Jonathan Creek: Satan’s Chimney (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast on December 26, 2001
Christmas Special 2001
Preceded by The Three Gamblers
Followed by The Coonskin Cap

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson

Familiar Faces

Perhaps the most recognizable face for international audiences will be Steven Berkoff. A frequent villain in Hollywood films, Berkoff is probably best known for his role as the unhinged General Orlov in the Bond film Octopussy or as a murderous art dealer in Beverly Hills Cop.

There are lots of connections between Jonathan Creek and Doctor Who but this special features offers one of my favorites. The victim in this story is played by Mary Tamm who had played the first incarnation of Romana opposite Tom Baker in the Key to Time series.

Finally comic Bill Bailey, best known at the time for his role in the relatively new comedy Black Books, makes his first appearance as terrible magician Kenny Starkiss.

The Verdict

An entertaining feature-length episode with two very solid impossibilities that are cleverly linked to each other. Sure, it’s not on the level of the previous special, Black Canary, but I liked it a lot more than any story from Season Three.

Episode Summary

Actress Vivian Brodie is the star of Black Snow, a big budget film being made by her friend Herman Grole. The set is becoming a rather strained one as her big name co-star refusing to shoot their scenes together, fearing he will catch her throat infection. Away from the shooting she also seems to be concerned about being harrassed by someone as we see the clothes in her wardrobe have been shredded and overhear her making a somewhat distraught phone call in response to someone who is not identified.

Shooting continues on location where a scene is to be filmed in which several characters break down a door with an axe. As the door is being broken through the actors react in horror to see Vivian has really been shot and on the point of death. The cast rush inside and Vivian appears to point at the window which is still in tact and completely sealed. All of the cast and crew seem to be accounted for on the other side of the door so how was Vivian shot dead without the glass of the window being broken?

As it happens Vivian’s ex-husband, escapologist Alan Kalanak, is working with Adam Klaus on a routine when he receives news of Vivian’s death. His agent Carla wants to do something to help and Alan suggests that she work with Jonathan…

My Thoughts

Before I embarked on my current project to rewatch all of Jonathan Creek in order I used to dip into the series from time to time, picking out episodes at random. The result was it never struck me until a month or so ago that this special, the story that introduces Jonathan’s second companion, Carla Borrego, was missing on the service. As a result I can say with near-certainty that I hadn’t seen this since the day it was first broadcast; the few memories I had of the story were all to do with being excited to see Mary Tamm (this was the year I had become a Doctor Who fan so her appearance was particularly exciting for me). In short, this would be almost like watching the story for the first time – an exciting proposition!

Satan’s Chimney was created as a Christmas special and benefits from an extended running time. As with the previous special, Black Canary, Renwick takes advantage of the extra time to incorporate additional plot elements and craft a rather more elaborate story featuring multiple impossibilities. The result is a story that at times can seem overstuffed with elements, though everything is ultimately connected to tell a single cohesive (if incredible) story.

Let’s start with the way that the episode builds up the details concerning the murder of Vivian Brodie. The expanded running time allows for us to get a sense of the dynamics between her and several other members of the film’s cast and crew, allowing us to have a pretty good idea of the points of tension both spoken and unspoken prior to the murder taking place.

When that murder does occur, great care is taken to carefully demonstrate that there is no one present in the locked room. What’s more, almost all of the suspects are clearly shown as being located outside the room. This only makes the scenario seem more puzzling, as does the addition of a wordless dying message from Vivian.

One of the things I appreciate about these longer specials is that Renwick often disposes of a few of the small points about the crime scene quite quickly. In this case Jonathan is able to explain the relevance of the dying message, if not decipher who it actually refers to. This has two effects. For one thing, it builds up Jonathan’s powers by acknowledging he can see the significance of some apparently confusing points quickly – not dissimilar to the Sherlock Holmes deducing a number of personal details from someone’s appearance. Anything that may remain seems even more mysterious by contrast. The other is that it helps consolidate our interest around a few aspects of the mystery allowing room for further impossibilities.

In the episode summary above I have chosen to only outline the first of the story’s impossibilities. There are a couple of reasons for this but primarily it is that the second impossibility occurs relatively late in the story and is rather hard to explain without a lot of context. What I can say though is that it involves some historical (and horrific) elements established in the episode’s opening montage – a technique I have found to be quite effective in previous Creek stories such as Mother Redcap. While the historical background itself is rather inaccurate, the idea behind the second puzzle is quite striking and I appreciate that it shifts the story in quite a different direction.

The solutions to each of the impossibilities, while clearly wild, are also pretty entertaining and I particularly liked how the two problems relate to each other. I do question an aspect of the murder of Vivian but given that is getting into heavy spoiler territory I’ll save that for the Aidan Spoils Everything section that follows this post. I certainly enjoyed the craziness of what happens and felt that some key aspects of the case were clued well. My issues with the solution really only struck me in the aftermath of the story.

The guest cast here is quite strong and features a few striking performances, particularly from Steven Berkoff. I think he does a good job of making his character, a genius-level movie director who decides to live in a medieval torture castle, feel surprisingly credible. Mary Tamm is also great in her performance and I appreciate that we are given a little more time with the victim here, making her murder all the more affecting, and I think she played wonderfully with Berkoff whenever they were on screen together.

Finally, I probably ought to take a moment to acknowledge one of the most significant elements of the episode: that it introduces us to a new companion for Jonathan. I should begin by acknowledging that the episode does provide an explanation of sorts for why Maddy is not present that clearly leaves the door open for a return. While Carla does get an ending that clearly suggests she might have further adventures with Jonathan, it is possible that this could have been intended to be a one-off (and I do think that Carla’s next story presents her as occupying a role that feels like a more natural fit for Maddy).

I really like the casting of Julia Sawalha in the part and think that however the character would be developed in the episodes to come that she makes a really strong impression in this story. Part of the reason for that is that she gets a clear reason for being somewhat antagonistic and frustrated in her dealings with Jonathan. Unlike Maddy her priority is not selling a good story and she is not thrilled to be working with him. Also, while there are hints of romantic tension these are not quite so overt and they are not the main source of that comedic tension – rather it is her frustration at some of the things she is called upon to do in order to distract witnesses and learn the truth.

The most notable difference in the role is that Carla is clearly designed to be a sidekick rather than a co-investigator with many of her actions being directed by Jonathan. I would suggest that this is a continuation of a trend from the previous seasons of Creek which had slowly minimized Maddy’s role as an investigator and rarely relied on her professional skills. I can understand why some miss Maddy’s greater independence though, even if I don’t particularly miss the will they, won’t they dynamic she has with Jonathan.

Overall then I think that this is a pretty solid special that may not quite match the heights of Black Canary but I think it holds up better than almost all of the previous season. I am looking forward to getting started on revisiting a whole new era of Creek in the next few months.

Continue reading “Jonathan Creek: Satan’s Chimney (TV)”

Jonathan Creek: The Three Gamblers (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast on January 2, 2000
Season 3, Episode 6
Preceded by Miracle in Crooked Lane
Followed by Satan’s Chimney

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse

Familiar Faces

John Bird is a familiar face on British TV, particularly to fans of political comedy for his work with John Fortune and Rory Bremner. While his background in principally in satirical comedy, Bird has appeared in a number of genre shows including Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders and he also appears again in this show in a pair of later episodes.

