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Is the first 'Sherlock' season 4 photo the beginning of the end?

Just when it looked like the BBC was throwing a bone to impatient Sherlock fans with the release of season 4’s first photo, Steven Moffat, one of the series creators, hit us with a dire warning: The beloved series could be coming to a fast end. The writer and producer suggested in an interview with the U.K.’s Telegraph that star Benedict Cumberbatch may be ready to move on.

“I don’t know how long we can keep it going,” he said. “I’m personally willing but I’m hardly the main draw.”

Moffat’s comments indicated Cumberbatch continues to play the quirky Sherlock Holmes for the fans rather than out of any real need to do so. There is certainly no denying that the actor has reached a point in his career where he could move on and have his pick of roles — he has been much in-demand in recent years, helped along by his critically acclaimed portrayal of the iconic detective. Fortunately, there is still a chance that he isn’t ready to take off his deerstalker.

Related: The next season of Sherlock has officially begun filming, says BBC

It’s not entirely reassuring, but Moffat said he would be “moderately surprised” if season 4 was the last and admitted that this isn’t the first time he’s thought the series could be reaching its end. Since both Cumberbatch and his co-star Martin Freeman — who plays Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson — became famous, Moffat has been expecting them to hang up their hats. Yet, “they’re coming back because they want to,” as he pointed out.

As a multi-part miniseries, Sherlock gives the actors freedom that the stars of many regular series don’t have. They have more time for other projects between seasons — as we’ve seen with Cumberbatch’s decision to headline Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange and Freeman’s turn as Lester Nygaard in FX’s Fargo, for example — and the show is less dependent on continuity. If they can have a Victorian special like The Abominable Bride, there’s no reason they can’t return to the show years down the road if they have to, as Moffat suggested.

In the meantime, little has been revealed about what to expect in Sherlock season 4. The new photo shows off Holmes with a bloodhound on the streets of London, so evidently, he’ll make a new friend of the four-legged variety. It still isn’t clear which of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories the season will tell, but whoever the villain is, he’ll be played by Toby Jones.

Sherlock season 4 is expected to premiere in 2017.