Last night’s series three finale of Sherlock, His Last Vow, drew primarily on two stories for inspiration: The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton and His Last Bow.
Here are ten key references within the episode to both these stories and other Holmes adventures.
Magnussen versus Milverton
1. Sherlock the middle man
Lady Smallwood recruits Holmes to act as an intermediary in both the book and the TV episode. In both cases the blackmailer holds leverage over her because of her husband’s courtship of young girls.
2. Home, sweet home
Appledore is the name of Milverton/Magnussen’s house in both stories. In the original, it is in Hampstead rather than in the country.
3. Sorry, I’m otherwise engaged
Holmes goes to great lengths to gain access to Milverton’s house and Magnussen’s office. He becomes engaged to Milverton’s housemaid and also proposes to Magnussen’s PA Janine, John and Mary’s bridesmaid from The Sign of Three.
4. Breaking and entering
Sherlock uses a stolen keycard and his relationship with Janine to gain entry to Magnussen’s office. In the original, Holmes and Watson break in to Milverton’s house. In both cases, Sherlock is hoping to recover Smallwood’s husband’s letters from the safe.
Milverton/Magnussen meet the same fate, but at different hands. Milverton is shot by the wife of an unnamed nobleman, while a concealed Holmes and Watson watch on. Magnussen is shot by Sherlock himself using John’s gun.
‘Vow’ versus ‘Bow’
6. Shy and retiring
Having sold her story to the tabloids, Janine talks about retiring to a cottage in the Sussex Downs, where she needs to remove some beehives.
But whose bees are they? In His Last Bow, Holmes retires from detective work to keep bees on a farm in the Sussex Downs.
7. Where the wind blows
Both book and TV versions refer to the fact that “an east wind is coming”. In the original story it is a nod to the advent of World War I. Here the Mycroft in Sherlock’s mind palace predicts his brother’s death, Sherlock unwittingly foreshadows Moriarty’s return and finally John refers to the returning Sherlock.
The USB drive containing the information about Mary’s former life which John throws into the fire bears her initials, ‘A.G.R.A.’. In the book The Sign of Four, Mary’s case revolves around a treasure from Agra, India.
9. Billy the kid
Bill Wiggins, the drug addict with the keen powers of deduction – Sherlock calls him ‘Billy’ – is a reference to Holmes’ page in the books. Billy appears in three of the original stories, all three of Conan Doyle’s Holmes-based plays and some of the film adaptations. So don’t be surprised if the character makes a return in the TV series too.
Incidentally, Charlie Chaplin started his career by playing Billy on stage.
10. Stayin’ alive
Not so much a reference as some possible foreshadowing that was laid back in the season two opener, A Scandal in Belgravia. Moriarty’s ringtone was the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. It could refer as much to Moriarty’s survival of his own suicide as to the resolution of The Great Game’s cliffhanger.