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.