Sherlock creator Steven Moffat: 'We did tell Amanda Abbington our plans to kill Mary before she read the script!’

(Image credit: BBC/Hartswood Films/Robert Vigla)

The return of BBC1's smash-hit series Sherlock stunned the nation when Mary Watson was shot dead after jumping in front of Sherlock Holmes to save him...

We certainly didn't see that coming! Beware sweet little old ladies with guns in Aquariums! While Mary Watson does die in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, fans had expected her to stick around in the BBC1's Sherlock show for much longer.

"People know that Mary doesn’t make it out of the books alive, the spoiler is 120 years old, but the surprise is that it happens in episode one," said Steven Moffat, who created the series with Mark Gatiss.

"In the original, Mary dies between stories, with Watson more or less saying, 'Oh she’s dead, let’s carry on!' It’s rather disgraceful. We couldn’t really do that in our version and we take the consequences of the bereavement hugely seriously.

"In the end, any Sherlock Holmes story is always going to be about those two blokes in Baker Street. We pretended we were going to change that, but we can’t. We did tell Amanda Abbington, who plays Mary, our plans to kill Mary before she read the script – we’re not that brutal!"

Mark Gatiss, who as well as writing the series also plays Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft, believed introducing Mary so early in the canon is one of the few mistakes Doyle made.

"He very rarely put a foot wrong, but I think he realised very quickly he’d made an error with Dr Watson getting married as early as the second story," he told us.

"Suddenly he had to place all these stories about them as bachelors into a slightly foggy past. So we had a very interesting opportunity with the series to get Watson married at the right point, which is when he thinks Sherlock’s dead and has moved on with his life.

"Then we wanted to have a run of adventures with the three of them as the new team before we killed her in a much more dramatic way than in the original stories."

Mark revealed the most challenging part of filming this episode wasn’t Mary’s emotional death scene, but the hilarious moment a dog ruined a take.

‘There’s a sequence with a bloodhound in Doyle’s story The Sign of Four and I’ve always wanted to do it in the series.

"Then when we came to film it the dog just would not move. It was one of the many times in my career I’ve been faced with an animal trainer saying, 'Oh well, you can’t really train them.' I mean, it’s a dog, not a crocodile!"

"It was completely immobile," laughed Steven. "The scene where Mary, John and Sherlock stand there talking about the dog and how it won’t move was written on the pavement during filming because we were so amused!"

There are two more 90-minute episodes left in this series, with next week's mystery featuring Toby Jones as villain Culverton Smith, but fans are already keen to know if there’ll be more stories. Steven is quick to assure us there’s no plan to end the hugely popular show.

"There’s been a lot of talk about this series being the last run, but it’s all made up! People are taking quotes out of context, we’ve never said that at all."

"Everybody would like to do more, but it’s a nightmare to schedule," said Mark. "We’ve filmed Sherlock and John meeting for the first time as young men so we’d love to carry on until they’re the age of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in their films."

Sherlock continues on Sundays, BBC1, at 8.30pm


Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.