So I want to talk about Watson for a minute. I want to talk about Watson, and what Watson’s relationship with Holmes means for each of their respective universes.
I’ll start with BBC Sherlock. John is Sherlock’s conscience. He’s Jiminy Cricket. That’s his main role in that friendship. Sure, he’s a playmate and a partner in crime and many other things. But for the most part he provides the boundaries that Sherlock is unable or unwilling to provide for himself.
It’s sort of cute. But it has a huge and negative impact on Sherlock’s development as a character. Namely that he doesn’t have any. He doesn’t have to grow his own conscience if John’s right there doing it for him. Remember when Lestrade said that Sherlock Holmes was a great man, and someday he might even be a good one? That can’t happen if John is there to clean up Sherlock’s messes. Hell, Sherlock casually drugged John and let him have an absolutely terrifying experience, and John just forgives him right away. There are no consequences, and therefore there can be no significant growth.
Add to this the fact that they openly ID Sherlock as a sociopath, and the BBC writers have deliberately hobbled any potential for change. No version of Sherlock Holmes is a sociopath. He’s a wad - he’s always a total wad - but he can learn and change and for god’s sake, become attached to people. If he was a sociopath he’d just be … Moriarty.
Now, Joan Watson’s place in Sherlock’s life is very different. She isn’t his conscience. Hell no. She refuses that role. He’s got one of his own, as much effort as he expends pretending he doesn’t.
You see, that’s the key thing about Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes - he knows that his detatchment is an act. He knows this because he got pulled down into the muck with all the plebes when he became an addict. He doesn’t get to be superior any more. He has to take that fearless moral inventory if he wants to stay clean. His failures matter as much as his successes.
And Joan is his guide. If John Watson is Jiminy Cricket, then Joan Watson is the North Star. She will always help him but she will not do the work for him. She knows he is perfectly capable of doing it himself, and she fully expects him to pick his ass up and learn like everybody else. Joan will not let Sherlock off the hook. She will not have low expectations for him. Instead, she holds him to the same standards she has for herself. That is a huge compliment.
Because if he is going to rejoin the human race - if he’s going to become a real boy - then coddling him won’t help at all.