Jonathan Creek: Gorgons Wood (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast February 28, 2004
Season 4, Episode 6
Preceded by The Chequered Box
Followed by The Grinning Man

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson

Familiar Faces

Celia Imrie is one of the most familiar faces in British cinema, having featured in a number of films that have been international hits including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Calendar Girls and Bridget Jones’ Baby. She also has appeared in episodes of a number of genre television shows including Inspector Lewis, Poirot, Marple and Midsomer Murders.

Michael Cochrane is another easily recognizable face who frequently seems to be cast as either aristocrats or villains. Among his genre roles are episodes of Law and Order UK, Murphy’s Law, Rosemary and Thyme and A Touch of Frost. Perhaps my favorite of his performances though is as Redvers Fenn-Cooper (yes, an aristocratic type) in the Doctor Who episode Ghost Light.

The Verdict

A clever impossible disappearance trick but some incredibly dark plot elements feel designed primarily to shock. It works but it also makes for rather disturbing viewing.

Episode Summary

A porcelain statue connected with a Shinto monk has been loaned to a small museum by Owen Glendower, a celebrity cookbook author. Given the value of the object there is a small security detail on hand to supervise the unboxing of the vase when it arrives and to ensure its safety.

When the shipment is received Thelma Bailey, the museum’s curator, carefully sets it on a pedestal within a special display unit and asks if she can have a moment in privacy with the statue and lowers the curtains on each door while she sits before it and closes her eyes. A minute or so later she shrieks and the guards enter the unit to find that the statue is gone. The space and Bailey are thoroughly searched but they can find so sign of it and the entrances to the space were under constant supervision. Where could the statue have gone?

My Thoughts

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me post a few weeks ago that I had discovered that there was an episode of Jonathan Creek I found that I had never seen. It was this one which I somehow missed on original airing. Given that new episodes of Jonathan Creek seem unlikely at this point, though I remain hopeful, this is the closest thing I will have to a new episode and that was pretty exciting for me, even though there are some elements of this that I don’t love.

Let’s start by discussing the impossibility which is a fairly neat example of a disappearing object. The direction does a good job of establishing the physical space both inside and outside of the display unit and while the meditating in front of the statue moment feels a little contrived, I think the moment of the disappearance is quite effective.

This is a scenario in which there seems to be an obvious suspect and I appreciate that Renwick acknowledges that pretty much immediately, having Glendower quickly point the finger at Bailey. There are not many other characters that could be considered suspects and so the question is less who did the crime as how it was pulled off. I came pretty close to guessing how it was done, mostly because I read something that worked a similar trick not too long ago, but I am fairly confident that had I not have come close to working it out and would likely have been quite wowed by it as an idea.

The relationship between Glendower and Bailey is interesting and I think it is elevated by the quality of the casting. Both Imrie and Cochrane are superb actors and bring a fair amount of self-righteous intensity to their parts, making their animosity quite believable. I think their history and that of Gorgons Wood itself is quite intriguing and does give the episode a strange and rather disturbing intensity that can be quite effective.

There are some other elements of this story however that sat far less comfortably with me, striking me as being designed primarily to shock the viewer. I have felt that this intention to disturb or outrage the viewer was noticeable in several earlier episodes this season (most notably The Seer of the Sands) but this episode takes it to a whole new extreme. While I cannot fault the portrayals by the actors involved, I think the extreme darkness of the episode’s themes and elements feels a little out of keeping with the show’s more usual tone up until this point particularly as we reach the episode’s climax.

It’s a shame because as a puzzle I think the episode has much to commend itself. Not only is the solution to how the statue vanished quite clever mechanically (and several of the doubts I had about it were removed when we see the method in action), I think some of the clueing here is quite solid. The grim tone and the rather melodramatic storytelling obscure some of the episode’s subtleties and unfortunately draw attention away from the often rather clever plot construction.

This story would be Carla’s last alongside Jonathan though there is little sense of a conclusion or that a departure is in any way imminent. Instead it is very much business as normal with Carla getting a comical subplot in which she is surprised by the reason some people are buying her exercise videos. Sawalha plays this pretty well and while I don’t think of it as riotously funny, it doesn’t feel at odds with the rather sleazy tone of the rest of the episode.

As for Brendan – well, he’s absent here. JJ quite rightly suggested that this was no bad thing given that it is hard to imagine his more overtly crazy behavior sitting well with this episode’s heavier material (Adam Klaus’ antics on the farm fit better because they are also quite disturbing, albeit in a more lighthearted way) but it does add to the sense that Carla’s departure was unplanned and that there is no real sense of resolution to the character or her relationship with Jonathan. It just ends.

Now that I have reached the end of the Carla Borrego era, I do think of it as a bit of a missed opportunity. I think there was the potential to use Carla’s role as the host of a crime show to bring cases to Jonathan in a way that could have felt quite natural but this was quickly forgotten and her role ends up feeling rather poorly defined. Sawalha was fun in the part and I appreciated that her relationship with Jonathan feels different from what he had before with Maddy. I perhaps would have liked it better however had they remained at odds with one another as a result of their forced professional relationship.

It’s a shame really that she didn’t go out on a better story. Maddy at least had The Three Gamblers which was a case that gave her some moments to shine and felt like a pretty solid puzzle. In contrast Gorgons Wood draws attention away from its two leads. While I think its plot is often quite clever and Imrie and Cochrane are both excellent, the story’s darker themes feel out of place and feel like they are trying too hard to be shocking. In that they perhaps succeed but, for this viewer at least, it comes at the expense of the episode’s sense of fun.

