I have just seen the first episode of Sherlock.

The cab driver offered Sherlock 2 bottles. Once containing a poisionous pill, and the other has a "no effect" pill. Or at least that's what the cab driver claims.

Sherlock knew that the driver had a fake gun. Sherlock picked the bottle that was far from him. As they were both about to swallow their pills, Dr. Watson shoots the cab driver.

Question 1: Was time of the essence in that situation? I mean there was no threat, no time limit. Dr. Watson could have gone to the other building and arrest the cab driver. So why did Sherlock say that he was buying time?

Question 2: Do both bottles contain "bad pills"? and the cab driver only pretends that he is about to swallow the other pill while in fact he is encouraging the victim to swallow first?

Question 3: Why kill the cab driver if more information can be obtained if he is arrested?

  • I always thought the cab driver simply took a corresponding antidote beforehand so that both pills would be lethal and he could still be (rather) save.
    – Thomas
    Jul 2, 2018 at 14:20
  • ah the old "build up an immunity to iocaine powder" trick.
    – MrInfinity
    Jun 23, 2022 at 11:36

5 Answers 5


Regarding questions 1 and 3: John saw (through the window) both men about to take their pills. He assumed that Sherlock would swallow the pill, so he decided to shoot.

Regarding question 2: We don't know that, but if Sherlock was right in his deduction there was only one poisonous pill. From Baker Street wiki:

Summing up his observations, Sherlock ventures that the "game", as the cabbie calls it, is about his children. The cabbie confirms he has been estranged from his children for three years and has been told that he is dying. He adds that the inheritance he will leave for them is only meagre, And in that moment, focusing on his children and his mortality, the cabbie looks to the pill bottle on his left. Sherlock deduces that is where death is.

  1. Time was not a factor, but tension and curiosity added pressure, and Sherlock was confident so he picked a pill quickly. He said he was biding his time to John, who immediately called him on his bullshit.

  2. Only one pill bottle was bad. Poison doesn't take immediate effect, and he put the pill at least in his mouth at the same time as his victim. It was a game. He was going to die anyways, why not take a few people with him? If they chose the right bottle, his life wasn't shortened by much. If they took the bad bottle, more money to his kids.

  3. John didn't hear the conversation, he just saw them both about to take the pills and shot in an effort to save Sherlock. And Sherlock was just playing the game.


Actually, Sherlock was biding time to see what more he could deduce, or even find another option, the gun, as he saw him use it earlier. As we can see in evidence later, Sherlock did not realize that it was John until explaining it to the constable.

Many times, Sherlock observed Watson's incompetence when it came to observation, yet only praised him for his medical expertise. The fact is that Sherlock had no bearing of the genius of this benefactor, Moriarty. The cabbie established false evidence of his successes by using the murders of previous victims while in reality, this time, both pills were poison. He was a dead man regardless of his choice, and he certainly did gain money for his family previously.

However, seeing that it was Moriarty running the show, this time it was a genius manuever and had the means to compensate the family according to the murder of Sherlock. (Yes, he wanted to kill Sherlock despite being a “fan” of him, so that he could express his superiority over him.) The cabbie, as a note, did not reveal the answer because the distraction of his benefactor immediately took priority in Sherlock's mind as priority for future possible consequence.


Sherlock has no option. Both pills were bad. The killer has made sure that he would give a poisonous pill to his victims, and victims only had the option to take a bad pill, but the killer has many options as he may have an antidote or he may have trained himself to adapt to this kind of poison. He could use a trick to change a capsule for a placebo because he has no shortage of capsules, but the victims have to swallow the pill so in all cases, the victims died. That is why Sherlock said it is a child's game.

  • 2
    Welcome to Movies.SE! There's a lot of speculation here, but do you have any actual evidence from the show to support your assertion that both pills were poison?
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 15, 2020 at 20:08

Elementary. The guy was dieing from cancer. In excruciating pain. He was on very strong pain killers to the extent that the dosage had gradually been increased to the point it was so high that he had an high tolerance . A dosage high enough to kill an average person. Two tablets. Same drug.


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