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The return of the fabulous Baker Street boys; Sherlock Holmes is back, but this time his pipe has been replaced by nicotine patches and he touts for business using his website The Science Of Deduction. But are we ready for a thoroughly modern Holmes and blogging Doctor Watson? Simon Gaskell talks to the men who've breathed new life into a legend.

OTHER detectives have cases, Sherlock has adventures. That is the tagline for the new mini-series starting on the BBC tomorrow evening.

And it couldn't be more appropriate, given that when talking about Sherlock, its writing duo turn wide-eyed into the children that first lost themselves in the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sat huddled over coffee during a break in filming for the three 90-minute episodes at the BBC studios in Pontypridd, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are fresh from success with their other major writing credit - Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith as the Doctor.

But they lay down the law early: "We are not here to talk about Doctor Who, we are here to talk about Sherlock," says Moffat.

Their insistence on total devotion to Sherlock comes from their own near-worship of Conan Doyle's creation.

Gatiss and Moffat are authorities on the world's most famous literary sleuth and their infectious enthusiasm means they frequently break off from questions to joke and relive their experience of the stories that they have loved since childhood.

"My Dad sent me to my grandparents for a weekend," Moffat explains.

"There, lying on the bed was a copy of Study in Scarlet, which I have still got.

"I was so excited, I made my way through the original stories in sequence - I am sure very few people have done that.

"And on the big screen, I remember being thrilled by Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes."

Gattis adds: "In the foreword to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the first few pages there is a blurb that says, 'I wish I was reading these stories for the first time'.

"It still gets me a bit emotional, and that was the beginning of a love affair really."

More than 70 actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 160 languages, and Guy Ritchie's 2009 Hollywood version, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, is still fresh in the memory.

But Gatiss and Moffat's ambition to put their own spin on their favourite detective was realised while travelling on the train between London and Cardiff for the filming of Doctor Who.

"It happened when we were both writing individual episodes of Doctor Who," Moffat said.

"The main thing we kept saying was, 'Someone should do what they did with Rathbone again'.

"Do the stories, not the type. "We kept saying it until the point that we knew someone was going to do that.

"We were aware the Guy Ritchie film was coming out - there hasn't been a Sherlock Holmes for years and then two come out at once.

"But ours is just a totally different beast really."

Their unique vision will see Holmes and Watson helping Scotland Yard, solving new mysteries in the CSI-world of 2010.

But while - like the 2009 film - there will be plenty of action, Gatiss and Moffat intend to "break through the fog" of the period adaptations, while remaining true to the essence of the stories and to Holmes and Watson's relationship.

"It is an interpretation. We are not being prescriptive about the fact there will be other great ones, but it is a distillation about what we want to do," Gatiss says.

"In the very first story, Doctor Watson is coming back from Afghanistan and once we start thinking like that, then it makes total sense.

"It is about the relationship between these two friends.

"Conan Doyle was a genius writer; it is worth remembering that because it is not said enough.

"What his stories are, are thrilling, stirring, wonderful pictures of exciting adventures.

"The moment that you think about making it a careful creation, you lose that."

Says Moffat: "Victorian literature was not like that - it was so fast-paced, it must have given them whiplash.

"There are loads of things that don't make it into many of the adaptations, like how scary Sherlock is and all the humour.

"Sherlock was always laughing in the books, but you don't see it.

"One of the most readable is the first chapter of the Valley of Fear; they are in particular good bantering form together, it is hilarious - it is just very, very, very funny."

Sat alongside Moffat and Gatiss in the portacabin caf are the new-age Holmes and Watson.

Playing Holmes and dressed in a dark blue blazer is the tall, imposing figure of Benedict Cumberbatch - the notquite-famous-yet actor best known for his roles in another BBC drama Hawking, where he played the cerebral British professor.

Next to him, understated in a grey woollen jumper, is the ever-sardonic Martin Freeman, known eternally to a legion of fans as 'Tim from The Office'.

Freeman beat the new Doctor, Matt Smith, to the role after they both tried out and the chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch won the day.

And while their pairing may not be immediately conventional, the men who cast them have absolute faith in their ability to deliver.

"When Benedict and Martin are walking along, you would know that they are Holmes and Watson," Moffat says.

