Sherlock: The Empty Hearse has 'year's best' opening sequence

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes

Spoiler alert: Critics hail return of sleuth in 'thrilling' first episode of third series

LAST UPDATED AT 11:31 ON Thu 2 Jan 2014

THERE won't be an opening scene on TV this year with more "chutzpah" than the one at the start of the New Year's Day episode of Sherlock, writes Chris Harvey in the Daily Telegraph.

At first, viewers who tuned in to The Empty Hearse on BBC One, thought they were watching an elaborate explanation of how the master detective had faked his own death, writes Harvey. But the "frenetic, thrilling" sequence turned out to be pure fantasy – the real reason for the sleuth's survival was something rather more prosaic.

It was, writes Harvey, "a great twist at the end of a rollercoaster ride".

Nearly two years have passed since the first broadcast of the BBC drama's second season finale. The Reichenbach Fall, says The Independent. The interval has given fans plenty of time to speculate about the fate of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, who appeared to jump to his death from the roof of a London Hospital.

As the first episode of the third series went to air on BBC One yesterday it was clear that Sherlock was alive, but trapped in an interrogation room in Serbia. Freed, with a little help from his brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), he was soon on his way back to Europe to be reunited with Dr Watson (Martin Freeman) and foil a terrorist plot.

The Guardian's Sam Wollaston agrees The Empty Hearse was "full of fizz, whizz and wit". Wollaston marvels at Holmes' resurrection and the new moustache sported by Watson. It is "astonishing", given the doctor's new facial hair, that Watson has acquired a new girlfriend played by Amanda Abbington (who is Freeman's wife in real life).

Wollaston says the spirit of Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, hasn't been "abandoned or forgotten" by this modern, high-energy production.  Writes Wollaston: "There may be hashtags, blogs and motorbikes, but the spirit remains in keeping. I think Sir Arthur would approve, enjoy it too. Hard not to really."

The Independent agrees that the episode was a treat for fans. In an plot full of twists, the paper says, the news that Sherlock has parents and didn't just spring into existence as a fully formed entity was "probably the biggest surprise of all".

It is also a relief, the Independent says, that Sherlock remains "his emotionally stunted, semi-sociopathic self".

Digital Spy says 9.2 million people watched The Empty Hearse, the show's highest ever rating.

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It was very silly. If you have recorded the new Sherlock from BBC last night, do not bother watching it. The first 35 minutes is taken up with Sherlock arguing first with his brother, then with Dr Watson. Then I switched off. Arthur Conan Doyle - a supreme writer of action - is turning in his grave.
Mind you -- if you are an East Enders fan ...

"... but trapped in an interrogation room in Serbia. Freed, with a little help from his brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), he was soon on his way back to Europe ... " - As always, The Week has issue with Serbia, just like everybody else. Serbia is, always was, and forever will be in Europe. Please everybody, stop this charade as portraying Serbia as a bad guy... James Bond was inspired by a Serbian spy, first wife of Albert Einstein was Serbian, together with more famous Nikola Tesla or Novak Djokovic nowadays. For such a small country of just 6m people (half the population of London !!) it just shows the huge talent and intelligence of its residents. Which can't be said for most "Europeans"...

Take issue with the BBC, Leon. Much bigger and easier target.

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