First broadcast June 7, 1996
Season One, Episode Five
Preceded by No Trace of Tracy
Followed by Danse Macabre (Season Two)
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Marcus Mortimer
An interesting twist of familiar locked room elements.
Dr. Elliot Strange is a scientist who shares his country home with his wife, son and daughter-in-law and a variety of different types of domesticated primates. He is at work in his locked study when there are the sounds of a struggle and shouting. Fearing the worst and unable to open the study door, his wife exits the building and looks through the locked window where she sees him dead, impaled with a samurai sword.
The House of Monkeys concludes the first season of Jonathan Creek and it is, in my opinion, its most consciously traditional tale. While other stories had used familiar elements, they generally attempted to do something that seemed consciously modern, quirky or different. For instance, the previous locked room story had featured a nuclear bunker – not exactly an element common to this sort of story.
This story on the other hand picks the most traditional and familiar of locked room murder settings – the study in a country house. While some aspects of the setting are certainly odd, the most obvious of these being the presence of a variety of domesticated primates, even those seem to be a conspicuous nod to one of the earliest locked room stories – The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
While the setup may be traditional however, the story contains some other elements that were extremely relevant to the period in which it was made. Much as the previous episode, No Trace of Tracy, referenced the growing movement for environmental activism, this story features references to animal rights activists. Elements like these help to make the more traditional elements of the stories feel fresh and also really ground them in the period in which they were made.
Of all of the things that have surprised me in revisiting this first season, I think I am most surprised by how of its moment it feels. Part of that reflects the look of the episodes and the equipment Maddy and Jonathan use, but I think these cultural moments are also part of it. I will be curious to see if I feel the same way about the later seasons – my memory was that there were less “ripped from the headlines” elements as the show went on.
The locked room puzzle, while seemingly simple, works pretty well. I think it speaks to how much it grabbed me when I first watched it that I could remember every aspect of the solution based on a single viewing from over twenty years earlier (the only mistake I made was thinking it was Colin Baker rather than Charles Kay playing the victim). It is logical, cleverly worked and well explained.
I also enjoyed the way that Jonathan and Maddy end up working alongside the police – an aspect of this story that both feels more traditional and that seems to set it apart from the others in the season. I particularly appreciated the character of DI Masterson played by Selina Cadell who, while not a particularly lively character, does have an interestingly no nonsense demeanor.
The only issue I have with the murder plot and the detection of the killer is that there is a rather silly plot development that is used to explain several aspects of the setup and provide some excitement as we near the endgame. I think the way that clue manifests, once again, makes some logical sense but it does unfortunately seem a little silly and ridiculous in the way it is executed visually.
In addition to its main mystery plotline, this episode also pushes Jonathan and Maddy into some new territory with regards their relationship. This is, as usual, done largely comically but I think the execution is very good, striking the right note between playing to the tension while remaining accessible and funny to those who have not been following the series from the beginning.
The guest cast are mostly pretty good, particularly Annette Crosbie (still best known for One Foot in the Grave) who plays the victim’s rather practical, straightforward spouse. That practicality comes out in some interesting and, at times, unexpected ways and makes her seem a rather unusual figure.
The House of Monkeys is, I feel, one of the more successful episodes in this first season. Its traditional elements may appear unimaginative but I think Renwick combines them well to make something that feels more fresh and interesting than they would otherwise do on their own.
7 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: The House of Monkeys (TV)”
I remember, on my first viewing of this, being simultaneously amazed and disappointed by the resolution — the concept was a new one to me in 1996 — but I’ve watched it a few times over the intervening years and I have come to enjoy it more and more: not least, as you point out, because of the odd elements scattered around the central mystery, and for Annette Crosbie’s superb performance.
You make me reflect now on whether I’d feel differently about this show if I had the impossible crime awareness that I have now: would it have seemed as twee as Death in Paradise comes across to me? And I while I think the crimes wouldn’t cause me the confusion they did first time around, it’s the odd touches that Renwick worked in that really helps these early episodes retain interest. He lost it later on — the 3D pornography plot-line of a later special should never have made it past the drafting stage — but these early ones are very charming on account of the adept juggling of tones.
And, like Death in Paradise, the core performances are great and really help you engage with what’s going on. These people are very, very easy to care about and engage with.
LikeLiked by 1 person
There is a disappointment in the conclusion though it is tempered a little by what preempts it (sorry to be so vague – hopefully you know what I mean). I think this takes that idea fairly well and clues pretty effectively.
You are right about the juggling of tones. It does elevate the more basic plots and gives them interest, even for the more seasoned mystery fan who may recognize the setup otherwise. Some of those elements may even affect your expectations of the mystery plot. I do wonder if mystery fans would have expected something of the Rue Morgue here in the conclusion.
Oh, I was absolutely expecting something Rue Morgue-ish as a conclusion, and that was without having even read Rue Morgue 😁 But that whole thing feels like a red herring now, seeing as it both does and does not have any bearing on the plot. Smart stuff, like I said.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow – I’m surprised that episode was so early. It’s always been one of my favourite.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It is a really memorable story so I can understand it being a favorite. I enjoyed revisiting it a lot and was surprised at just how much I remembered! I am much more familiar with the next few seasons which I rewatched several years ago.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t actually remember the “silly thing” you’re alluding to, so obviously it wasn’t THAT memorable. 🙂
Unless it’s the hopelessly ugly gorilla costume.
But this was generally a very solid episode, the resolution to the puzzle was very good, and I agree with J.J. on Annette Crosbie’s performance. On the whole perhaps not the best episode of JC ever, but definitely in the top half.
LikeLiked by 2 people
The silly thing is the reason that the door was locked in the first place if that helps at all and yes, the look of the gorilla in general.
Agreed that it sits in that top half. I am excited to get to season two and revisit some of those stories. I have very fond memories of some of those coming up…