And lo, there was much rejoicing, on this blog at least, as it was announced that there would be a new series of Jonathan Creek. One of the criticisms of the recent specials – The Grinning Man, The Judas Tree and The Clue Of The Savant’s Thumb – was that they were too long, so there was much hope for the return to the c. 60 minute episodes.
And then the first episode was screened and the internet lit up with some extremely negative comments – the twitter stream for #JonathanCreek was negative to say the least. I’d planned to post episode by episode reviews as I did for Sherlock, but there was a lot to think about and I didn’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction. Well, now I’ve thought about it – here goes…
It was disappointing, certainly. But so was series three for the most part. And so was series four. I actually enjoyed the Joey Ross episodes a lot, as despite some odd sub-plots and sub-mysteries, there was a decent central mystery and a dark and creepy atmosphere. I had very high hopes for this series, but it was in many ways an entire different kettle of fish than what had gone before.
The set-up now has Jonathan, Alan Davies, and his wife Polly, Sarah Alexander, settling into village life as mysterious goings-on plague their friends and neighbours. Let’s take them episode by episode.
1. The Letters of Septimus Noone
An impossible stabbing of the lead actress in the West End musical adaptation of The Mystery Of The Yellow Room and some mysterious love letters to Polly’s mother from a mysterious admirer, Septimus Noone – oh and some magically vanishing ashes.
The inverted mystery, where we know all and watch the sleuth work it out, is an old idea – Columbo did it for years – and it’s actually a sensible choice structurally as there’s far too much for the viewer to work out. Think of all the information that would need to basically appear out of nowhere if we hadn’t been shown it in advance and you’ll see that if you had to use the plot, this is probably the only way to make it work. But the question is, why do it at all?
The idea of Jonathan settling into village life and dealing with the mysteries there is a decent one, so why drag him to the West End to solve a murder there, one which he didn’t really have that much involvement with. The Sherlock-spoof character is a good laugh the first time he shows up, but the joke wore thin quickly. None of the mysteries have much of a spark to them – the identity of Noone is one that I’ve seen before – and I was waiting for a twist that never came in the central case.
And huge points off for the spoilers to the plot of The Mystery Of The Yellow Room…
2. The Sinner and The Sandman
A mysterious creature stalks the night, the village newsletter has almost psychic levels of knowledge and winning lottery numbers are found under several sheets of ancient wallpaper in the bedroom of a local mentalist.
An improvement over the previous episode – the lottery numbers requires huge levels of coincidence to work, but that’s not the first time that an impossible crime has required such things. I enjoyed the village newsletter story more, as the key to the lottery number was rather obvious, although the casting of John Bird as the writer of the newsletter was odd, given that he’s been in it before as a Detective Inspector. At the end of the day though, the mystery element disappoints due to the fact that there didn’t feel like a focus for the episode. And the less said about the Sandman plot, the better.
3. The Curse Of The Bronze Lamp
The wife of a junior minister is kidnapped, an antique watch materialises inside a locked room and Jonathan’s cleaner has a dead gigolo in the bath. And it has stuff all to do with the Carter Dickson story of the same title.
Much more along the lines of the previous series and easily the best of the three episodes. The basic idea was a little obvious, although the plot specifics were cleverly put together. The dead gigolo bit seemed like padding, although it was necessary for something to make the running time. The first third was very empty, but things picked up a lot for the last half or so. The main coincidence was that Jonathan got involved in the kidnapping plot at all – now that he’s not involved with any investigators, this was always going to be a problem. But the idea was simple enough to work – one could argue about the necessary weather to make it work, but that was set up earlier in the episode.
At the end of the day, I have to say that the series was disappointing. When you remember the highs of series one and series two, this is a different show – deliberately, it seems, but disappointingly so. There seemed to be an increased amount of One Foot In The Grave style humour, and without Adam Klaus (I miss him) around, this all lands squarely on Jonathan and Polly’s shoulders. And the atmosphere that used to haunt this show seems to have gone. In the three episodes, there was no real villain, just a collision of circumstances to produce mysteries that were basically just puzzles.
But the most damning thing I can say about the series – I forgot that it was on by the time episode three came around and had to catch it on the iPlayer this morning. At the end of the day, it was still perfectly watchable – more enjoyable that a lot of things on television. But it’s not the series that it used to be – by choice now, it seems, and it’s going to take some getting used to. If the series does return, let’s hope the darkness that it used to have comes with it.