Monday, January 27, 2014

BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode # 2 "The Sign of Three" - Canonical References

Benedict Cumberbatch as drunk Sherlock Holmes in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

I will be posting my review of The Sign of Three soon, once readers all over the world have seen it.

Readers who have not yet seen the episode are welcome to skip the rest of the post, if they wish to avoid plot details.

Here are the references to Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories:

Sherlock Holmes enjoying music in Sidney Paget's illustration for The Adventure of the Red Headed League

1. Sherlock replies:  I was composing. I am road-testing when Mrs Hudson asks him if he was playing - Dr John Watson writes about Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Red Headed League: “My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit.”

2. John hears violin music combined with Mrs Hudson's shrieks (of laughter) and asks her if she is dying due to Sherlock composing music - Dr John Watson writes about Sherlock Holmes playing his violin in A Study in Scarlet: “When left to himself, however, he would seldom produce any music or attempt any recognized air. Leaning back in his arm-chair of an evening, he would close his eyes and scrape carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee. Sometimes the chords were sonorous and melancholy.....I might have rebelled against these exasperating solos had it not been that he usually terminated them by playing in quick succession a whole series of my favorite airs as a slight compensation for the trial upon my patience.”

3. Sherlock tells Janine (Yasmine Akram) about his deduction that a wedding guest is wearing traces of two leading brands of deodorant, both advertised for their strength. - Sherlock Holmes states to Dr John Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles: “There are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal expert should be able to distinguish from each other, and cases have more than once within my own experience depended upon their prompt recognition.”

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4. The character of Major James Sholto (Alistair Petrie) is a reference to the character of the same name in The Sign of the Four

5. Mycroft's comment to Sherlock over the phone about John's wedding: “John and Mary: Domestic bliss” - This is a bit tentative, but this reminded of Sherlock's observation about Dr John Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia: “Wedlock suits you.... I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you.”

6. Sherlock, the best man refers to a telegram from Mike Stamford (David Nellist) - In A Study in Scarlet, Stamford introduces Dr John Watson to Sherlock Holmes and the rest is history.
Charles Augustus Milverton as drawn by Sidney Paget

7. Sherlock, then reads a telegram from a certain CAM: “Oodles of love and heaps of wishes from CAM. Wish your family could have seen this” - The character of CAM is a possible reference to the titular character in the story, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

8. Sherlock is seen burning an eyeball, as part of an experiment - Dr John Watson writes about Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Dying Detective: “His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London.”

9. Sherlock mistakenly drops the aforementioned eyeball in a cup of tea. Just after Sherlock takes a sip out of the cup, the eyeball resurfaces -
Dr Watson mentions in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: “Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics, which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish, or in even less desirable places.”

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes delivers the best man speech at the wedding of John Watson and Mary Morstan in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

10. Sherlock mentions to John as part of his best man speech: “I am afraid John, I can't congratulate you. All emotions in particular love stand opposed to the pure cold reason I hold above all things..” - When Dr John Watson informs Sherlock Holmes about his decision to marry Mary Morstan in The Sign of the Four, Holmes replies: “I really cannot congratulate is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.”

11. Sherlock's comment on John's writing style: “Of course, he tends to romanticize things a bit...” - In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes expresses his opinion to Dr John Watson's account of the Jefferson Hope case (A Study in Scarlet): “Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”

12. Sherlock quotes the following line almost verbatim from The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier: “Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances.”

13. Sherlock mentions the case of the Poison Giant who throws poison darts - In The Sign of the Four, Tonga is an pygmy Andaman Islander and the trusted ally of Jonathan Small. Tonga uses poison darts to kill Bartholomew Sholto and makes an unsuccessful attempt on the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson during the chase on River Thames.

Sherlock Holmes with his client, Mary Sutherland in Sidney Paget's illustration for A Case of Identity

14. John remarks to Sherlock about a lady walking back and forth in front of the entrance to 221 B Baker Street. Sherlock replies: “She is a client. She is boring. I have seen those symptoms before. Oscillation on the pavement always means there is a love affair.” - Sherlock Holmes states about his client, Mary Sutherland in A Case of Identity: “I have seen those symptoms before,....Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication.... Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed or grieved.”

15. Sherlock comments about the case of 3 husbands: “Solved it without leaving the flat.” - In A Study in Scarlet, Dr John Watson asks Sherlock Holmes: “But do you mean to say that without leaving your room you can unravel some knot which other men can make nothing of, although they have seen every detail for themselves?” Holmes replies: “Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way.”