Nina Sosanya is much more well known today than she would have been when she filmed this, having appeared in recent years in His Dark Materials, Good Omens, Staged and Killing Eve.

Of all of the actors the one I would have been most familiar with at the time was Hattie Hayridge who played Holly, the shipboard computer, in several seasons of Red Dwarf.

Finally Harry Peacock is Ray Bloody Purchase from the sitcom Toast of London. Genre credits include episodes of Wire in the Blood, Pie in the Sky and Midsomer Murders.

The Verdict

Maddy’s final episode is not a classic but it is one of the better efforts from this third season boasting some effective imagery and a solid puzzle plot.

Episode Summary

Three friends meet up with a man named Geiger who plans to cut them in on a drug score that will take place in the Caribbean. He outlines the plan but as the evening goes on the tensions between the group grow, suddenly erupting when the two men try to steal Geiger’s contact book. When Geiger stumbles in on them he is livid, accusing them of trying to cut him out, and they fire at each other. Floyd instinctively grabs a poker and smashes Geiger over the head, knocking him unconscious, then shoots him repeatedly in the head using his own gun.

They deposit his body in the cellar, locking the door and blocking it with a heavy dresser before throwing the key away in the river. When they attempt to go ahead with the plan they are ambushed by the local police. After spending a few months underground Floyd becomes convinced that Geiger was having his revenge from beyond the grave and when he returns to England he confesses to the Police. To corroborate his story they go to the farmhouse where they find everything as it was left by the gang months earlier. When they pull the dresser away however they see a hand poking out from under the door and open it to discover Geiger at the top of the stairs, arm outstretched, with a terrible expression on his face…

My Thoughts

The Three Gamblers not only brings the uneven third season of Jonathan Creek to a close, it also marks the final appearance of Caroline Quentin as intrepid investigative reporter Maddy Magellan. When questioned about returning to Creek on Graham Norton’s radio show, Quentin indicated that she always expected she would come back but indicated that the production team seemed to have moved on during that time.

Certainly there is little to indicate that this was intended to be a sendoff for the character. The plot does not particularly revolve around her character and she gets a pretty average amount of screen time. While she may not have been the focus of the episode though, I do appreciate that her final case gives her a moment in which she uses her observational skills to deduce something important, even if that moment is highlighted to such an extent with the performances and the edit that it rather robs it of the impact it might have had.

At this point I had intended to address the question of Quentin’s legacy to the show but I think that may be a topic best left for the end of this series of posts when I can consider what each of the partners brought to the show. Instead let’s crack on and discuss some of the details of The Three Gamblers.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this episode is its tone. From the beginning this seems to attempt to evoke a sort of hard boiled realism with talk of drug running and a criminal conspiracy and some more graphic depictions of gun violence than usual. That perhaps explains why the first time I revisited this a few years ago I couldn’t recall anything beyond that opening – I suspect either the TV must have been switched off or the children were exiled from the living room!

While it may have been a little grittier than usual though I should be clear that this could not be mistaken for an episode of Luther or a Guy Ritchie movie. After all, I don’t think many of us would think to cast John Bird if we’re looking to give a show a hard boiled edge. Strip away the sequence leading to the murder and a brief moment of violence in the middle and you have a pretty typical episode of the show based around a single impossibility.

I really like a lot about the presentation of that impossibility which leans in nicely to some horror tropes. The moment where you see Geiger’s corpse is horrific and a triumph of makeup and lighting, delivering chills. While it is obvious rationally that he is really dead, much like it was obvious that there was no real alien several episodes earlier, it is not initially easy to imagine how this could have happened, and I think the psychological impact this has on Floyd is clever as it is clear that his experience seeing the corpse has left him shattered and unable to help the Police with their investigation.

Unfortunately once you get past the reveal of the impossibility, I think that the investigative portion of the episode feels a little flat. That is because there simply isn’t anyone to speak to and the crime scene is in itself rather bland. While there are certainly important clues to find, the entire business hinges on a single concept and so this leaves a lot of narrative space that will need to be filled.

The episode tries to do this in two ways. The first is to add an extra problem to overcome at the end of the investigation, leading to a rare action sequence. I have mixed feelings about this because I quite like the technical elements of this – particularly Jonathan’s means of resolving it which feels absolutely true to his character and skill set – but I hate that it feels tacked on to the end of this phase of the story as it has very little relevance to anything else.

The other is to get plenty of time to Adam Klaus who has not one but two story threads within the episode, the more notable being his getting worked up about whether he will win a major magic award. This offers Stuart Milligan some amusing moments where he gets to show how two-faced and insincere Adam can be, particularly in a scene in which he places a string of telephone calls. My only disappointment here is that both this thread and the one featuring a young subversive magician he meets feel like they just tail off rather than land a decisive knockout punchline. Still, in spite of that I found that they were pretty entertaining viewing.

The problem is one of balance though. Given what feels like near-equal time to Jonathan and Maddy’s investigation as well as the biggest laughs, these scenes feel like they are the focus of the story which isn’t exactly what I am looking for from the show. In contrast the investigation appears drab and a little simple, being explained quite easily. While that explanation seems pretty clever, I found the simplicity here underwhelming rather than wowing.

In spite of this issue with the balance of the various elements, taken in the context of the third season however I think this has to be regarded as one of the stronger efforts. While the impossibility is comparatively simple, it is quite arresting visually and I feel it has one of the more credible solutions on offer in this run of episodes. I wish that there was a little more to go on (or that Maddy’s deduction was a little harder) but it is a pretty solid puzzle overall and certainly very watchable.

Jonathan Creek: Miracle in Crooked Lane (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 28 December 1999
Season 3, Episode 5
Preceded by Ghost’s Forge
Followed by The Three Gamblers

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse

Familiar Faces

Dinah Sheridan makes her final screen appearance in this episode of Jonathan Creek but had a long career that included an appearance in the movie version of The Mirror Crack’d (which I just purchased on blu-ray and look forward to revisiting).

Tom Goodman-Hill was towards the start of his TV career and has become a familiar face since this was made. He has made a number of genre appearances including in episodes of Inspector Lewis, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. More recently he appeared in Silent Witness and the Netflix adaptation of Rebecca.

Finally, period drama fans will know Benjamin Whitrow for playing Mr. Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series.

The Verdict

One of the better impossible situations from this season though the investigation phase of the episode, though sometimes amusing, seems to lack focus .

Episode Summary

Kathleen, a missionary, is staying with a photographer friend in a small village while she recovers from heart bypass surgery. He takes her outside to sit in his garden and enjoy some fresh air. While she is there she chats with Jacqui Jordan, a rather infamous glamor model who has recently shared some stories of her sexploits with the rich and famous in The Sun. The problem is that earlier that same day Jacqui was caught in an explosion that left her in a coma. How could Kathleen have spoken with a woman who was lying unconscious in a hospital bed at the time?

My Thoughts

I have been interested to see this episode, Miracle in Crooked Lane, receive quite a lot of love in some of the comments for some of my recent Jonathan Creek posts. This struck me as particularly curious because I didn’t have much of a memory at all of this episode prior to revisiting it. I think our conversation needs to begin with a discussion of the episode’s impossibility and how it fits into the season as a whole.

