How did Sherlock Holmes Survive The Reichenbach Fall?

by JoHarrington

In both literature and television, Sherlock had an apparently fatal clash with Moriarty. Fans of the BBC series are working out if history will repeat.

For over a century, people have been enthralled by the adventures of the most famous fictional detective on the planet.

It was the first great fandom and it shows no sign of flagging now. The BBC have brought Holmes and Watson right into the modern day; and it is truly wonderful.

If you're not already immersed in the twists and turns, then I both pity and envy you. You have a whole new world to discover! Though once you're in, there's no going back.

Spoiler alert!  This Wizzle reveals details from the end of BBC's Sherlock (series two), as well as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House. If you do not wish these stories to be spoiled, please click here with great haste now! Spoiler Alert!

Two geniuses stand on a precipice, trying to outwit each other. The outcome could be fatal.

Will any or either of them survive, when the stakes are this high?

As Sherlock meets Moriarty there's more than pride on the line. It's all been a great game, each wanting to be the cleverest man alive. Now it's the 'alive' part that's the problem.

Whole fandoms have formed, in both 1896 and 2012, all with the same questions in mind. Did Sherlock just die and, if he didn't, then how on Earth did he survive?

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls
Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriart...

Sherlock Fans Ponder the Great Questions

Will their hero live or die at the hands of Moriarty? And if he survives, then how?

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in 1896, it was meant to be permanent.

The extreme reaction of fans (and a large financial incentive) saw him bringing the great detective back to life a decade later.

It's now 2012 and history is repeating. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, two avowed Conan Doyle enthusiasts, have created precisely the same cliff-hanger. The fandom has responded in precisely the same way.

Arguably the Victorian furore over Sherlock Holmes was the dawn of the fandom culture, as we know it. There had been popular books and plays in the past - the Arthurian legend was kept alive with fan-fiction and fan-art - but nothing on this scale.

Then, as with now, the stories were serialized. Conan Doyle wrote chapters for newspapers and magazines. Moffat and Gatiss have the genre of television for their installments. Nevertheless, when fans are left for long enough, aching for a resolution to a life or death situation, then they'll create their own!

Sherlock fans tend towards being armchair detectives anyway, drawn to the tales with their rich forensic details and ingenious dissection of clues. With their fictional idol apparently dead, they turned to their own imaginations to determine how he could have survived.

The Victorians produced their ideas as pamphlets or fully realized short stories, sold in the street. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eventually bought one for £10 and it inspired him to just keep on writing.

Modern day viewers have much more media at their finger-tips. Their solutions are appearing in forums, comment boxes and on YouTube. But have any of them got it right?

Get Up to Date with the Drama

Buy BBC Sherlock DVDs and the tie-in book to relive the thrilling adventures.
Sherlock: Season One

A contemporary take on the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock is a thrilling, funny, fast-paced adventure series set in present-day London. Co-created by Steven ...

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Sherlock: Season Two

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Sherlock: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A Sherlock tie-in edition of Conan Doyle's first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, with an introduction by show cocreator Mark GatissIn this new edition of Conan Doyle's ...

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Moffat: Fans Are Overlooking a Vital Clue!

Can it be true that no-one has yet guessed the answer?

At the end of Sherlock Series Two, there couldn't have been a dry eye amongst those glued to their TV screens.

Watson sobbed and we all did the same. But then the camera panned out and we caught a glimpse of Holmes himself standing in the cemetery. Was it a ghost? Or was he alive and well?

The precedent of the Conan Doyle stories tells us that he survives. Steven Moffat has been watching the theories of fans coming fast and thick. He told the Guardian that no-one has got it right yet.

In short, 'There is a clue everybody's missed'.

The Cliff-hanger from the End of Sherlock Series Two

This is the footage that people are pouring over. Can you spot the missing clue?

How Did Sherlock Fake his own Death?

The definitive answer won't come until late 2012 or early 2013, when season 3 airs. Until then, it's fun to speculate!

Like every other Sherlock fan, I started theorizing within seconds of that final sequence. I rushed into a Skype call, where my friends and I batted ideas back and forth.

These were the facts, as we saw them:

  • Sherlock Holmes is a genius and he had time to prepare;
  • He chose the place for the final fight;
  • He potentially (via his brother Mycroft) has unlimited funds and the compliance of London authorities in staging his own death;
  • He definitely (via Molly) had the ability to walk out of a mortuary without questions being asked.