16. John explains his credentials to the superior officer of Private Stephen Bainbridge (Alfie Enoch), the bloody guardsman” in order to treat him: “I am John Watson. Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. 3 years in Afghanistan. Veteran of Kandahar, Helmand and then Bart's bloody hospital” - Dr John Watson writes in the beginning of A Study in Scarlet: “...I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out.... I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.... I recognized young Stamford, who had been a dresser under me at Barts.”

Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Louise Brealey as Mrs Hudson, DI Lestrade and Molly Hooper in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

17. DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) theorizes that a dwarf could have crawled through an air vent or a similar opening and made the attempt to murder Bainsbridge - This is the actual solution to the mystery behind the murder of Bartholomew Sholto in The Sign of the Four

18. When Sherlock asks Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) for her help for their alcohol consumption for the stag night, she replies: “You are a graduate chemist. Why don't you just work it out?” - Stamford explains about Sherlock Holmes to Dr John Watson in A Study in Scarlet: “A fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory up at the hospital.... I believe he is well up in anatomy, and he is a first-class chemist”. Dr John Watson also makes a note about Sherlock Holmes' skills and limits: “Chemistry.—Profound.”

19. Sherlock almost picks a fight with a fellow patron at the bar and shouts at him: I know ash” - Sherlock Holmes tells Dr John Watson in The Sign of the Four: “Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccoes.' In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar-, cigarette-, and pipe-tobacco, with colored plates illustrating the difference in the ash.

20. A drunk Sherlock tells John: “I have an international reputation” - In The Adventure of the Lion's Mane, Harold Stackhurst implores Sherlock Holmes: “For heaven’s sake, Holmes, use all the powers you have and spare no pains to lift the curse from this place, for life is becoming unendurable. Can you, with all your world-wide reputation, do nothing for us?”

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson drunk and playing 20 questions in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

21. While playing the game of 20 Questions, Sherlock asks John: “Am I human?” John replies: “Sometimes” - In The Sign of the Four, Dr John Watson is surprised that Sherlock Holmes did not notice the physical beauty of Mary Morstan, when she visits 221 B Baker Street as Sherlock's client. Dr Watson exclaims: “You really are an automaton,—a calculating-machine!...There is something positively inhuman in you at times.”

22. Again, while playing the game of 20 Questions, Sherlock asks: “Tall?”. John replies: “Not as tall as people think” - Dr John Watson writes about Sherlock Holmes' physicality in A Study in Scarlet: “His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller.”

Alice Lowe as Tessa in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

23. Sherlock tells John: The game is.. something”. John completes: On- Sherlock Holmes awakens Dr John Watson in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and implores him: “Come, Watson, come! ... The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

24. A drunken Sherlock telling Tessa (Alice Lowe) while working on clues in the apartment to solve the case of the Mayfly Man: “Don't compromise the integrity of the...” John again completes: crime scene” - This reminded me of the famous line spoken by Sherlock Holmes to Inspector Tobias Gregson about the pathway Number 3, Lauriston Gardens in A Study in Scarlet: “If a herd of buffaloes had passed along there could not be a greater mess. No doubt, however, you had drawn your owdn conclusions, Gregson, before you permitted this.”

25. Sherlock is seen stashing cigarettes inside his slippers – Dr John Watson writes about Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual: “...when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs.”

26. Mycroft and Sherlock's exchange about the world being too lazy for this coincidence: Tessa, one of the Mayfly Man's victims knows John's middle name Hamish” - This reminded me of following exchange between Mrs Laura Lyons and Sherlock Holmes about the reason for presence at the place and hour of Sir Charles Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles: Mrs Lyons: “There is no connection.” Sherlock Holmes: “In that case the coincidence must indeed be an extraordinary one. But I think that we shall succeed in establishing a connection, after all.”

27. Sherlock indirectly hints to John about the dangerous situation at his wedding by proclaiming: “Vatican Cameos” - Sherlock Holmes tells Dr Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles: “I had observed some newspaper comment at the time, but I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.” 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

28. Sherlock tells John: “You. It is always you, John Watson. You keep me right.” - Sherlock Holmes remarks to Dr John Watson in The Adventure of the Creeping Man: “Good, Watson! You always keep us flat-footed on the ground.”

29. John questions Sherlock: “How can you not remember which room? You remember everything!” - Sherlock Holmes states in The Adventure of the Lion's Mane: “I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.”

