Moffat and Metafiction

Moffat 2Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are somewhat metafictional in that they increasingly appear to make reference to the viewers watching them. For example, based on Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’, Sherlock’s Series 2 finale ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ ends with Sherlock Holmes throwing himself from the roof of St Bartholomew’s hospital and the next scene showing him to be alive as he watches John Watson visiting his ‘grave’. In the months leading up to Series 3, the fan forums were filled with speculations as to how Sherlock faked his death. A production source revealed that ‘Sherlock fans are known for their penchant for coming up with theories to solve mysteries we set’ while Moffat noted the ‘many people theorising about Sherlock’s death online’. This fact is overtly referred to in the opening episode of Series 3, ‘The Empty Hearse’, in that the character of Anderson appears to be a stand in for the Sherlock fan base. After Sherlock’s ‘death’, Anderson is certain he survived the fall and forms a fan club obsessively dedicated to figuring out how. The group share theories similar to those you see online and wear deerstalker caps worn by fans at conventions.

Similarly, in Doctor Who, Moffat continues to make references to its fans. In the Series 3 episode ‘Blink’, Larry Nightingale is a member of a fan forum that theorises about the Doctor’s mysterious appearances on seventeen DVDs. Later in series 7, the character Osgood is also representative of the Whovians. For instance, she is what Robinson describes as a ‘meta audience proxy’. Similar to the cosplaying of Anderson’s Sherlock fan club, Osgood too appears to have been plucked straight from the masses at Comic-Con: she wears the Fourth Doctor’s iconic striped scarf in the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ while in the Series 8 final ‘Death in Heaven’, she wears Ten’s shoes and Eleven’s bow tie while repeating his catchphrase ‘Bow ties are cool!’ Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are thus metafictional because characters within the show seem to be cosplaying the fans.


A clip from ‘The Empty Hearse’ that parodies fan’s attempts at figuring out how Sherlock survived the fall:

A clip from ‘Blink’. Here the show is making constant reference to itself: Larry discusses the online forums and The Doctor literally appears on a television screen as a character in a DVD. Also, the video shop worker at the desk is watching a television show in which the events mirror the events of the show we are watching as he shouts at the character on screen to go to the police. In the next scene, Sally Sparrow, the protagonist in the Doctor Who episode we are watching visits the police station:

A review of‘The Reichenbach Fall’ which points out some more metafictional moments of the episode:

For some broader information on metafiction in popular culture, see this review of Scream 4:


Doctor Who. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 1963-present. Television.

‘Exclusive: Sherlock’s The Reichenbach Fall ‘fake death’ mystery revealed’. Metro, 1 Apr. 2013. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Robinson, Joanna. ‘Do Sherlock and Doctor Who Really Have a ‘Bad Fan’ Problem?’ Fanity Fair’s Hollywood, 10 Nov. 2008. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Sherlock. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 2010-present. Television.


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