The rest is open to interpretation and observation. Assuming that was no ghost spotted after his funeral, then Sherlock must be alive and well.

Moffat and Gatiss are aficionados of the Conan Doyle stories, so they frequently sprinkle obscure canon references throughout their versions. The literary Sherlock survived the Reichenbach Falls by using Japanese Baritsu (an imaginary marital art). I wondered if this new Sherlock had employed some kind of Asian meditative technique to stop himself being hurt.

Alternatively had he worn a physical harness, which cushioned or broke his fall? His coat was certainly bulky enough to conceal one.

I then recalled that he had been very good at Parkour, as evidenced in the very first episode. A lower roof was glimpsed each time he peered over the parapet. Could he have used his traceur skills to land in a roll onto it, then quickly make his way to the ground?

If not, then how about a substitution? Mistaken identity had been a running theme throughout both series 1 and 2. In The Great Game, a young girl screamed at the sight of Sherlock. Moriarty had somehow linked the detective's face with her kidnapping. Meanwhile, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, there was talk of human cloning. Sherlock certainly had ample opportunity for puzzling over that.

Other fans have come up with a vast array of ways in which he could have survived. They range from the bizarre (it was aliens a la Life of Brian) to the in depth and feasible. It's been pointed out that a bus was parked there just before, maybe delivering a cast of actors to keep Watson back and spirit Holmes away.

What about the truck filled with plastic bags, which replaced it? Did it provide a soft landing from which Sherlock could then roll onto the pavement? Or did it deliver, then carry away a mattress, to be inserted into the rectangle chalked onto the slabs?

What was the favor that Sherlock asked of Molly?  Did she merely help him escape the morgue, or did it go deeper than that?  Did she provide a corpse in a Sherlock mask or cut off a human hand at the wrist, for him to hold, so that Watson wouldn't find a pulse?

All of these and more are being proffered and discussed by fans desperate for the next installment; myself very firmly amongst them!

Two fan theories

These are just a couple of the 1000s of solutions out there; but remember that Moffat said no-one had guessed correctly yet.

Have you entered the world of Sherlock Holmes?

Watch the films or read the books, so you don't miss a thing in this amazing story.

More BBC Sherlock Articles

Music from the BBC mini-series Sherlock has been released on two official soundtrack albums. Buy your copies here.
A spoiler free review of Sherlock 2; with links to buy the DVDs in Europe, if you're American and can't wait!
A spoiler-free review of the entire first series of BBC's Sherlock. Buy the DVD box sets in North America, Europe or Asia.
Updated: 01/24/2014, JoHarrington
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What are your theories on how Sherlock survived, if indeed he did?

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JoHarrington on 02/16/2012

Erk, of course it is! I've been watching 'Whitechapel' too and that definitely is ITV. I just got them mixed up.

Thanks for pointing that out. I've amended it in the article. :D

pcdman on 02/16/2012

Sorry but need to point out that Sherlock is if fact a BBC production and not ITV. Nice article however

JoHarrington on 02/15/2012

The mark of a great author and a great story. :D

katiem2 on 02/15/2012

lol so true, I do feel a connection he does take you right in the depth of it all.

JoHarrington on 02/14/2012

I think it's almost a shame when we do find out for certain. The speculating is so much fun!

Yes, that's precisely what happened with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The poor thing wanted to write serious academic and journalistic things; and instead kept being pressured into more Sherlock. Love him!

The staying power is immense too. I love how linked the fans now and in 1896 are. If we had a time machine, they'd all be in the same room, gleefully guessing over the same story-lines!

katiem2 on 02/14/2012

I dare not share my multiple theories as I'm most often wrong when it comes to the twist and turns of this character. Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character. I love the trilling stories and have been enjoying the movies, thrilled they've been created. I feel the author intentionally leads us in a less than deducible direction. I've read he didn't want to pursue this character as he fancied being a historian and yet each time when he upped his price on the next requested installment it was eagerly accepted. He just couldn't get away from the lucrative Sherlock Holmes. I'm a big fan, love Sherlock Holmes so I'm very glad he did plus his love of history enhanced the adventures of Holmes and Watson. Great Read, Much Enjoyed!

JoHarrington on 02/12/2012

LOL Terri, brilliant answer! Sounds feasible to me!

TerriRexson on 02/12/2012

Sherlock survived. Gandalf the Grey was involved. After a stint as Smaug the dragon, Sherlock will be back. Oh sorry, I think I may be mixing up my franchises based on British novels.

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