While I have found parts of the previous stories entertaining, I think it is fair to suggest that the impossibilities in this season are not particularly compelling. In some cases it is because the stories around the impossibility feels convoluted to allow for Jonathan or Maddy’s involvement. In others it is because some aspects of the explanation just don’t seem to hold up. And in the case of The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish, it’s just a garbled, ridiculous mess that favors style over substance. But I digress.

Miracle in Crooked Lane is not necessarily a great impossibility (we’ll get to that in a moment) but it is a significant improvement on the stories surrounding it. In my review last week I commented that a problem with that story was that I couldn’t sum up the problem in a sentence. Well, here I can and it’s pretty interesting – how can someone have had a conversation with a woman who, at that same time, was in a hospital in a coma? It’s simple, clearly mysterious and of about the right complexity to be explored properly in 45 minutes.

Perhaps the most interesting feature that sets it apart from other Creek episodes is that it does not seem to be connected to a crime. Jonathan and Maddy do not learn about it from a news headline but because it is brought up as an interesting problem meant to grab his attention. Their investigation reflects that, focusing more on the curiosity of the situation rather than an attempt to uncover any sinister reason behind it (though, fear not, there is something darker going on under the surface for them to discover and explain). This means it feels a little different than many of the stories around it, helping it to stand out a little.

The scenario intrigues because Renwick is careful to make sure we know that the basic facts are trustworthy. This is partly achieved with the portrayal of Kathleen as an unimpeachable witness. She is an outsider with no real ties to the community or to Jacqui Jordan, the victim of the tragic accident. As she lacks any personal reason to lie about speaking with her, we have to take her statements at face value. At the same time however we witness the events leading up to the explosion in the shed ourselves, meaning that we have a pretty clear idea that she had been hospitalized exactly as claimed.

I found this to be an intriguing variation on the person in two places problem. If there is an issue with its premise it is that it seems pretty clear which of the two places Jacqui must have been in at 7:40pm. While Renwick could have tried to stretch it out by suggesting that someone else may have been injured in the explosion in Jacqui’s place, that idea is raised and immediately dismissed as not credible. Instead of wondering which of the two accounts is true we are left to consider why her appearance in the other place appears so credible.

Where I think the lack of a clear link to a crime becomes problematic is that the investigation lacks some central points of focus. Jonathan and Maddy begin by investigating what exactly happened to Jacqui but there isn’t a clear sense of exactly what they’re looking for. This gives the investigation a more disorganized feel than is typical of the show and means that at points the focus instead seems to fall on some of the more comedic elements of the script.

In fairness that isn’t a bad thing as I think this is one of the funnier episodes this series had made up to this point. This begins with the framing structure of the pair attending a Crime Writers’ convention where a small but intense group enthusiasts, many of whom have styled themselves after Jonathan, have gathered to meet them. I found the conversation they have in which they pick apart flaws in some of their earlier cases to be pretty amusing and felt it did a good job of nailing fans’ ability to nitpick (see any of my recent Jonathan Creek reviews for evidence of that).

Similarly there is some amusing material with Jeff, one of those fans, who is responsible for initially hooking Jonathan with this case. Tim Goodman-Hill plays that part really well while Emma Kennedy is really amusing as his long-suffering and frequently bemused girlfriend. There are some pretty entertaining comedic moments and while I think the ending feels a little too ridiculous, I do enjoy the dynamic between them and our two leads.

Perhaps my favorite of the comedic moments though belongs to Benjamin Whitrow who plays Rupert, Jacqui’s wealthy husband. He has a wonderfully dry, matter-of-fact delivery and a light touch with comedic material which makes the scene in the library where he gives Maddy a tour of sorts particularly amusing. It may not be very mature but I thought it was executed really well.

Predictably I was a little less enamored of the attempts to resolve the sexual tension between Jonathan and Maddy. While it was probably overdue given I’ve grumped about those scenes in several recent episodes, I cannot say I found it tremendously satisfying. I seem to remember wishing that those two would get together when I watched the show for the first time but in revisiting them I cannot quite understand why. Perhaps I just recognize that they are really poorly suited to each other romantically or maybe I am just grumpy that I wish some of that time was given over to developing the mystery. Either way, I don’t feel it adds much.

Though amusing in places, Jonathan and Maddy’s investigation offers little in the way of new or compelling information about the impossibility. Rather than steering the viewer towards the correct solution it feels like the investigation is more helpful in terms of ruling out possibilities.

The result is a solution that feels like it is reached simply because it is the only one that seems to fit the rather odd circumstances of the case. Though the ideas he describes are quite exciting, Jonathan’s explanation contains relatively little direct evidence. While it is certainly very persuasive, I feel confident in saying that he falls short of proving it. This is reflected in the way in which a character simply folds under indirect pressure and confirms all of the points the detective could never have proven. The weak, unforced confession is one of my biggest frustrations with mysteries, particularly on television, and so unsurprisingly I felt disappointed by that aspect of it.

On the other hand, I cannot help but admire the construction of that ending. The explanation of what happened is clear and easy to follow and I think a lot of thought was given to making the impossibility come together credibly. I think that it does at least do that and so while I think the storytelling lacks the focus found in many of the other episodes, I can agree that it is one of the most interesting and unusually structured stories the show had produced up until this point and certainly it does stand out in the context of this unfortunately rather uneven season.

Jonathan Creek: Ghost’s Forge (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 18 December 1999
Season 3, Episode 4
Preceded by The Omega Man
Followed by Miracle in Crooked Lane

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Richard Holthouse

Familiar Faces

Normally I choose people from an episode who have some sort of link to the mystery genre but how could I do that here when I have a chance to draw attention to a super, smashing, great cameo from northern comic Jim Bowen.

He had got his start on the TV show The Comedians and in the 80s began hosting the darts gameshow Bullseye which brought him to national, and my own, attention. My flatmate at University watched reruns constantly so he is about as familiar a face for me as you get.

The Verdict

The mystery plot is rather awkwardly structured and a little weak but the material around it is really entertaining, particularly the secondary mystery of how Maddy vanishes from inside an observed room.

Episode Summary

Mimi Tranter, an old colleague of Maddy, is having an affair with a man who keeps muttering about a house named Ghosts Forge in his sleep. She learns that the last owner of the house, the reclusive author Ezra Carr, was found dead several years earlier. The police had suspected that he was killed during a burglary yet nothing of value seemed to have been stolen.

Mimi takes Jonathan and Maddy to look over the house, frustrating both with her repeated assertions that she knows exactly how he pulls off different tricks from the magic show. While they look over the house Maddy appears to disappear inside a room after climbing into it with a ladder. Jonathan acknowledges it as a very clever trick played on Mimi later on so how did Maddy pull it off?

My Thoughts

Ghost’s Forge is another one of those episodes that I have seen several times but that I could not have described in any detail prior to rewatching it. That does not reflect on its quality so much as that it lacks an easily summarized problem and that the impossibility in the episode is not part of that main investigation but a gag played in a comedic subplot involving Maddy’s obnoxious friend Mimi.