30. Sherlock's reply to John's aforementioned question: “I had to delete something!” - Sherlock Holmes lectures about the human brain to Dr John Watson in A Study in Scarlet: “I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in BBC Sherlock Season 3 Episode 2 The Sign of Three

31. John's comment about Sherlock: “You are not a puzzle solver. You never have been. You are a drama queen!” -
Sherlock Holmes explains to Percy Phelps in The Adventure of the Naval Treaty: “.... but Watson here will tell you that I never can resist a touch of the dramatic.”
Sherlock Holmes remarks to Lord Cantlemere at 221 B Baker Street in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone: “My old friend here will tell you that I have an impish habit of practical joking. Also that I can never resist a dramatic situation.”

32. John commands Sherlock: “The game is on. Now solve it!” - Sherlock Holmes awakens Dr John Watson in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and implores him: “Come, Watson, come! ... The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”
Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade capturing Jefferson Hope in A Study in Scarlet

33. Sherlock asks DI Lestrade to summon Jonathan Small, the substitute photographer to have his picture taken. When Small appears, Sherlock quickly puts the handcuffs on him, even before Small realizes it – In A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes apprehends Jefferson Hope, the cab driver by handcuffing him swiftly, after tricking him to come to 221 B Baker Street by hiring his services.

I welcome the readers to add any other references that might have been missed.

Click here to read the review of the episode. Click here to read all my posts about BBC Sherlock.

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Image Sources: BBC Wales, Hartswood Films, Masterpiece Theatre


  1. I wonder if your impression more positive or negative so far.

    The lines about John having qualities on his own are from "The Musgrave Ritual" (I think)...the first story which is written from Holmes perspective.

    I don't think that I spoil the episode for you when I tell you that the seven and a half pound remark will come up in HLV (again, they already used a variation of it in TGG)

    1. I liked the humor in the episode.

      I have added reference # 12 (about John's modesty).

      Thanks for stopping by.


    2. Ah, right, the blanched soldier. (I think I will need ages to sort all those references out for my own list).

    3. I look forward to your list.


  2. As always, great rundown of the references, B2B. Your knowledge of the source material is impressive! I am interested to hear your full opinion of the last two episodes.


  3. I just love these.
    Thanks for compiling.

  4. I also find that Sherlock telling stories, as part of his best man speech, is a reference to the two stories Sherlock Holmes narrates in the canon. In this episode Sherlock is narrating as well. I also feel that in the canon the stories narrated by Sherlock were completely different in writing style, though Conan Doyle wrote all, it actually felt like someone else wrote those. I felt that The Sign of Three, written by all three Sherlock writers, was a completely different style of episode, and episode in which Sherlock is the storyteller.

    1. Nice catch, Aya. I agree about this episode having a completely different tone from what we have seen so far.


    2. I wrote an article about the difference in tone and structure of the third is the link, but if you are interested, I suggest that you wait with reading it until you have seen His Last Vow.

    3. I will check out your post after watching "His Last Vow".


  5. #22 - "Not as tall as people think" - Life imitates art. I thought that statement was a nod to the actor's fans who thought Benedict Cumberbatch was taller than his actual 6 feet height. Didn't know it was directly stated in "A Study in Scarlet". Brilliant sequence. "Sign of Three" is so multi-layered that multiple viewings bring out new discoveries.

    1. Yes, not just "Sign of Three", "The Empty Hearse" is also very nuanced and deserves multiple viewings.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  6. When John asks "the big question : the bestman". Sherlock answers : "Billy Kincaid, the Camden Garrotter, best man I ever knew. Vast contributions to charity, never disclosed. Personally managed to save three hospitals from closure and ran the best and safest children's homes in north England. Yes, every now and again there'd be
    some garrotings..."
    Is there not a nod to "The Read-Headed League" : John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger.[...]. He'll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next."

    1. Nice catch, Athemag.

      This could also possibly be a nod to this line spoken by Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four: “It is of the first importance… not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit,—a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor.”


  7. That was brilliant! I've read the books many times, you seem to know them by heart though.

    1. Thanks Helena for reading and the nice comment :)

      Like you, I have also read the Canon several times. They truly are a literary gem. Hats off to Arthur Conan Doyle for giving us such a memorable universe filled with extraordinary characters, the Victorian era atmosphere & customs, and of course the mysteries themselves.


  8. Highly energetic blog, I enjoyed that a lot. Will
    there be a part 2?