia”)

Sherlock Holmes is, indeed, canonically a drama queen, and I thank John Watson for pointing that fact out.

John’s Romanticism

Or, alternatively, the poor, long-suffering Sherlock’s woes. One of the themes of the Canon (or, at this point, one of the clichés) is that of Watson writing up a case only to have Holmes complain about the “romanticism” in it and all that emotional and unnecessary stuff in the story. Poor Holmes, having Watson tinge his pure science of deduction with feelings. From the very second Holmes story ever published (The Sign of Four), Holmes complains about the way Watson writes up their cases, including their very first one, A Study in Scarlet. Holmes insists that the whole romanticism thing is about as bad as working “an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid,” but Watson, bless his heart, insists that “the romance was there.”

So when Holmes, during his wedding speech, states several times that “John a romantic,” I think it’s an allusion to more than John’s sentimental tendencies (though it’s that, too). It’s a nod to the canon, and to the fact that Watson does, indeed, tend to see everything through an emotional lens, and that’s how he writes his stories. Sherlock Holmes, even if he feels (and of course he does), tends to view the world through a more rational, and more scientific lens, and that’s of course why these two characters complement each other so well. So, it’s a nod to that, too – the differences between these two people, but also their similarities.



Posted on January 31, 2014, in BBC Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You have a really good eye for these really obscure references.

  1. Pingback: My Sherlockian Writing Round-Up | Monitoring The Media

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