What exactly are Jonathan and Maddy investigating? It’s all a bit vague. There’s the strange mutterings of Robin, the married man that Mimi is sleeping with, but that alone would not be much of a story. The strange death, which is presumably linked, adds more of a crime element to the tale but that too feels rather insubstantial and it would not be of much interest on its own either. And then there’s the question of Ezra Carr’s identity which is relatively simple and only a small point within the episode.

Pulling these together makes for a more substantial case but working each of these elements in also makes Jonathan and Maddy’s involvement feel quite contrived, basically hinging on Mimi being a terrible oversharer. A lot seems to be staked on the viewer quickly becoming engaged in the oddities, though not the impossibilities, that they find in that house enabling them to overlook how awkward the pair’s involvement in this story feels.

One of the ways I think you see the weakness in that central plot reflected is in the number of comedic subplots you see in this episode. You have the running gag of Mimi explaining how easy it is to solve Jonathan’s tricks (which is obnoxious enough to annoy him without becoming tiresome for the viewer), Maddy being mistaken for Robin’s mistress, a repetitive brass band, Adam Klaus’ inability to commit to a single woman and his attempts to smooze a critical reviewer. And then you have Maddy’s disappearance trick.

Typically I have bemoaned these sorts of subplots in previous episodes so I am happy to be able to say, quite enthusiastically, that I think all of them fundamentally work here and also help contribute to binding the episode’s mystery elements together. What makes that possible is the way these subplots often directly feed into each other, such as the link between Adam’s serial infidelity and the later interactions with the reviewer or Mimi’s annoying habit leading to Maddy constructing that trick to fool her.

I want to focus on that last one – the disappearing trick – as it is the episode’s impossibility and the thing I most clearly remembered about the episode though that memory kicked in only when I saw Maddy about to climb the very long ladder. In my opinion it is one of Maddy’s best moments in the series as it shows the growth in her ability to construct a puzzle as a result of her friendship with Jonathan.

The trick itself is simple but clever. Jonathan’s rating of the trick as a 6 out of 10 in itself is pretty fair but the way it is handled in the context of the episode should give it a few extra points. The viewer is unlikely to guess at how it is worked in its immediate aftermath, although they are given a pretty good view of Maddy climbing the ladder, the interior of the room and Jonathan rattling the handle of the stuck door from the corridor outside. Smartly the episode presents the basic facts and quickly distracts the viewer, only returning to the problem to explain it at the end.

Which I suppose will bring me back to that central mystery plot (or plots). Without grafting that disappearing puzzle onto that crime scene there simply isn’t enough here to make it feel like a Jonathan Creek case. The circumstances of the murder are certainly odd but they never feel remarkable. There is no sense that the police really missed anything obvious in the crime scene and were it not for the very specific way the case is introduced to Jonathan he would have no way to solve the puzzle at all or have any grounds to doubt the official verdict of what happened.

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I would also suggest that I do not know that Jonathan proves the links between each point in his explanation. It happens to be right and so it is accepted, but it really feels more like informed conjecture – in part because it relates to human choices rather than a mechanism or trick that was used. That’s not necessarily inappropriate but it does not reflect the type of solution I look for from this show and so it strikes me as a little underwhelming.

As I noted at the top of this review, though I had seen it several times I remembered very little about it. Having revisited it again I have no reason to think that will be any different the next time I return to it. It’s not terrible in the way that The Problem at Gallows Gate or The Curious Case of Mr. Spearfish were, but it just doesn’t deliver the sort of trickery and interest that I look for in the cases from this series. In spite of that though I still found it to be quite entertaining, in large part because of those comedic subplots, and I do think it is one of Maddy’s best episodes in the series (and with just two episodes left with the character, there isn’t much opportunity left to top this).

Jonathan Creek: The Eyes of Tiresias (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 4 December, 1999
Season Three, Episode Two
Preceded by The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish
Followed by The Omega Man

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Familiar Faces

Rebecca Front will probably be best known to genre fans for her recurring role as Chief Superintendent Innocent in Inspector Lewis. At the time this episode was made though she was best known as a comedic actor having appeared in shows like Knowing Me, Knowing You and The Day Today.

Terrence Hardiman is probably best known to people of my generation as the Demon Headmaster. He does have a number of genre credits which include the recurring role as Abbot Radulfus in the Cadfael television series and has roles in Poirot, Inspector Morse, Wallander, the 80s Miss Marple among his credits. In addition to his acting performances he is also an excellent audiobook narrator – I can particularly recommend his reading of Ruth Rendell’s From Doon with Death which makes me wish he had recorded all the others too.

The Verdict

Perhaps not a top tier episode but it boasts a very solid story hook and a logical solution.

Episode Summary

Audrey is settling down for a relaxing night in, reading a book about Greek mythology and listening to music. She drifts off to sleep in her armchair, waking up in a start after a nightmare in which she hears a man being murdered. She tells her niece who is staying with her about what she had dreamt, commenting on how vivid it seemed. She is shocked when she learns of the murder of Andre Masson in circumstances exactly like those she imagined a few hours later.

When she has other dreams that seem to come true, Audrey becomes concerned that she can predict death – particularly as she has forseen her own…

My Thoughts

I found last week’s episode to be pretty hard going so I am really happy to be able to say that the show quickly rebounded back to form. Even better, it turned out that I had little memory of this episode beyond the predicting the future hook so this one felt pretty fresh to me.

Let’s start by discussing the episode’s concept that someone might be able to predict the future. As with the previous episode, there is a sense that this story is playing with some supernatural elements. There is a significant difference in tone however between the two with this story focusing more on how those ideas are really distressing to Audrey. That makes it easy to empathize with her and only increased my desire to see Jonathan work out what has happened to bring her peace.

The episode takes great care to clearly show us the events of the evening when Audrey has the nightmare as well as the events in the Masson home, establishing the core facts of the case. We know, for instance, that Audrey definitely makes her predictions before the murder happens and was quite specific in her description of what happened. While there are a few minor differences in the account, it is clear that her prediction is detailed enough to be tested and that she had no personal knowledge of Masson to be able to predict it in some other way.

The episode is similarly very clear about the sequence of events leading up to Masson’s death, introducing us to the most significant figures in his life and establishing that they were both on the other side of his locked office door at the moment he is murdered. The problem is that the suspect with the strongest motive seems to have a pretty unbreakable alibi.

I think it would be fair to suggest that the Masson murder is rather simpler than most cases on Jonathan Creek. Assuming that there is no random murderer breaking in, have an extremely limited pool of suspects and some pretty clear motives for murder. It is the overlap between this case and Aunt Audrey’s visions of the future that provide much of this story’s novelty and much of the interest here for me.

The solution is, I think, quite logical, and clearly explained. While there are parts of the killer’s plan that strike me as having the potential not to work as planned, I have no problem accepting that they do. Jonathan’s method for getting there is similarly quite solid and while I think this is a case where the truth could well have been discovered eventually without his efforts, I enjoyed seeing which details would lead him there and felt it ultimately played fair.

I have a rather more mixed response to some of the material around those two mysteries. I think the way in which Jonathan first meets Audrey’s niece and the consequences of that are pretty amusing. Given I am a strong advocate for more Rebecca Front in everything, I predictably enjoyed her scenes with Alan Davies. The pair play nicely off each other and I enjoyed some of the other business that it sets up on the grounds of Jonathan’s windmill.

