Photos courtesy of BBC
I have always been a fan of the wonderfully creative, funny, creepy and at times gothic Jonathan Creek since the first episode aired in 1997. Written by David Renwick it was very different to any detective programme I had watched before and I used to enjoy sitting down with my parents to try and solve the mysteries – we rarely did but that didn’t matter. I was therefore thrilled to hear that after 10 years of occasional one-off specials, the show was returning for a new series (albeit only three episodes).
Alan Davies returned for a new series with onscreen wife Sarah Alexander
However, I don’t think I was alone in being disappointed by the latest crop of episodes. I understand time has moved on and not everything stays the same, but I did miss Jonathan in his windmill being more of a free spirit, rather than conforming to the norm. Seeing him behind a desk in an office felt very strange and dull. It was however the format of the first episode that was the biggest letdown – the audience knew how the crime had been committed from the outset! This is not Jonathan Creek I cried! Thankfully the other two episodes did not follow this pattern and returned to the old format. Yes they weren’t as fun or inventive as earlier episodes but they were at least an improvement on the series opener (don’t even ask me to talk about the dreadful Sherlock references!). Despite this, Alan Davies remains superb as Jonathan, whose dry wit and ability to see the impossible has always been one of the fundamental strengths of the show.
I therefore started to think back about the earlier series and thought I’d take a trip down memory lane with my box set and see how many of the old ones I could remember. Some were far clearer in my mind than others but I was reminded just how wonderful the series was and how ingenious it could be at its best. I have enjoyed seeing Jonathan’s interaction with all four of the ladies in Jonathan’s life, but ultimately Caroline Quentin’s Maddy will always be a cut above the rest for me. Their wonderfully comedic partnership contributed to the success of the series and it did lose some sparkle after she left. I did however think that Sheridan Smith as Joey Ross did a brilliant job joining the show and I was sorry she didn’t do more than just three stories.
Jonathan and Maddy – Jonathan Creek’s best duo
So after rewatching all the previous episodes and thoroughly enjoying this series afresh, I thought I’d list my favourite five episodes. Feel free to tell me yours in the comments section!
1. The Black Canary (1998 Christmas Special)
Of all the episodes, this is the one that has stayed with me most vividly and after seeing it again years later, it remains my favourite mystery solved by Jonathan. Marella Carney, a former illusionist seemingly commits suicide by shooting herself in the garden in full view of her husband in the conservatory but the autopsy findings suggest she had been dead for hours already. Also who is the strange man who is seen seconds before but who has disappeared into thin air, leaving no footprints in the snow? This is a creepy, cleverly constructed mystery that left me groaning that I hadn’t worked it out. It also introduces Rik Mayal as Gideon Pryke, who adds an entertaining extra dimension to Maddy and Jonathan’s relationship.
2. The Grinning Man (2008 Christmas special)
This is the episode of Jonathan Creek that most of my friends seem to remember best (well, they remember the solution if not the rest of it!). Introducing Sheridan Smith as Joey Ross, this episode centres on Metropolis, a grand old gothic house in which people over the years have mysteriously disappeared after spending the night in an attic room known as The Nightmare Room. This is one of the creepiest episodes and the solution remains one of the most fun and memorable. It also successfully introduces Joey, whose ability to solve strange cases gives her and Jonathan something in common and their chemistry worked much better than Julia Sawalha in series 4. Plus, as an added bonus for me, this episode also includes Adam James in the minor role of Joey’s boyfriend!
3. Jack in the Box (series 1 episode 2 – 1997)
Only the second episode of the first series, this story is a classic locked room mystery and for me is the best one of the series. An old comedian Jack Holiday is found shot dead in a nuclear fall-out bunker. All evidence suggests suicide – only one way in and out and the sturdy door securely locked from the inside. However Jack has severe arthritis and therefore could not have held the gun and pulled the trigger. As an early episode, this is full of lovely interaction between Jonathan and Maddy as their partnership continues to form and the mystery itself is very clever and set the benchmark for the level of quality we all came to expect from the series going forward.
4. The Reconstituted Corpse (series 1 episode 3 – 1997)
I had completely forgotten about this episode and after watching it again it was a clear favourite of mine. It begins with one murder which seems to be resolved before introducing a much more puzzling event – how on earth does the body of a dead woman end up in Maddy’s new wardrobe when it was empty on delivery before travelling the four flights of stairs to her flat and has not been out of her sight since?! This is a hugely funny episode, including Maddy’s efforts to make Jonathan jealous by dating someone else. Caroline Quentin is wonderful as usual as Maddy and episodes like this remind me why the series was always better when she was in it.
5. Danse Macabre (series 2 episode 1 – 1998)
This series 2 opener seems better known as the one with the skeleton in the garage! After a famous horror author is shot in her daughter’s home, the killer seems to vanish in to thin air after entering the practically empty garage dressed in a skeleton costume. Only Jonathan and Maddy can get to the bottom of this dark mystery.
Other episodes that almost made my list are: Miracle in Crooked Lane from series 3 and The Tailor’s Dummy from series 4. Were your favourites included? Let me know what you’d choose and if you haven’t yet watched the early episodes of Jonathan Creek definitely give them a try and don’t let the most recent ones put you off! I certainly hope we see more episodes in the future and if they could see the special return of Maddy that would be very special indeed!
Jonathan Creek series 1-4 is available to watch on Netflix (This includes every episode other than oddly the 2001 Christmas special between series 3 and series 4 and Sheridan Smith’s final episode screened in 2013, the latter being available on Blinkbox). Or just pick up the boxsets from all the obvious retailers. Enjoy!