Sherlock's showrunners offer the final word on Moriarty's fate

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Jul 19, 2013, 10:28 AM EDT

Professor James Moriarty is dead. The evil genius with the shrill Irish lilt played by Andrew Scott in BBC’s Sherlock is dead, dead, dead. And dead. Deady-dead. Dead.

Mark Gatiss, the show’s co-creator and co-writer and the player of Sherlock Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, could not say it enough at a Q&A session on the outskirts of Comic-Con on Thursday. After eating a bullet, Moriarty is not coming back in series three, or ever. Gatiss emphasized to a crowd of a couple hundred:

“He’s dead. He shot himself in the brain stem. Nothing can survive that. The human body can survive the loss of anything else but the brain stem. He’s dead. We brought [Andrew Scott] back in to be a dead body. And, in fact, it was cheaper to get Andrew Scott than a mannequin. But he’s dead.”

First of all, burn. Second of all, doesn’t Gatiss sound an awful lot like Moriarty in explaining how Moriarty could not possibly come back after a shot to the brain stem? As if the brain stem rule is the one tenet of television that no writer dare break.

The Q&A session with Gatiss, co-showrunner Stephen Moffat and BBC producer Sue Vertue was an exclusive charity event at Nerd HQ, the annual Comic-Con side venue run by Zachary Levi (Chuck) and his web project the Nerd Machine. With the “Conversations for a Cause” series set at Petco Park this year, the stage overlooked the baseball diamond, with discussion occasionally drowned out by pop music from a band warming up from a nearby outdoor venue. By the end of the session, Gatiss said he would be willing to use his next blank check from the BBC to make them shut up.

The questions—90 percent from female fans—ranged from whether they read fan fiction (dodged by all three) to what they make of Elementary (“It’s a little subdued,” Gatiss said) to whether the sniper in “The Reichenbach Fall” is Col. Sebastian Moran, Holmes’ second greatest nemesis (“wait and see,” again Gattis).

Moffat also explained why they decided to outfit their Sherlock and Holmes with more or less realistic technology (mobile devices and blogs) instead of closer to the Batcave/Inspector Gadget end of the spectrum.

”In the original stories [Holmes] is at the cutting edge of technology. To a Victorian reader, he's like—‘Oh God! He’s got a microscope in his own flat.’ You want to limit how sci-fi you go with it. You don't want it to all depend on how super-fantastic his gadgets are. You don't want it to be the case that Sherlock Holmes can only solve cases because he's got really better technology than you. He hasn't. He's got decent technology and a scuzzy flat and he still solves cases better than you.”

The trio were tightwads with spoilers but generous with laughs at their cast’s expense, particularly Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title role. Benedict Cumberbatch was just a funny name until Sherlock, and now he’s famous, with a funny name. Gatiss mocked “Dame” Benedict Cumberbatch in a dispute over who can claim credit for the red stitching on Sherlock’s coat lapel (a visual reference to the “scarlet thread of a murder”). Moffat says he’s got a recording of an epic Cumberbatch fail: The actor got tangled in sheets and fell “like a tree” on his nose, and meanwhile the crew just laughed and laughed. Moffat kept a copy of the footage for residual guffaws and may one day release it as a DVD bonus.

As for the obligatory answer about the writing process, here’s a pro tip from Moffat about wine and word processors:

“Alcohol would never be involved during the writing process. Ever. It cannot be. Drinking is the opposite of the writing, which is why drinking is sooo good. Literally, I do think the two things are opposite. I just get more and more wound up and stressed and tense and miserable and angry when I'm trying to write. 'This is all such cack.' The moment I've had a drink, everything I ever think of is brilliant. Eveything I ever say is funny. And I am so much prettier. None of those things would help the writing process at all.”

But getting back to this dead Moriarty issue, a matter of multiple questions. As one fan asked: In the books, doesn’t Professor James Moriarty have a brother named Col. James Moriarty? Couldn’t Andrew Scott come back that way?

“No, he is Moriarty and he is dead,” Gatiss said.