On the other hand Maddy’s subplot with her romantic misadventures didn’t really work for me. For one thing it doesn’t get much time, meaning that the gag has to be pretty simple. The basic idea that she will do something that she will be really embarrassed by is solid enough but if you’re going to go that route then the situation ought to be mortifying or feel like their getting their just desserts. Instead what we get just struck me as pretty tame and a little cringeworthy.

At this point I am long over the will they, won’t they relationship with Jonathan, particularly given it often seems to come back to some variation on the same gag in the end. It all rather feels like the show is treading water, unable to advance their relationship for fear that changing the frustrated dynamic between them will somehow damage the experience. The first series at least felt pretty focused and consistent – as we went through the second and into the third I felt that it was far from clear how they each felt about the other, making it hard to invest in them.

Take away these sideplots and distractions and you are at least left with a pretty interesting case. I doubt I will be picking it in my top 5 Jonathan Creek episodes of all time list whenever i come to make that but I appreciate the cleverness of the problem the pair have to solve.

Jonathan Creek: The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 27 November, 1999
Season Three, Episode One
Preceded by Black Canary (1998 Christmas Special)
Followed by The Eyes of Tiresias

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Familiar Faces

Griff Rhys Jones, a comic actor best known for eighties comedies Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, was probably the most recognizable face in the cast at the time it was first transmitted.

Adjoa Andoh who plays Anthea, the investment manager, will be recognizable to anyone who watched the Netflix show Bridgerton in which she plays Lady Danbury.

The Verdict

Not the best story to start out season three with. Highly disappointing

Episode Summary

Lenny Spearfish and his wife Alice were struggling with mounting debts. One day, after drinking his sorrows away at a pub, Lenny happens upon a small shop that sells oddities and goes inside. He doesn’t see anything in the shop that he wants to buy but the shopkeeper suggests that he might want to sell his soul in exchange for good fortune. Thinking it a harmless con Lenny signs a contract in blood and thinks nothing of it until the next day he digs up a chest full of treasure that is several hundred years old, instantly changing the couple’s fortunes.

Rather than ending their troubles it seems to provide new ones as Lenny starts behaving recklessly, gambling and partying heavily. When Alice finds the contract she is horrified and the pair argue. Lenny angrily screws the contract up and tosses it into a tea chest which catches fire a short time later.

Stranger events are to follow as Lenny survives not one but two attempts on his life, leading him to think he has become immortal. Jonathan and Maddy, after learning their strange story, investigate and try to figure out what is responsible for Lenny’s strange rise in his fortunes.

My Thoughts

One of the reasons for the slight delay in starting my series of posts about the third season of Jonathan Creek was that I knew it would necessitate me rewatching The Curious Case of Mr Spearfish. While I have seen it a couple of times over the years including on first transmission, I find it one of the most frustrating episodes from the Maddy seasons and I had little reason to think that my views would likely be much different this time around. Still, I could hardly skip over it and so I tried to empty myself of any prejudgments and attempt to view the story afresh.

Let’s start with the positive which is the strange atmosphere it tries to build. There is a strong tradition of blending the apparently diabolic with impossible crime, no doubt because of the idea that only a supernatural force could be responsible for fantastic things happening, and a pact with the devil is about as diabolic as you can go. It makes for an interesting base for the story and ties in well thematically with many of the apparent miracles we witness – particularly Lenny surviving two attempts on his life.

While she only appears in a few scenes, I really liked Adjoa Andoh here who was appearing in one of her earliest roles as an investment manager. She convinces, not only appearing slick and confident but giving off a sense of someone with ulterior motives. She also is involved in one of the most entertaining sequences in the episode in which Maddy tries to investigate her car.

I would add that both Andrew Tierman and Rachel Power give decent performances as Lenny and Alice. Tierman’s Lenny is infuriating, not least for the casual way in which he reveals some information to Alice, but I think he does a pretty good job of reflecting the character’s growing sense of disregard for others and feelings of exceptionalism. Meanwhile Power is sympathetic as his victim and I did feel sorry for her at points in the story. In short, they fit the material well.

Finally (and yes, I could only come up with three things), I think that the Adam Klaus subplot in which he is being sued for indecently assaulting a hotel maid with a kipper. While I have had issues with the tone of some of the Klaus storylines in previous episodes, this one works pretty well because I think it acknowledges that he is absolutely a jerk, even when the accusations against him register as clearly ridiculous. His terrible performance on the stand is pretty amusing, heightened by the performance of Griff Rhys Jones opposite him, and I do think the resolution to this plot thread is pretty entertaining.

The Adam Klaus scenes are, in short, the most successful part of this episode. Yes, you did read that right.

The problem is that while the atmosphere of this story may be appealing, the story is enormously contrived and relies not only on a terrific number of coincidences and lucky breaks but on a third party developing a frankly terrible plan. Those contrivances become all the more apparent and frustrating when you know what the actual solution will be and it becomes clear that things happen not because they make sense to the character performing the action but because they need to appear a particular way to the sleuth.

The story actually acknowledges this issue in a moment in which Jonathan questions the theatricality of what has happened, querying who the audience is meant to be. While we get an answer of sorts, I think that it doesn’t really work to explain the case as a totality and so I am left deeply unsatisfied with what we get.

Watching for the first time I can imagine that the episode would build a sense of intrigue about how these strange events would be tied together. There are several set pieces that are quite exciting to watch and there is a sense that the episode is building towards a really compelling solution. The problem is that while many elements of what we get feel very logical (as does Jonathan’s explanation), there is no cohesion or sense to what has occured. To the extent that what we see is planned, it is a terrible plan both logistically and in terms of motivation.

To give just one very basic example, consider why Lenny even goes into that odd little shop in the first place. He has no particular business there, nor does it seem very likely that anyone should expect him to go in at some point. Given that visit is a prerequisite for everything else that is planned, it seems that the scheme attempted here is really nonsensical.

As you have probably surmised, my views of The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish have not changed – at least for the positive – in the two decades since I first saw it. Other than a few brief humorous moments, the episode has little to commend itself and so it felt like a long, drawn out slog to me.

Jonathan Creek: Black Canary (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast 24 December, 1998
1998 Christmas Special
Preceded by Mother Redcap (Season Two)
Followed by The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish (Season Three)

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson

Key Guest Cast

Rik Mayall makes his first appearance as DI Gideon Pryke, a Police Investigator who is every bit as brilliant as Jonathan. Mayall was one of the stars of Britain’s alternative comedy movement in the 80s, featuring in some of the decade’s most popular shows such as The Young Ones, Comic Strip Presents and The New Statesman. This was apparently his first acting role after he experienced a traumatic quad biking accident that had left him in a coma for five days. He would make a further appearance in show around fifteen years later in the episode The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb.

The Verdict

The first TV special feels deserving of that title, giving Jonathan a brilliant rival to spar with and a pretty challenging case to solve.