Aidan Spoils Everything

ROT-13: V zragvbarq nobir gung V yvxr gur zrgubq hfrq urer gb qvfcbfr bs gur fgnghr. V qb jbaqre vs gur zrqvhz pubfra, gubhtu ncg orpnhfr bs Bjra’f fcrpvnyvgl, jbhyq jbex. Abg bayl jbhyq lbh arrq gb or vaperqvoyl qryvpngr va lbhe pbafgehpgvba gb perngr n synjyrff fhesnpr, lbh gura jbhyq unir gb grzcrengher pbageby vg naq gnxr vaperqvoyr pner gb nibvq oernxntrf jvguva gur pbagnvare. Abg vzcbffvoyr ohg vg qbrf vaibyir n ybg bs evfx.

V yvxr gur frdhrapr va juvpu jr frr Pryvn Vzevr haobk gur fgnghr naq gura sbyybj ure nf fur rkrphgrf gur cyna ohg V qb guvax fur trgf rkprcgvbanyyl yhpxl gung gur thneqf ner arire cynprq va fhpu n jnl gung gurl pna trg n pyrne ybbx ng gur onpx bs gur fgnghr. Fvzvyneyl V guvax vg vf n yvggyr sbeghangr gung gur yvtugvat qbrf abg rkcbfr ure npgvivgvrf vafvqr gur phor.

Va na rcvfbqr jvgu znal qvfgnfgrshy ryrzragf, creuncf gur zbfg qvfgheovat vf gur frkhnyvmngvba bs fbzrbar qlvat jvgu n enxr. Whfg rjj.

11 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: Gorgons Wood (TV)

  1. Thanks Aidan – this an episode I haven’t seen so will give this one a look. So far you have steered me toward the better episodes of Jonathan Creek so looking forward of what to make of Gorgon’s Wood. Nice to know that the great Celia Imrie is part of the cast.


      1. I just watched this one and indeed it is memorable. But aside from how the statue disappearance was done, for all the wrong reasons! I am glad that I watched this but cannot imagine ever doing so again. Too dark and gruesome for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always been suspicious of impossibilities that happen, as here, in “complete silence”. The disappearing of that statue, while clever, could in no way have happened without some…accompanying noises, and I will never believe otherwise. See also — or, rather, don’t — Herman Resnicow’s The Dead Room, where a man is killed in a recording chamber without a sound being heard…and the you find out how, and there’s just no way that was accomplished silently.

    I also think the clewing of this one is a little too slight for me (gung nfgbavfuvatyl oevrs tyvzcfr bs gur grqql orne zbyq nf gur pbbxobbx vf syvccrq guebhtu — come on!). And yet, for all its darkness, I don’t mind it as an episode. It shows the confusion in strcuture and focus that would become more pronounced in the episodes to follow, but in going really very dark indeed Renwick shows a dark side that is often overlooked in the rush to make simple jokes that have dated very bady indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. V jbhyq nterr gung gur grqql zbyq guvat vf qbar sne gbb dhvpxyl ohg gurer vf gur pyhr gung gur phengbe unf pyrneyl unq na nyyretvp ernpgvba va fcvgr bs orvat va ure abezny jbex raivebazrag – gur bayl punatr vf gur vagebqhpgvba bs gur fgnghr naq fb rvgure vg jnf nyyretvp gb gur gbhpu (gubhtu ure unaqf ner hanssrpgrq) be fur zhfg unir vatrfgrq fbzrguvat.

      Your point about the lack of noise is very well made! I agree too about how this is an indication of the way the show would change in its subsequent episodes. It just really feels like a pretty startling shift in the context of the previous few seasons.


      1. Ah, yes, I had neglected that element, you’re perfectly correct.

        Having watched ‘The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb’ recently, I was reminded there of not really havig a sense of what the story or the core dramatic point was, just as this episode comes to me through a glass, darkly. It’s left me hesitant about watching series 5 again because, well, I’ve already run that gauntlet once… 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a good point – this is one of the most thematically cohesive episodes of the show I have seen (the business of Adam on the farm being a small exception).


  3. I think this is one of the more memorable episodes (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as one of the best!), mainly because of those elements that you highlight.

    The impossibility is one of the better JC ones, particularly when you take into account that standards had been slipping over the course of the series. But it’s the darkness of this episode that stands out the most. And it’s not only the themes, but also parts of the resolution that veers into this darkness.

    Overall, I do think I view this episode fairly positively – it would be at least in my top half of JC episodes, and probably a tad higher than that – but I’d hesitate to recommend it to someone as their first experience of the show.

    I agree with you that Carla is somewhat wasted as a character – she was fine in the special that introduced her, but I think it was a bad idea to somewhat distance her from Jonathan as we headed into series 4, and the character really never survived that.

    I’ve already mentioned my dislike of the Adrian Edmondson character and that I felt his inclusion was a definite lowpoint of the series. The recurrence of Kenny Starkiss also belongs in this category, as do several of the Adam Klaus subplots.

    It is interesting that almost all of these downsides were removed for series 5 and all following specials, and yet somehow it didn’t really help the show much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t placed this yet on my ranking but it will certainly not be the lowest placed Season 4 episode.

      I do appreciate the attempt to give us something different and to define the eras but I wish the path with Carla had been a little more clearly defined. I am sure though that this was not meant to be the end point for the character at the time and maybe there were other plans in mind for her.

      Onto the specials, although I may take a few weeks break!

      Liked by 1 person

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