Okay. Don’t Panic. I know that Sherlock isn’t science fiction, even if its head writer is Steven Moffat, the head writer for Doctor Who.
Oh, except it totally is. Or, at least, it deals with two concepts that are very prevalent in science fiction: Doubt, and belief.
I.e, Are Sherlock’s exploits a myth? Can we believe in him, or was it all a ruse?
Doubt in Science Fiction
One of the key tensions of The X-Files is between Scully and Mulder, with one who wants to believe, and one who will only believe when there is proof. This is a theme that is often put in science fiction, from Philip K. Dick’s treatises on reality which deals with question like “Are my memories implanted?”, and “Am I also an android?”, to my favorite movie, Contact, which deals with doubt in science on a very visceral level. I.e, did Ellie really go across the universe and back in three seconds? If so, what proof does she have?
Doubt is integral to science, so it only follows that it is incredibly important to science fiction. Sometimes this doubt manifests in what we already know, like The X-Files or a Philip K. Dick story, and sometimes it manifests in the current tact our society is taking (think Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers”).
At the very least, this need for doubt reflects its fan’s needs and desire for something more truthful (something we ironically find in the artificial creations of scifi), or our belief that there has to be something more than what we see.
Sherlock embodies that. He sees what we don’t, can’t, or won’t. He’s able to draw conclusions that we can’t even being to piece together. He’s very much like the scientists in our favorite science fiction shows. But in the “The Riechenbach Fall”, all of that comes into question. We have to ask ourselves, “Is Moriarty real, or Sherlock’s creation?” After all, the way Moriarty sets Sherlock up makes it really seem that Sherlock committed crimes in order to solve them is entirely plausible. (I also think it’s narrative mistake to erase that doubt later on, but I’m not the writer so I’ll shut up).
That’s where the real beauty of the series two finale lies. It lies in the fact that against overwhelming odds there is still doubt, the truest precept of science fiction.
Unfortunately, with season three, all that beautiful doubt is undone. We then lose a lot of the scifi flavor. Ah well. we can’t always win.
Though, with Moriarty back, maybe not.
Belief in Science Fiction
Now, if you thought I was being esoteric before, strap in.
What’s just as important as doubt in science fiction is belief. The need for Sherlock fans to proclaim “I believe Sherlock Holmes” after the series 2 finale is an analogy for some of our greatest science fiction. We want to believe it wasn’t a dream in Inception, and we want to believe that the truth is out there in the case of The X-Files.
The same is true for Sherlock. We want to believe he isn’t a psychopath who desires accolades and gets them creating sick situations involving murder and kidnapping.
The Truth is Out There
And finally, we end with the idea that the truth is out there. Doubt keeps ups guessing, and finding better truths. Belief makes us want to find them. Basically, we all need a little Mulder and Scully in our lives. We need to question Sherlock in order to have true belief in him, and we need to want to believe for good science fiction to really work.
TLDR: The doubt keeps the tension of the story. The belief keeps us reading/watching. For science, doubt keeps us honest, belief helps us find better and greater things, much like the things Jules Vernes or HG Wells dreamdt up in their earlier works.
They are absolutely and necessarily needed, both in fiction and in reality.