My Thoughts

Marella Carney was one of the stars of the magic circuit, performing as the Black Canary, before a tragic accident led to her early retirement. Marella’s daughter contacts Jonathan to ask for his help in explaining the strange circumstances surrounding her sudden suicide. We learn that Marella’s wheelchair-bound husband Jerry was dozing in the conservatory when he woke to see her standing in the snowy garden arguing with a limping man. Suddenly she brandishes a shotgun, causing the man to run away, before turning it on herself moments later and shooting herself. Distraught, Jerry tries to get outside and when he does he notices that the only footprints that have been left in the snow are Marella’s…

Throughout its first season and most of its second Jonathan Creek stories were about fifty minute, standalone stories. The exception to that was a two-part story in the second season (The Problems at Gallows Gate) which I regard as fundamentally misconceived with many of its problems arising from the change in running time and issues of pacing. Black Canary, the show’s first Christmas special, would also be essentially double-length and could very easily have fallen into many of the same traps that Gallows Gate had. Instead Renwick delivered a story that not only felt tailored to its running time but also actually deserving of the label “special”.

To describe why this works I think it is important to pose a question: What do we want from a Jonathan Creek TV special?

The answer couldn’t simply be more Jonathan Creek. The show had by this point established a pretty solid rhythm and formula with an impossibility mixed with some comedic material and some will they/won’t they banter between Jonathan and Maddy. The Gallows Gate two-parter had shown that simply adding more running time into a story doesn’t make it more baffling or compelling.

Instead I think the answer lies in using that extra time to create a story that is bigger and more complex than you can typically tell. That doesn’t necessarily mean bigger in terms of the stakes of the show but bigger in the sense of telling Black Canary takes just such an approach and goes a step further by introducing a character who is capable of disrupting the show’s typical pacing, allowing for a different tone and unsettling the usual dynamics within our investigative team.

Much of my love for this episode stems from this character, DI Gideon Pryke, who represents a brilliant challenge to Jonathan. Pryke is, like Jonathan, incredibly brilliant with an ability to quickly assess and process information and see small details that would pass others by. As a consequence of that he is frequently one step ahead of Jonathan meaning that he has genuine competition to solve this case. It is, for the most part, fairly cordial although Jonathan is clearly frustrated by Pryke’s initial patronizing dismissal of him as the amateur who must be tolerated. Yet by the end their deductions are feeding each other, spurring each other on to crack the case. It is a really fun dynamic and one that I think enhances rather than diminishes Jonathan as a sleuth.

Rik Mayall gives a superb performance in the part, managing to not only portray Pryke as a good rival to Jonathan but ultimately a very effective detective. While the character is certainly arrogant, an attribute found in many of Mayall’s most celebrated characters, he is also surprisingly charming and ultimately quite gracious. This friendly rivalry reminded me somewhat of the one between Poirot and Giraud found in Murder on the Links although there is less of a stylistic difference between Creek and Pryke.

Turning to the actual details of the case, Renwick also makes some very smart choices in the way he sets up this story. One of the reasons that I have been rather vague about the details of this story in this post is that at the start of the story he leaves us with a lot of intriguing threads and pieces of information to think about. The seasoned viewer is likely to make some solid deductions from some of these and may feel that they are far ahead of the sleuths, only to find that there are a number of early reveals, some of which actually spin the story off in different directions.

This is the real benefit of the expanded running time – Renwick has the option here to develop clues that lead to other clues or sometimes cause you to rethink the way you are looking at them. The result is a story that feels much more complex than any Creek has tackled up until this point, building a sense that this story is more complex than it appears.

That feeling is borne out by the solution which is, for the most part, quite clever and logical. While the means by which the impossibility is achieved is not directly clued, I feel the viewer can infer what happened from some of the other clues around the crime scene. I enjoyed the way in which the solution is revealed with the two sleuths working in tandem to deliver the explanation which felt a rather charming way to not only close out the mystery but to show that the two had come together and a respect had formed. It is a nice moment that made me wish he had been brought back sooner so we could see more of that tag-team sleuthing that I found so enjoyable to watch.

While I think most of the mystery plot works well there are a few elements that I think are less successful. One aspect of the storyline, Jonathan and Maddy’s betting about whether Pryke’s assistant is male or female, feels pretty inappropriate and does not reflect brilliantly on those characters. It is another instance of the comedic elements of the show feeling really dated, though unlike some of the other examples I have pointed to this would not have been unusual content for the era it was produced in.

The other element that I think wouldn’t be written in exactly the same way today is Adam Klaus’ misbehavior with a costume designer working on his show. In particular, his behavior with a small recording device without her knowledge. Clearly we are intended to view this as a boorish and sleazy behavior when it is more of a violation of her body. Aside from that initial scene however I think that story thread does have some very amusing moments that I do think serve as a nice balance to the much more serious mystery material while the eventual payoff to that thread stands up pretty well.

With the exception of those two issues, I think much of the rest of the episode holds together really very well and proves that the show could work in a longer format. I think the hook of the disappearing footprints is fun and handled pretty well and I do enjoy the sort of haunting, spooky quality the episode channels at several points with the camera often dwelling on that rather eerie statue of Marella by the stairs.

The biggest reason I hold this episode in such high regard though is Mayall’s performance as Pryke. The character fits alongside Creek perfectly and, revisiting this episode, I found myself wishing that we had seen him more often. It is, in my opinion, one of the best guest performances on the show and I think that difficult relationship is perhaps the episode’s most memorable elements.

Which brings me to the end of my current run of Jonathan Creek posts. I plan on taking a short break from writing about the show until after the New Year when I plan on offering up some thoughts on The Curious Tale of Mr Spearfish.

Jonathan Creek: Mother Redcap

Episode Details

Originally broadcast February 28, 1998

Season Two, Episode Six
Preceded by The Problems at Gallows Gate (Episodes Four and Five)
Followed by Black Canary (TV Movie)

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Key Guest Cast

Brian Murphy is best remembered by this writer as George from the seventies sitcoms Man About the House and its spinoff, George and Mildred. While he has had a long career, this is one of his few crime credits.

This is one of Nicola Walker’s earlier TV performances. She had a long-running role on the BBC spy drama Spooks (MI-5 in the US) and, more recently, appeared as a lead in Unforgotten. She also gave a standout guest performance in an episode in the first season of Luther.

The Verdict

This story is excellently paced, doing a good job of balancing a cold case and a case in the present day. A strong ending to this second season.

My Thoughts

A judge involved in the sentencing of a gang of Chinese criminals is given police protection when a threat is made that he will be dead by the morning. The windows are barred and police are placed throughout the home and on the grounds to offer protection. The bedroom door, the only entrance to the room, is under observation from a pair of police officers at all times throughout the night.

At 6am a crash is heard from inside the bedroom and the police run inside. The judge is lying on the floor dead with a small wound in his chest which is covered in blood. As the doctor confirms the murder can only have occured moments earlier yet there is no sign of a weapon or a killer anywhere inside the room or on the grounds. The only thing that is found is a torn piece of fingernail.

Meanwhile Maddy is approached by an Estate Agent who asks her to collaborate with him in an investigation into a series of mysterious deaths that took place in a bedroom above a London hostelry, The Mother Redcap, in the 1940s. Seven men died after looking out of a window, each apparently being scared to death by what they saw. The pub has been on the market for decades but its reputation has made it impossible to find a buyer.

These two strange cases will inevitably overlap – the question is how and why.

The first thing to say about Mother Redcap is that it represents a quick return to form for the show after the messy two-part story that preceded it. This is noticeably tighter and much more focused on developing its core puzzle, with remarkably little padding. While I do have a couple of issues with a few details of the plot, I think this matches the quality of the first three episodes in the season very well and were it placed on the other side of The Problems at Gallows Gate I would clearly be talking about a run of four excellent stories.

Given that today’s Hallowe’en, let’s start by discussing the rather spooky events at the Mother Redcap pub. This represents a new sort of case for the show – the cold case – and it is introduced pretty effectively. There is a strong sense of atmosphere both in the recounting of what happened and in the subsequent visits to the derelict building, helped by some strong low-light cinematography. While I would suggest that this plotline skirts the edge of being fair play based on a piece of information being provided only a few moments before the solution, the viewer certainly is given enough to work out the general idea of what may have been done and the motive, even if the exact method or mechanism used can only be an educated guess.

While the episode in general is less comedic than any of the others in the season, this story thread is the source for the most overtly comedic aspects of the plot. Namely Maddy’s uncomfortable interactions with her estate agent source who she fails to listen closely to when he tells her he is a nudist. I have complained about several of the comedic subplots in this season but this one, while not exactly hilarious, at least feels in balance with the other elements of the story and nicely parallels Jonathan’s own disappointing interactions with a possible romantic interest later in the episode.

As for the main mystery, I think the episode is once again very effective in setting out the constraints in which the crime took place. This is done very economically in the opening with a montage that demonstrates that it should be impossible for someone to get in and out of that room undetected, particularly with the judge’s wife sleeping somewhat restlessly next to him. Even though I remembered much of the solution, I still found the puzzle to be compelling on repeat viewing with several points of interest for Jonathan to consider when he is pulled into the case.

In most respects I find the solution to this to be quite satisfying. The few issues I have all relate to small, spoilery points and none were significant enough to seriously impact my enjoyment of the story.

ROT-13: Gurer ner frireny nfcrpgf bs gur cybg gung vaibyir yhpx – obgu tbbq naq onq (qrcraqvat ba jurgure lbh ner Wbanguna be bhe xvyyre). Sbe vafgnapr, gur qebccvat bs gur svatreanvy vf rabezbhfyl hayhpxl sbe gur xvyyre naq vf gur bayl yvax Wbanguna unf orgjrra gur gjb ybpngvbaf. Fvzvyneyl, gur xvyyre unf n fgebxr bs yhpx va svaqvat bar bs gur srj crbcyr jub pna rkcynva gur xvyyvat zrgubq hfrq nyy gubfr lrnef ntb gubhtu V fhccbfr gung vf nppbhagrq sbe va gurve univat orra vaibyirq onpx gura.

With the exception of these small issues, I found Mother Redcap to be another strong entry in what I still regard as the show’s best season. I think it is very atmospheric, close to perfectly paced, features a strong secondary mystery and it does a fine job of integrating the comedic subplot into the main storyline so that they complement each other.

Both of the cases are clever and explained quite effectively. Indeed – I think I appreciate how well constructed this story is all the more on repeat viewing as I noticed some of the small details (ROT-13: Gur jnl bhe xvyyre vf njner bs gur gvzr gung gur nynez jvyy tb bss naq gvzrf gurve npgvbaf gb or ba gur fprar juvyr qrynlvat gur bgure cbyvpr gb znxr fher ab bar bofreirf gur fgnoovat).

Jonathan Creek: The Problems at Gallows Gate – Parts 1 & 2 (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast February 14 and 21, 1998

Season Two, Episodes Four and Five
Preceded by The Scented Room
Followed by Mother Redcap

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington

Key Guest Cast

Clarke Peters plays the supposedly blind pianist Hewie Harper. Since filming this episode Peters has appeared in several crime-themed productions including the recent Partners in Crime adaptation, The Wire and season two of The Tunnel.

Perhaps the most famous face though in the production is Amanda Holden. She is probably best known now for her role as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and, as an actress, for her role in Cutting It. Genre fans may also be familiar with her from the Marple episode What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw.

The Verdict

Heavily padded to make it a two-part story and easily my least favorite case up to this point in the show’s run.

Plot Summary

The story begins with a large party that takes place at a country house. Birthday boy Duncan greets Felicity, a late arrival, who gives him a gift. Later that night Duncan enters Felicity’s bedroom where he finds her in bed with his friend Neville. She tells him to get over her rejection of him but instead he walks towards the balcony, climbs on the stone fencing and jumps. His friends rush to the balcony where they see him lying bloodied on the ground below and when an ambulance is called he is pronounced dead and buried.

Later Felicity is found murdered in her cottage by Adam Klaus’ sister Kitty who was in the area along with Jonathan and Maddy. When she speaks to the police the man she describes a man exactly matching Duncan’s description as the murderer – something that clearly should be impossible.

My Thoughts

In my previous post about Jonathan Creek I shared my belief that the first three episodes of the second series represent the strongest run of episodes that the show ever pulled off. I did hedge that praise a little however by noting that I may find I like some of the later episodes much more than I remember on revisiting them. I feel far more certain of my ground with this story however in saying that I think it is one of the poorest stories the show ever did.

There are a number of problems with this story but I think the problems begin with the decision to structure this story as a two-parter. That is not because the show cannot work in a feature-length format – I am pretty confident that I will be singing the praises of such a story relatively soon – but because this particular plot is not substantial enough to justify that extra time and, as a consequence, the two episodes feel heavily padded.

One indication of this is that Jonathan and Maddy are not introduced to the central storyline or its cast of characters until the very end of the first episode. Instead they are engaged in a secondary plotline in which Adam Klaus tries to persuade Jonathan to keep his sister Kitty occupied during her visit so she will not interfere with his dating life or from getting in the way of their attempts to recruit the supposedly blind pianist Hewie Harper to take part in their next big show.

Putting aside the question of whether this comedic material is successful or not for the moment, it seems utterly bizarre to spend an entire episode of a detective show without any actual detection taking place. Instead this first forty five minutes is a mix of setup and padding with all of the serious sleuthing restricted to the second part. A problem that is only exacerbated by the apparent simplicity of the case leaving me wondering why this story was envisaged as a two parter at all.

The best episodes of Jonathan Creek present us with an impossibility that is structured like a magic trick. Several of the earliest stories directly reference that, having Jonathan work with a little set to demonstrate the deception. To be really successful however the story must engage in some sort of sleight of hand. Each of the previous three stories does this to some extent, framing the crime in such a way that our attention can be drawn to the wrong elements. I feel that this impossibility misses the mark because there is really only a single logical way to pick apart what has happened.

The central impossibility here is a variation of the person being seen in two places at once, albeit one of the two places here is six feet underground. It is also rather reminiscent of the problem we saw just two episodes earlier in Time Waits For Norman which presented it with a much cleverer twist. The difference however is that in that story we have actual observation in two places at once – here the corpse clearly cannot be observed and the episode has already demonstrated that a burial can be faked courtesy of a sequence involving Adam Klaus. In short, we can be pretty confident that for Duncan death was not the end – the only questions that are left to solve is how the trick was worked and why.

