Why Mary Had to Die

Dec 19, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Kathleen Kaska

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book by Kathleen Kaska and a link to purchase it.

If you are a fan of the BBC’s Sherlock series, you might have been upset and shocked when Dr. Watson’s wife, Mary Morstan-Watson, died after taking a bullet for Sherlock in the third episode of 2017, “The Six Thatchers.” Played by Abigail Abbington, this Mary was my all-time favorite portrayal of Dr. Watson’s wife. She had such an impact on the series that I couldn’t imagine her absence. As she lay dying in her husband’s arms, I was sure she’d be rushed to the hospital and saved from the brink of death. That didn’t happen. How could they? How could the writers write her out of the series? I was incensed. To answer those questions, let’s turn to the original Canon.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mary Morstan first appeared in The Sign of the Four, when she pleaded for Holmes to help solve the mystery surrounding her deceased father. Dr. Watson described her as “a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste.” Although he added that “Her face had neither regularity of feature nor beauty of complexion,” it was her large blue eyes that caught his attention. By the end of the caper, Dr. Watson and Mary Morstan were engaged, and in 1889, married. She is mentioned again in “The Adventure of the Crooked Man,” having retired for the evening before Holmes paid Watson a surprise visit, requesting his assistance in a case.

Despite Watson’s thriving medical practice and new wife, he jumped at the chance to accompany his friend. We see Mary again in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” when she and Dr. Watson were having breakfast, and a telegram arrived from Holmes with another request for assistance. Dr. Watson was unsure if he should leave his practice again. “I have a fairly long list [of patients] at present.” But Mary encouraged him to go, declaring that his complexion had become pale and the change would do him good. Half an hour later, Dr. Watson was on his way out the door. Shortly after Holmes returned from his hiatus, Mary was out of the picture. In “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder,” Dr. Watson sold his medical practice at Holmes’s suggestion and moved back to Baker Street. Readers were left with the assumption that Mary had died.

Holmes scholars have deduced that Dr. Watson’s wife (or wives, for it is believed he had three) may have been of little importance in his role as chronicler and companion to the Great Detective, since their crime-solving partnership was the main focus in the stories. It seems that Conan Doyle threw Mary’s existence into the Canon without much thought and later felt she was just in the way.

Luckily, the writers of Sherlock did not portray the present-day Mary Morstan briefly in passing, or consider her a one-off. She certainly was not a demure damsel in distress in need of rescue. This Mary Morstan was a significate character and added dimension to the series. She entered Dr. Watson’s life after Holmes supposedly committed suicide by leaping from the roof of the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in “The Reichenbach Fall,” the last episode of the 2012 season. When Holmes returned two years after his faked death, Mary was the force that drew Holmes and Dr. Watson back together.

Kathleen Kaska

Holmes appreciated her intellect and intuitiveness. She was just as skilled in problem-solving as Holmes, and much better at reading the deceptive, temperamental detective than her husband was: “I’m not John. I know when you are fibbing.” Danger and excitement were just as enticing to her as it was to “the boys.” The scene after her and Dr. Watson’s baby, Rosamund, was born, wherein Holmes needed help, John and Mary had to decide who would stay with the baby and who would rush to the thrill of assistance. Mary won out, much to her delight and John’s disappointment.

More interestingly, when Charles Augustus Magnussen, the Napoleon of blackmail, blackmailed Mary in the third episode of season three (2014), “His Last Vow,” we discover Mary Morstan’s sordid past. As an ex-intelligence agent turned freelance assassin, Mary had turned her life around five years before meeting Dr. Watson. With Magnussen’s threat of exposure hanging over her and knowing she might not survive the ordeal, she planned for Sherlock to save her distraught husband in the event she died.

Though Mary was the glue that bound the duo together, the premise of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solving cases has always been them working together, and only together. So, there was no room for a third partner. Mary had to die.

To enter to win a copy of The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “quiz,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 26, 2020. Only US entries and you must be at least 18 to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS..

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & more Halloween mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also check our our new mystery podcast! A new Christmas episode went up this week.

You can use this link to purchase this book from Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Kathleen Kaska is the author of the new The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book, a comprehensive collection of fun and challenging trivia about the adventures of the inimitable detective whose intellectual feats overwhelmed criminals and Scotland Yard alike. The book offers brainteasers on each story about the detective and Dr. Watson, as well as the background on how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own experiences contributed to his literary work. Kathleen covers all of the different ways Holmes has been adapted including the recent Robert Downey Jr. films, and TV shows featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller.
The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book was released by Lyons Press on November 1, 2020. It is available in bookstores, and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also contact Kathleen through her website: www.kathleenkaska.com to purchase an autographed copy.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. A very reasonable argument. Count me in the drawing!

  2. Hi Lorie, Thanks for posting my article today. I love reading and writing about the world, or perhaps the universe is a better term, of Sherlock Holmes. As mentioned above, a free copy awaits!

  3. Sounds like an interesting book. Adding to my TBR list.

  4. Sounds good, I’d like to be included! tWarner419(at)aol(dot)com

  5. Love Sherlock Holmes!
    I love to win this great book!!!
    Thank you for the the chance to win!!

  6. Very interesting. I’ve always been a Sherlock Holmes fan, sounds like a fun resource.

  7. Sounds like a good book. Putting on my TBR list
    Thank you for the opportunity to win this.

  8. Thanks everyone for reading the post and commenting. I can’t wait to see who won a copy of The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book

  9. We have a winner!

  10. Excellent article and sound argument for writing Mary out. A good reminder for we authors who write series, to be careful of adding characters we may grow fond of, but realize their usefulness to the story is limited, or worse, a detriment!

  11. Kaska’s sleuthing rivals Holmes’s. She overlooks no clue, no matter how miniscule, in explaining the vagaries of the detective’s stories. How delightful it is to revisit the text for clues!


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