'Sherlock' Returns to U.K. Screens With 8.1M Viewers

Benedict Cumberbatch (left) in 'Sherlock'

The season-four opener took the New Year's Day ratings crown in the U.K.

Barring last year's one-off special, it's been three years since the last season of Sherlock. But despite the long absence, British viewers were not deterred Sunday, with 8.1 million tuning in to BBC One to watch the 90-minute season-four opener, "The Six Thatchers," starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

Despite claiming the New Year's Day ratings crown by some margin in the U.K. (it also beat the "Queen's Christmas message," the biggest draw on Christmas Day), the show slipped some 300,000 on the last outing, the Victorian-era "The Abominable Bride," and 1.1 million on the season-three opener, "The Empty Hearse" from 2014. 

"The Six Thatchers," which follows the story left at the end of season three in which Sherlock is called back to the U.K. from exile to counter the supposed return of archnemesis Moriarty, marks the first episode featuring Amanda Abbington as Freeman's onscreen wife since the two separated offscreen in March. Speaking to The Telegraph, Freeman said it was "kind of odd" pretending to be married.  

"Although we were doing it as friends and we're still very close," he said.

"The Six Thatchers" — which aired in the U.S. on Masterpiece — was produced by Hartswood Films, with Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat both writing and exec producing.