The question of why feels really insubstantial, the reason seeming quite clear from what we observed in the first few scenes of the first part. The mechanism by which it was done is more complex but more mechanical than intellectual. While perfectly serviceable as a solution to this type of story, it is nowhere near unusual or complex enough to justify it being told as a two part story.

ROT 13: Nethnoyl guvf fvzcyvpvgl vf, vgfrys, n gevpx qrfvtarq gb yhyy gur ivrjre vagb guvaxvat gurzfryirf pyrire naq srryvat fngvfsvrq bapr gurl ernpu guvf fbyhgvba. Gung zvtug jbex rkprcg gung V guvax vg orpbzrf pyrne gbb rneyl va cneg gjb gung fbyivat gur vzcbffvovyvgl jvyy abg erfbyir fbzr bs gur bqqvgvrf bs gur pbggntr zheqre, znxvat vg pyrne gung jr ner ybbxvat sbe fbzrbar ryfr gb or gur xvyyre.

Which brings us to the content of the story’s padding: the supposedly blind musician and Adam’s sister Kitty. Sometimes a comedic plotline in an episode doesn’t work for me but it can be easily ignored – here we get so much of it, particularly in that first episode, that it feels like the focus. And unfortunately this episode’s material really doesn’t work for me.

Part of the reason for this is that the tone of some of that material feels really quite unpleasant – when Adam Klaus womanizes it is clear that while he may objectify the women he pursues, they are consenting. Hewie’s ‘accidental’ groping however is on another level and I found those scenes very uncomfortable to watch. This is, of course, intentional to some extent but I think the nature of the ‘punishment’ he receives struck me as neither satisfying nor particularly funny. Once again I do find myself wondering if this story, made again today, would handle this plotline quite differently (or, more likely, omit it altogether).

The Problems at Gallows Gate could have been a decent story. The problem is entirely one of its pacing – having an extra forty five minutes only gives the viewer more time to recognize the trick that is being pulled on them. Stripped of its secondary plots, I think this could have been a pretty entertaining forty five minutes of television. Unfortunately I found my viewing experience was defined heavily by the story’s padding and viewed in the context of the previous three episodes, each of which was much tighter, did it no favors at all.

Jonathan Creek: The Scented Room (TV)

Episode Details

Originally broadcast February 7, 1998

Season Two, Episode Three
Preceded by Time Waits for Norman
Followed by The Problems at Gallows Gate (Parts One and Two)

Written by David Renwick
Directed by Sandy Johnson

Key Guest Cast

Bob Monkhouse was a standup comic who was a familiar face as a daytime television host on shows like Celebrity Squares and Wipeout.

Geoffrey McGivern makes his final appearance in the show as Maddy’s agent Barry (presumably he would have continued had Quentin come back). Best known for his role as Ford Prefect in original radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, McGivern has performed in a wide array of comedy roles.

Finally, Peter Copley plays the small role of Eric the spam sandwich-loving guard here but will be known to fans of Cadfael as Abbot Heribert.

The Verdict

There are more complex or thrilling cases but this is the one I have watched most often. A clever puzzle which is filmed very effectively.

My Thoughts

A group of schoolgirls are being led on a tour of the home of theatre critic Sylvester Le Frey and his wife, Lady Theresa Cutler. While they bicker near the pool, a group of eight girls are led into a small room by a guide to see his El Greco while Eric, the security guard, keeps an eye on the group while nibbling on a spam sandwich. The group looks at the painting for a few moments before leaving, the painting still visibly on the wall. The door is closed and the other half of the class are gathered to be led in. As the guide opens the door she is shocked to find that the painting has been cut from the frame. There is no other way in or out of the small viewing room – the walls are solid and the skylight is built not to open. In short, it seems impossible that the painting could have been stolen in the space of thirty seconds with everyone stood outside and yet its disappearance is clear for all to see.

Jonathan detests Le Frey having been the subject of one of his acidic reviews in the past and so when he is tricked into visiting his home to check out the scene he is unwilling to be helpful, though he takes delight in telling Le Frey that he knows how the painting was stolen – he just won’t explain it to him.

In some of the comments on my posts about the first couple of episodes of this second season of Jonathan Creek I mention how the first three episodes make up my favorite run of stories from the show. At least, assuming my feelings about some of the later stories haven’t changed. While this story is perhaps less audaciously plotted than the two preceding it, the incredibly tight timetable in which the impossibility is worked makes the trick all the more impressive to me.

The opening to this episode is very effective, establishing not only the characters and the situation but the geography of the building. The camera is placed to give us clear shots of exactly what has happened, allowing the viewer to feel that they can survey the whole of the crime scene, both at the time of the crime and also as Jonathan will see it when he arrives at the house. That only raises the excitement of this particular case for me, making it an even more direct challenge to the viewer – Jonathan says right from the beginning he can work out how the trick was worked based on the exact same things we are seeing making us aware from the start that as impossible as the crime seems, the trick must be a simple one.

That turns out to be the case – the trick is a fairly simple one. Jonathan even gives Maddy a clue as to exactly how the trick was worked that is the type of one that is oblique enough that it is unlikely to help the viewer solve it yet clear enough that we can all marvel at how smart the sleuth is at the end of the story. Compared to the stories surrounding it however this does not feel noticeably slighter or less interesting in its plotting, particularly as the questions of who pulled off the heist and why remain unclear for much of the episode and are just as interesting to me as the how of the crime.

Adding to the situation is Jonathan’s resentment towards Le Frey. His reluctance to get involved in the case is quite understandable and so Maddy’s attempts to persuade him to help becomes a significant subplot for the episode. This, for me, is the least successful part of the episode as I find the business with the policeman more silly than funny, though I do at least enjoy Jonathan’s reaction to what happens and I appreciate that he does not budge in his conviction to not give Le Frey the satisfaction of an explanation, even when he comes to solve the case.

Speaking of Le Frey, I should probably take a moment to express my appreciation for the casting of Bob Monkhouse. This character is not a particularly complex one, nor is much asked of the performer in terms of showing much range or subtlety – he is there to be an obnoxious, arrogant blowhard and Monkhouse gives us exactly that. I am always a fan of seeing pomposity punctured and given how very, very pompous Le Frey is it is little wonder that I enjoy the grumpy interactions between him and Jonathan. Monkhouse’s performance is broad but entertaining, fitting his role perfectly and making this a favorite guest appearance on the show for me.

All of which brings me to the episode’s conclusion which I think is great. The resolution to the case involves an element of reenactment and I think this is done very well, reminding us of why the crime appeared so mysterious and giving the viewer one final opportunity to work out exactly how it was done before all is revealed. It is a fun scene visually, once again shot very efficiently, and I love the way it caps some of the relationships and themes we have seen developed in this story.

Of all of the Jonathan Creek stories, this is the one that I have the strongest memories of enjoying on first viewing. I remember feeling really surprised about the explanation of the crime and how it was worked, and I have found that my enjoyment for it hasn’t waned much on frequent repeated viewings. While I think there are some more complex or thrilling cases, I find that I love to revisit this story because of its clever premise and for the antagonism with Le Frey and have done so often over the years.