Doc On The Box – Jonathan Creek – The Clue Of The Savant’s Thumb

Jonathan CreekEaster Monday in the UK and the BBC has treated us to a very welcome gift – the first new episode of Jonathan Creek in two and a half years. Now just to make it clear to non-UK readers of the blog, I’m going to make this totally spoiler-free, because I think you’re going to want to watch this. And I think you’re going to enjoy it.

And by spoiler-free, I mean everything, even the odd circumstances we find Jonathan in at the start of the story. All I will say is that the story involves a dead body inside a locked room – viewed through the keyhole – only when the door is finally broken down, guess what isn’t there anymore?

As with the previous two specials, this features Alan Davies as Jonathan teaming up with Sheridan Smith’s journalist, Joey Ross. For your money, you also get Joanna Lumley (playing it straight), Nigel Planer and the return of Rik Mayall as Inspector Pryke (from “Black Widow”) who seems to have learned a thing or two since last we saw him.

You also get a clever mystery with the disappearing corpse – it does have echoes of something else that I’m not going to mention for want of even giving a hint, but there is something extremely original about it as well. There are clues (for this part of the story) all over the shop and yet I doubt anyone would piece them together properly.

Add in a couple of mysteries from the past, and you’ve got a real treat on your hands. Admittedly, part of the overall solution did seem to come a bit out of nowhere, but given how many hits writer David Renwick achieved with the rest of the story (and the little puzzles, like the code and the texts), I’m perfectly happy.

So, well acted, well scripted, well plotted and well shot (the last three all by Renwick). The best episode of Jonathan Creek since (at least) Satan’s Chimney. If you’re in the UK and missed it, that’s what the iPlayer is for. If you’re elsewhere, start nagging your local TV station now…

Sorry this is a bit rushed, but I’m off to New York in the morning and wanted to ensure my UK readers didn’t miss the chance to watch it while they can.

UPDATE: I seem to be getting a lot of visitors to this review – hello! – so if you’re new to the site, can I recommend taking a look at the John Dickson Carr pages, in particular the top fives for Gideon Fell, Henry Merrivale and other books. They’re chock full of locked room mysteries in the Jonathan Creek vein. Other locked room and impossible masterpieces include

Happy reading!

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21 comments

  1. It’s too late for me to compile a review (sleepy), but I thought it was an improvement over the previous special – even if it felled like a best-of compilation. The plot echoed a lot of elements from previous episodes. I also stumbled to the locked room trick early on, because I recognized it from another story, right down to the clue of the hands (i.e. the savant’s thumb).

    I’ll write a full, more in depth review tomorrow and props for putting up a review this quickly.

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    • Do you mean something by Christianna Brand or is there something else that has that trick? I like it, but I’m not sure anyone’s found a great way to use it yet. Christianna’s is a great book, but she needed a REALLY weird setup to make it work, and here I think the motive was a huge stretch. Renwick obviously started with the idea and worked backwards to explain it. I’m not sure he succeeded.

      But I agree, it was miles better than the previous specials. For the first hour I was engrossed. But it didn’t really seem like anything fit together. I admit it’s just an aesthetic preference, but I like my mysteries to be linked, at least thematically. Here it seemed like three totally separate stories that just happened to involve the same people.

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      • No, not that book (hope that’s not a classic as I haven’t read it!) but an earlier episode of this show. Say no more…

        Actually, the theme of the mysteries of the next life tied most of it together for me – admittedly, the final motive is the bit that came out of nowhere and jarred a little…

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      • Sorry, Doc! I don’t think I’ve spoiled anything.

        But I guess I wasn’t clear anyway. My question was to TomCat, not you. (I’m 99% sure I know which episode you were talking about, but I was only 50% sure I knew was Tom was referring to.)

        I’m writing a more critical post about it (naturally!) but I didn’t really think the “mysteries of the afterlife” was handled that well. The two characters that needed to talk about it TOGETHER for much of the story to make sense barely interacted at all.

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    • I’m fascinated as to where the hand clue appeared before – maybe email me it – I was thinking of, as you say, an earlier episode.

      I had to get the post up last night – it was that or not at all…

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  2. I really enjoyed it. Miles better than the previous special, I loved the way that it seemed to be stuffed to the gills with little mysteries and problems, all of them explained logically. How long is it since you’ve seen a detective show where so much time and trouble was expended in the introduction and solution of mysteries? Some very good jokes, too. The three investigators all managed to get part of the solution, which gave it an interesting dynamic, particularly since two of them have seen huge changes in their situations since they last appeared. Pryke was particularly well handled, with the change that has happened to him painted in a clever and non-patronising way (I’m trying to avoid spoilers). Pleased that three more will be coming next year.

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    • Well, I’d give Death In Paradise a nod for concentrating on the mystery as much as anything else in the show, but I know what you mean. I presume that the “three” in your last sentence is a typo and it’s just one more…

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      • Yes, I think Death in Paradise does this much better. I think Thorogood actually has a much better handle on the format than Renwick, even if Renwick’s idea are more original.

        It wasn’t a typo. Three new episodes have been commissioned for 2014.

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      • Big fan of DEATH IN PARADISE. This does tend to be very well plotted, but in some ways he has a slightly easier task than Renwick, in that DIP hasn’t become completely locked into the ‘impossible crime’ idea. The very first Creek (THE WRESTLER’S TOMB) was not actually an impossible crime, and in some ways feels more like a DIP style idea (the fingerprint idea is clever, and the solution feels credible). I’ve no problem with three more feature length episodes. I’d rather have that than none at all.

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      • And Rob Thorogood has a team of writers as well – much improved in the second series, where they all seemed to get the balance right between plot and entertainment. And three more Creek’s in any form are more than welcome.

        Good point about The Wrestler’s Tomb, although there is a lovely fake explanation of an impossible escape from an observed room in the middle of it, complete with a “but that would be stupid” coda.

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    • I agree it’s nice to see time spent setting up and resolving mysteries, but what about the middle bit? There was no discussion of the locked room, and barely any investigation of the actual crime. We weren’t shown any attempt to find out who might have wanted the guy dead or how it could have been achieved. Most of the running time was dedicated to stuff which, ultimately, proved to be tangential.

      Writing procedural stuff is HARD. Everyone knows that the police investigation isn’t going to turn up the solution. But you still have to go through the motions, or the story has a big hole in the centre.

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  3. It did feel like two separate episodes glued together but enjoyed it greatly and though the changes to the various characters was handled in an interesting way (especially the Rik Mayall character – thought the actor had had a relapse from his accident for a minute) – the motivation for creating the central problem is very weak though, which was my only real complaint. A new series made of three episodes is due to start filming shortly – hurrah!

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  4. The plot sounds like it was lifted from an old John Russell Fearn novelette called VISION SINISTER which I reviewed on my blog a while back. Who knows when we’ll be able to see this over here. I don’t subscribe to cable TV so waiting for a DVD version is usually my only option. I find writing pleading emails to broadcast TV stations to be utterly useless.

    BTW — there are over 125 copies of THE RIM OF THE PIT for sale on the internet. It was reprinted in multiple paperback versions — in the US at least. The most recent one is available from Ramble House. It should be very easy to find and affordable to buy.

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    • Glad to see Rim Of The Pit has resurfaced – it took me a while to get my hands on a decent copy a couple of years back. In some ways, with its multiple impossibilities, it’s one of the closest things to a decent Jonathan Creek episode

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