Masterpiece, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride - Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch
Masterpiece, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride - John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) ©2015 Hartswood Films and BBC Wales, photos by Robert Viglasky

On January 1, 2016, the extraordinarily popular Sherlock returns to Masterpiece on PBS; it also debuts in the UK on the same day. But viewers will notice a distinct difference – no, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, but Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is set in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890s London.

The Abominable Bride, is a ghost story – sorry, that’s all the series’ Co-Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat would tell us at the TV Critics tour last summer.

But he did let us know that the characters of Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington), Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) will also all be transported back to the late 19th century.

Here’s more of what he said!

Doctor Who show runner and Sherlock Co-writer and executive producer Steven Moffat at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, CA on Saturday, August 1, 2015 for PBS Masterpiece series ©2015 PBS, photo by Rahoul Ghose

What made you decide you wanted to do one set in the original ‘Sherlock’ time period?

Well, we checked the books and discovered we got it wrong! I said to Mark (Gatiss, Steven’s co-writer and producer), ‘We should have read them first!’ (he laughs)

Just because we can, really. Mark and I were having a fun day on set because he was doing some second unit shooting with some evil monks. It was the prequel, and because we found an old prop that was on the original Titus, we were having a geek day. And then we just thought, could we ever just do maybe one scene of some dream sequel or something. And then we just thought, why don’t we just do a Victorian one?

We never bothered to explain what they’re doing in modern day London. So why do we have to bother explaining what they’re doing in Victorian London, when that’s where they’re supposed to be?

Masterpiece, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) ©2015 Hartswood Films and BBC Wales, photos by Robert Viglasky

Way back in the early inception of Sherlock, had you thought of doing it Victorian originally?

It was always going to be the updated version. Mark and I were sitting on the train (talking about) how much we liked the Rathbone and Bruce updated version of Sherlock Holmes back in the day. And we kept saying to each other, ‘Someone will do that again and that will be a huge hit.’

It didn’t really occur to us to do anything about it until I happened to mention it to Sue (Vertue, his wife and producing partner). She said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’

What unexpected problems did you find setting it back in Victorian times?

Masterpiece, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) ©2015 Hartswood Films and BBC Wales, photos by Robert Viglasky

We realized the women don’t speak. Mrs Hudson, I think has got one line of direct speak in the whole bunch of stories. We got to the point where we thought she was always like Una Stubbs (who plays the role on Sherlock). She is nothing like that at all.

So what were we going to do with our female characters? Mrs. Hudson doesn’t speak, so we brought the Una Stubbs version, as it were.

Does the Victorian version give you the opportunity to do things with narrative, clues and investigation that you can’t do in the modern one because you can look it up on Wikipedia?

Not hugely. About the only temperature change, moving it from Victorian to modern was ghost stories work better in a Victorian setting.

Putting it back into Victorian times, it was a chance to do a creepy, scary ghost story. Other than that, it’s remarkably similar.

Masterpiece, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride – The Bride (Natasha O’Keeffe) ©2015 Hartswood Films and BBC Wales, photos by Robert Viglasky

Would you consider doing parallel tracks, where you do both modern and Victorian?

No. Next one is going to be set in [a] starship. Because we take so long to make the show, we’re going to have to set it in the next Century.

No, really, this is a one-off, unless we go mad and decide to set it in the 1940’s and have them fight Hitler. Nothing is inconceivable if you have no taste! But, no, we go back to doing the show normally next year, unless I’m lying or we change our minds.

Sherlock Soundbyte

Steven was asked when the first season began if he was nervous that the audience would not accept his modern version of Sherlock? Click below to listen to his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane