Jonathan Creek: Gorgons Wood (TV)
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
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.
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.
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?
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.Continue reading “Jonathan Creek: Gorgons Wood (TV)”