"Physically, it works. Martin has a terrific sense of Holmes that comes out in Watson's character and it is what you look for.

"When Benedict enters the room, you immediately know that he is the alpha male.

"One of the great challenges is that few who have played Sherlock have made a dent in it - few have mattered.

"One of the critical things is that you can you do all the cleverness and the deductions without someone smug thinking shut up and stop showing off like that.

"There's only so many people in a generation who could play him.

"With Robert Downey Junior, he was too little and his accent is s***."

As for Freeman, since The Office, his career has veered from the ITV sitcom Hardware to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film, so landing the role as Watson represents something of a coup.

And according to his writers, he is said to have played the role of Watson "wonderfully".

"He is one of the finest people I have ever known, but he is very keen Watson is not taken the p*** out of," Gatiss says.

"It is not like a straight Holmes and funny Watson, it is a very interesting mixture."

Those Conan Doyle purists that know the stories as well as Moffat and Gatiss will be relieved to hear that despite the modern setting and the eccentric lead pairing, Holmes' eccentricity and his brilliance at deducing the mysteries that baffle mere mortals are retained.

As in the original books, Holmes uses drugs and plays the violin, he is still the social recluse whose only appetite in life is for the mysteries that no one else can solve.

Gatiss says: "The only cases that interest him are the strange ones - it simply wouldn't work if it was just kidnapping or whatever.

"He is the genius in the world." "It is all in the homely details - he works out someone is left handed by looking around the room," says Moffatt.

"He is not being arrogant, he is being honest.

"He is not showing off, he is just that way. They are both men who don't apologise for who they are.

"Sometimes people say Sherlock Holmes is manically depressive - but there's not one bit of that in the stories.

"He is perfectly happy being Sherlock Holmes.

"He's very happy in his skin, but his skin is very strange."

And although some would draw comparisons between them, Moffat said the outcasts of Sherlock and the Doctor are very different beings.

"The Doctor is more human, ordinary and distractible.

"The doctor is an alien who aspires to be one of us, while Sherlock aspires to be a Time Lord."

For the actors reviving Holmes and Watson, they confess to not being quite as big "Doyle-heads", but are excited all the same.

Cumberbatch explains: "I have been reading the books.

"It is the primary source, so you always go back to the books.

"What we are doing requires that, because it is a genuine adaptation of how to understand him as he is originally set up, because we are telling the story from the beginning.

"It is a truly international thing. They are so good, gripping and entertaining, with beautifully drawn out characters."

Freeman confesses to have never read the books as a child and of initially being wary of the role.

But after reading the script, he was hooked.

"I immediately felt, 'This sounds like a lousy idea' until I read it. I was mindful because there's a lot of self-congratulatory telly around.

"I don't like cool telly, I like genuinely cheesy telly.

"We don't think we are being clever - I think it is a gripping and fantastically told tale.

"And because we have two people who are massive fanatics and brilliant at their craft at the same time, you have a brilliant rendering of something new.

"I don't think stalwart fans will be anything other than thrilled.

"The main thing on our arsenal is that if anyone says, 'This isn't what Doyle meant', we can say we have two mental people over there who have read it inside out.

"We have two genuinely fantastic writers who are big Doyle-heads."

Cumberbatch said he was fond of watching the old movies on television and was a particular fan of Jeremy Brett's take on Holmes, and was also 'blown away' by Ritchie's 2009 movie.

"I sat there and really enjoyed a romp which wasn't particularly what I had in mind for Holmes and Watson.

"Then again, we have massive chase scenes.

"I have kung-fu sequences. I have a fight with a Chinese warlord. I have a fight with a human giant with his bare hands - I am probably giving too much away.

"In all seriousness, I am not at all jealous of what they had to do in the film and it is terribly filmic in terms of what we are doing.

"It is looking extraordinary. We are doing three films - that is what is really exciting."

Gatiss concludes by saying whatever the reception for 2010's Sherlock and Holmes, their stories will live on long into the future.

"They are the most filmed characters in fiction which is an extraordinary thing. It is Sherlock Holmes and then Dracula and Tarzan.

"The characters are absolutely immortal."

Sherlock premiers on BBC One Wales at 9pm tomorrow BOOKS BOOKS


Writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 24, 2010
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