Three Word Tease for Sherlock Series 3 Revealed: What Does It Mean?

Last year, prior to the start of Sherlock Series 2 filming, co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss announced  that the “three words” associated with the three episodes of the new season were Woman, Hound, and Fall. From this, we could all immediately extrapolate that the three stories they’d be tackling in the new episodes in some way involved A Scandal in Bohemia, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Final Problem. Pretty straightforward, right?

Well, during the Edinburgh TV Festival’s Sherlock Master Class, Moffat and Gatiss revealed the three words associated with upcoming third series of the show, and I think it’s safe to say that this time around, things are a bit less clear. This time around our official confirmed clues are RAT, WEDDING, and BOW. It’s important to stress that these aren’t episode titles, but more general teases about what we’re likely to see in Series 3. To which I say, seriously, guys, cryptic much?

My theories, and take them for what they are worth, which is basically nothing, are as follows:

Rat: It’s obvious – both from the ending of Series 2 and from what Gatiss himself has said in the past – that Series 3, Episode 1 is at least going to be partially based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Empty House.  Since this particular incarnation of Sherlock often features multiple canon stories integrated into single episodes (see The Great Game for the most varied example of this), the “rat” must refer to some other Holmes story that is featured here as well.

So, what is it? Holmes mentions “the story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra” to Watson in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, which is never explained further in canon. This seems the most obvious connection – but are we meant to deduce that it’s the Sussex Vampire story itself that will be included, the Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra patstiche that was done later, or that Moffat and Gatiss are plotting their own version of the “Giant Rat of Sumatra” story? To me, it seems unlikely that this will overshadow the Empty House part of the episode – after all, we have to get Sherlock back among the living somehow - but then again, it IS possible that the issue of Holmes’s resurrection will be handily tied up in the first few minutes of the Series 3 premiere, like the pool resolution in Series 2’s Belgravia. I certainly hope not, but it wouldn't be unprecedented.

Of the three words, “rat” definitely gets my vote for most confusing clue.

Wedding: Many Sherlockian die-hards online seem fairly convinced that “wedding” means this episode must be The Sign of Four because it refers to John Watson’s marriage to Mary Morstan.  I don’t know that I entirely agree with that – canonically Mary Morstan dies sometime between Final Problem and Empty House, though I recognize that fact is hardly going to be a deal breaker for a show that’s never done the stories in any sort of order other than starting with A Study in Scarlet.  Sign of Four is a pretty recognizable and well known story, though, so it is certainly a strong contender.

However, there are also several other canon stories that revolve around weddings – most notably The Noble Bachelor, which features a bride gone missing, and The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, which involves a man whose daughter is set to marry a man who may be a murderer.  There’s also The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, which is the one where Sherlock has to fake an engagement and also features some blackmail. So, I think we have a LOT of options for this particular clue, even though Sign of Four might be most everyone’s first guess.

Bow: Thanks to reports from Edinburgh, we know that this word is bow as in “take a bow,” not “tie a bow.” The most obvious reference here seems to be to His Last Bow, which is a collection of stories that includes Sherlock Holmes’s last case, which involves spies and ends with Holmes in retirement and raising bees in the country.  

The initial panic caused by this reading is – does this mean that Series 3 will be the conclusion of this particular adaptation of Sherlock Holmes? Given that Moffat himself has indicated that the third series will also end with another “frustrating” cliffhanger – how can there be a cliffhanger if Sherlock’s retired or the show is over?  - that seems unlikely, and even less so when you add in star Benedict Cumberbatch’s self-professed willingness to play Holmes for the next fifteen years. So, it seems hard to say – particularly because I can’t quite figure how you get a cliffhanger out of “Last Bow,” unless it’s retirement itself that’s the cliffhanger.  I suppose you could speculate it’s something to do with that story in the Last Bow collection called The Dying Detective, but isn’t it a bit soon to go back to the well of killing Sherlock again? He’ll be like Kenny from South Park at this rate.

Filming on Series 3 is slated to begin in January 2013 and Sue Vertue confirmed a likely UK airdate of late summer, possibly August this morning. So, you know, we’ve got a while to wrestle with all these what-ifs. Speaking of what-might-have-beens, pardon my personal moment of moaning for just a second. I was so very convinced that the third story next season was going to be The Adventure of the Three Garridebs and this time the cliffhanger would be John getting shot and I could totally already see it all in my head and UGH, MOFFAT. Just busily dashing my dreams once more. I can only hope we get all get the chance to get to that story eventually becuase I think it would be quite fantastic.

How about you, fellow Sherlockians? What are your theories about which mysteries we’ll be seeing in Series 3? Mine are wild guesses, mostly – I’d love to hear yours. Hit me up in the comments and let's get started speculating. We've got a lot of time to kill.


Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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