Sherlock series 3: what does the three-word tease mean?

We ponder the three words that provide clues to Sherlock’s third series. What stories might be heading to the screen?

Warning: we’ve tried to remain as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don’t want to know anything, why not pop off for quick a cup of tea?

Now that most either have a theory on the big Sherlock mystery from the season 2 finale or have given up guessing in frustration, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have set fans of the show a new piece of homework. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to solve the case of the three words that will form the basis of series 3 of the show. 

Those words? Bow, Wedding, and Rat. The game, as they say, is afoot…

Let’s begin with Rat. It could be intended in the figurative sense, meaning an informant, someone working for the opposition. The ‘rat’ that rings a bell in most Holmes fans’ minds though, has to be the giant rat of Sumatra, alluded to, but never explained, by Holmes in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire: “Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.”

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The idea of including the infamous Holmesian tangent is one that must appeal to Moffat and Gatiss’ playful fanboy minds, so if ‘rat’ is key, we could be looking at some misdirection perhaps.

A “rat-trap” was also a phrase used at the end of the first half of The Valley of Fear by one of the story’s antagonists, so thoughts turn towards that multi-layered story, as they do towards The Boscombe Valley Mystery, in which “a rat” featured as a character’s last words.

Moving on to wedding, there are a number of possible connotations. There was of course, a wedding in A Scandal In Bohemia, though that story can be crossed off the list. An aborted wedding is a plot point of A Case Of Identity, in which Holmes is asked to solve the mystery of a young woman’s fiancé disappearing and abandoning her at the altar. Continuing along that line, a bride goes missing of course, in The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor, and an unwilling one is almost forced to pledge her troth in The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist, both possible contenders.

Watson, as we know, marries Mary Morstan from The Sign Of The Four in the course of Conan Doyle’s stories, so the wedding could well be his. Interestingly, back before series one was broadcast, Moffat mentioned an idea to devote a Sherlock series arc to Watson’s romance, which may well be the intention here.

And finally, Bow. The first notion that springs to mind is of course His Last Bow, Conan Doyle’s story in the collection of the same name. His Last Bow, unusual for being narrated in the third person rather than via Watson’s pen, was an espionage story in which Holmes and Watson go up against a chap selling WWI British intelligence to Germany. That’s for starters then.

A very long shot could be the Bow Street Runners police force, of which Inspector Bradstreet (The Man With The Twisted Lip, The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle, and The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb) was a member.

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It’s also worth remembering that Holmes is a violinist of course, an instrument that has its own bow, and that’s before we even consider the verb form, in which bow becomes an action, a closing theatrical gesture or a mark of respect…

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