Humans, have you ever started watching a movie or television show and, right from the opening scene, recognized it as something you will enjoy greatly? Not something that is a masterpiece, but merely something that you will find rather entertaining from start to finish? I have, very recently in fact; during the opening moments of Sherlock’s second season.

This is a fun episode. That’s really the simplest way to put it; Sherlock season two captured that elusive element known as fun and pinned it down, stretching it to easily fit the entire running time. It very successfully entertained me, to the point where I couldn’t point to a particular scene and say “this was boring.”

It’s so entertaining that it actually makes me want to reconsider my stance on Steven Moffat’s writing abilities. He’s clearly still got some chops, which seemed to be fading over the latest season of Doctor Who, which makes me want to ask: was the Doctor’s sixth season just a momentary misstep? Or is this a demonstration of the different approaches in writing that these two shows have?

See, the reason Sherlock succeeds so totally as a story is that it has a singular purpose and vision; it seems like a smaller, more personal story. I think this is pretty much the difference here; whereas a season of Doctor Who has many writers, a season of Sherlock has one or two- only Moffat and Mark Gatiss have their hands in this pie. Too many cooks spoil the broth, I suppose; each writer will have a different idea of what the characters and world are, and though an ideal creative collaboration melds each of these views together, occasionally they come out at cross purposes. And that leads to me being able to rip the Silence apart like I did late last year. Don’t get me wrong, I find the many interpretations and reinterpretations of the Doctor to be one of the franchise’s strengths, but the truth is that these need a showrunner with a singular vision to unite them all. Moffat is a great writer, but I don’t think he has that quality of leadership, in high enough doses to consistently succeed like he does when he’s just writing.

Happily then, Sherlock is a reminder, a demonstration of where Moffat’s true strengths lie; in creating singularly impressive, self contained stories that bend the mind and can be, I am happy to report, fucking funny whilst doing so. I don’t laugh out loud much when viewing things, but this script continually drew the laughs out of me. It was great fun to behold. In fact, it’s really clear to me that everyone involved in this production must have been having a great time; it really does seem like a labor of love.

I’ve felt for a while now- and there’s a very good chance I’m not the first to make this comparison- that there’s a number of similarities between new Who and Sherlock; both feature a misunderstood genius too smart to really bother with society as their nominal heroes, with a capable if less showstoppingly intelligent companion as backup. Both feature an antithetical version of aforesaid genius- the Master, or perhaps Davros in Who, Moriarty in Sherlock- and if one were to strip the more adult elements of Sherlock away, the way the scripts are constructed would bear more than a passing resemblance to the Doctor’s adventures as well. So I guess it’s good that these writers are sticking close to what they know.

Another thing that these two franchises have in common are strong performances from their lead actors. Benedict Cumberbatch is a fine Sherlock, playing him as an uppity and antisocial nutcase who nevertheless has a sensitive streak that he’d prefer to keep a secret. It’s a fun character, complimented well by Martin Freeman’s Watson, who is built up to be far more capable than the generally (rather offensively) useless Watson’s of the past. I like Martin Freeman, he’s got an affable, easy to like quality about him that hasn’t been lost from the first series. Though he suffers from standing in Cumberbatch’s shadow a little too much, he has a lot of potential on his own.

There’s not a lot of Lestrade this time around, but his absence is more than made up for with the addition of more of Mark Gatiss’ (yes, I know) Mycroft Holmes. I dunno, I feel like there’s more to this character than we’ve been shown so far, but he’s a little more interesting this time, pushed beyond the cool composure of his initial appearance last season.

Disappointingly, Moriarty isn’t around quite as much as I’d hoped either, though his presence casts a shadow that is occasionally felt throughout. His character has a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing more of him, especially in his interactions with Sherlock.

Rounding out the cast for this episode is Irene Adler, a dominatrix that, for once, isn’t the same ice queen dominatrix we see in every other show that attempts to be edgy by including my beloved BDSM subculture. She’s interesting enough, and actually very alluring throughout. In fact, her introduction into the episode? Wow. Just… wow. Go watch it, it’s real sexy. She attracts every eye available, and keeps them there for the rest of that scene. The fact that Sherlock can’t read her at all during this scene is humorous, but it’s hard to fully appreciate humor at that moment.

Or maybe I’m just being lewd. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Since I’m talking about the moments where my visual centers were… engaged… yes, now might be the time to talk about the way Sherlock looks. What really struck me about this episode was just how visually interesting it all was. Sherlock has always been a playground for this team to experiment with visual styles, and this has thankfully carried over to season two. Individual shots are subject to some dynamic gimmicks and angles that really make this an episode to sit up and pay attention to. Even the more standard camera angles display a better than average grasp of shot composition, lighting and color that all add up to a treat for the eyes. Seems like the budget for Sherlock is bigger than Doctor Who’s, or at least better spent, as this one episode crams in more visual punch that the entirety of the Doctor’s last season.

Aurally, it doesn’t fare quite as well; the score sounds like a more subdued version of a Murray Gold score, meaning that it doesn’t really stand out when experienced in conjunction with everything else that’s going on.

The plot, revolving around Irene and a camera phone, is a nicely complex little headscratcher that, while maybe not quite as conducive to actual crime solving as the cases presented in the first series, fares much better as a character piece; it’s Sherlock’s show, and by god does he ever run it this episode. We get to see him in a few new modes that may only have been hinted at previously, and these moments are generally the standouts here; my personal favorite is a mid-episode scene where we see him experiencing protective anger, much to the detriment of the fool American who got in his way. It was nice to see the composed and all around leader Sherlock getting a little flustered, too. Thanks, Irene.

There is a little late episode silliness revolving around Sherlock’s ability to transport himself to a foreign country without being noticed, but in the main, this is an episode with real heart, and it serves to make the antisocial and generally asshole-ish Sherlock into a more relatable, human character, which was certainly a good move. It’s the interplay between Sherlock and Irene that sparkles the most, although Watson gets his fare share of the laughs too; it’s a fine example of what a solid script and a great cast can do to elevate a production. If it weren’t for that unfortunate Moffat tendency of wrapping up every little thing in a neat little bow, the ending would have been nicely downbeat and rather fitting, but unfortunately it was not to be, and silliness wins out.

One little nitpick: Sherlock is the master of reading people. Are we really meant to believe that even Watson thought that lying to him at the end of the episode would be a good idea? The episode itself never seems to pick up on this, which sort of bothered me.

But that’s the only nitpick I have! I had a great time watching this episode, which is actually kind of a bummer; when I enjoy a feature as consistently as I did this episode, it’s hard to accurately review it. I had to really work to deconstruct why I liked it, and what I didn’t like; a vague sense of “this is good,” wouldn’t have made for a very good review, now would it?

I recommend this heartily. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first season of Sherlock, and frankly I’ve forgotten a lot of the events within. I promise I’ll go back over it, but it probably serves as a point in season two’s favor that I could jump in, practically fresh, and still enjoy it as much as I did. This is good.

It’s fun, alright?!

Kurokami, signing off!