He has the most famous brother in TV history. Mark Gatiss (pictured) remembers the train journey from Cardiff to London he undertook five years ago with long-time collaborator Steven Moffat and their conversations around Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was introduced to the world in 1879 through the eyes of Dr John Watson, who had returned wounded from a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 130 years later, in a world reeling from the repercussions of another war in Afghanistan, “We wondered if it was possible that there is another Dr Watson returning from such a war. If yes, how would his story pan out today? Almost immediately, we wanted to tell the story of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes,” he says.
Five years since, the dream team of Gatiss and Moffat has created three seasons of Sherlock, a hugely popular adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, set in present day London. To promote Sherlock, Gatiss will be in Mumbai from December 19-21, at the city’s second Mumbai Film and Comic Convention. A favourite with comic cons globally, Gatiss says it is his first India visit. “I’m beginning to catch up with the Sherlock madness in India. I knew Sherlock was big, but I didn’t know it was this big,” says Gatiss.
His love affair with television was apparent even as a shy teenager when he surrounded himself with fossils, comic books, horror stories and spent his days reading Doyle, HG Wells and watching every episode of Doctor Who. His career began with theatre, as he performed with the comedy troupe, The League of Gentlemen, which was known for its dark humour sketches. Gatiss became a household name in British television when he wrote seven scripts for the modern-day revival of Doctor Who (2007 onwards) and also made an appearance in the popular show, the only one of its writers to do so. “I was a huge fan of Doctor Who since I was a little boy. As an adult, to wake up every day and write for its characters was the dream,” says Gatiss, who recently acted in Dad’s Army, an old British sit-com turned into a movie.
The process of adaptation excites Gatiss the most. “That’s the real charm. That’s where the fun is.” For instance, the stories of Sherlock Holmes were originally set in a Victorian setting, so it was fun to strip it of that, update it and see what emerges, he says,“Doyle would have appreciated the effort. He never treated his work as holy anyway.” Gatiss believes an adaptation is an extrapolation of the writer’s original ideas. “This is why people still watch JJ Abram’s Star Trek no matter how many times it’s remade. An adaptation honours a good story.”
Gatiss and Moffat had decided on the show’s dark tone from the start. “This was going to be more sinister yet a fun show. One of the earliest criticisms we received was from the BBC. They said: ‘Your Sherlock, he’s not very nice, is he? And we said, ‘No, he’s not! That’s what makes him appealing, doesn’t it?’,” he says.
Apart from writing for the series, Gatiss plays Mycroft Holmes, “Sherlock’s smarter brother”, in it. Gatiss based the character on Christopher Lee’s adaptation of the British bureaucrat. “We worked on the idea that Mycroft and Sherlock share a rather unpleasant antagonistic relationship,” he says. Gatiss admits what makes playing the all-powerful Mycroft is fun because of the enormous amount of influence the character wields. “It’s like when I played King Charles I on stage. Once that crown is placed on your head, you don’t feel like giving it up,” he says. Gatiss will soon reprises the role of Tycho Nestoris in Game of Thrones Season 5.
When asked about Sherlock Season 4, there was a pause and laughter. “I will tell you nothing. Not one thing.” Gatiss rubbishes rumours of him promising a tragedy. “If I say one thing, there will be six different stories out before I know it.” In Sherlock, Irene Adler reveals that Jim Moriarty’s nickname for Mycroft was “The Iceman”, and true enough, he can keep secrets.
However, he does let out that the shooting for the season four special will begin in January. “It gets tougher to shoot Sherlock now because everyone’s schedule is getting packed. I plan to get a lot of writing done to stay ahead of the show,” he says.
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The story appeared in print with the headline Iceman Comes to India