Jonathan Creek: The Three Gamblers (TV)
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
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.
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.
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…
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.