Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ant Reviews Jonathan Creek: The Letters of Septimus Noone

David Renwick’s Jonathan Creek returns to TV in 2014 with more of a sombre affair than what we typically expect. We still have more of that awkward humour we’ve come to expect from Renwick and series star Alan Davies, but instead the overall themes presented are of death, loss and grieving, and knowing when to move on.

Created in 1997, Jonathan Creek has been a favourite of mine since my youth. The shows combined an amazing mystery, an impossible crime that defies explanation, which can all be neatly explained by Jonathan at the end.  Sometimes the episodes were very scary on the front end, as Jonathan would often say things like ‘how can a man simply vanish into thin air?’, which is a great way of making you uneasy as you wonder how it all went down. Jonathan, of course, was an engineer who dreamt up magic tricks for magician Adam Klaus (played by both Anthony Stewart Head but longer and more consitantly by Stuart Milligan) who gets involved with Maddy (Caroline Quentin) a mystery writer. Add to that numerous pop culture references (with a house called green lantern, a woman who goes by black canary, a victim called Doctor strange, and the use of original Doctor Who’s Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Paul McGann to play parts.)

But this episode isn’t as fun as we’d hoped. We are already shown how the impossible mystery is shown, and two other, smaller mysteries have little impact. While still entertaining for the most part, this episode seems to be Renwick dealing with how we all have to grow up and move on, as we become more responsible adults.

The central mystery, an attempted murder on actress Juno (Ali Bastian), is a locked-room mystery set at a West End play of a locked-room mystery. How it happened isn’t important, its how Jonathan and Ridley (Kieran Hodgson, pictured), the son of a friend of his wife’s, interpret it.

Ridley is an interesting character. He seems to be a combination of both Cumberbatch Sherlock and 10th Doctor Tennant. He’s full of bold proclamations and arrogance, but at every turn is shown as goofy and false. He does a typical Sherlock ‘reading’ of a person, only for us the audience to find it to be completely wrong. He misreads a crime scene incredibly inaccurately, while Jonathan watches on amused, eating an orange. He collects all suspects into a big theatre to show off his thesis regarding the crime, only to have it interrupted by a suicide.

This seems to be a dig at Stephen Moffatt and the new Sherlock and his over the top arrogance and superiority. Watching this character and Jonathan on the screen together you can see the contrast from Jonathan’s previous adventures and how quiet and unassuming he was compared to the new look-at-me theatricalities of modern detective stories. Jonathan even remarks that he’s getting too old; that this new detective is the future and that he has no place.

This episode deals with this feeling of mortality and of parenthood. The titular ‘Letters to Septimus Noone’ refer to love letters Polly’s (Sarah Alexander) late mother had hidden, and what that means to her recently deceased father. In investigating the mystery surrounding them she learns secrets about her mother and about what you want to leave behind when you die. A suspect of the locked-room crime lost a child and it made her unhinged; the opposite scenario at play.

Polly’s friend Sharon (Raquel Cassidy) is a somewhat irresponsible parent, raising two kids in a world of fantasy. Yes, Ridley is named for Ridley Scott, and her daughter is named Ripley. And her house is called Nostromo. So you’d think that’d make her pretty cool, but her failing is that she indulges her children’s fantasies and doesn’t reinforce reality, and thus both children open themselves up to disappointment and conflict.

Being that Jonathan is so low-key and quiet, his companions have always been quite large and vivacious with their personalities. Maddie was rude and pushy, Carla (Julia Sawalha), an ex of Jonathan’s, was likewise a busy-body and in-you-face. Recent companion Joey (Sheridan Smith) is a trashy tomboy, and all of these companions played off of Davies well. Sarah Alexander brings a different energy, particularly in this story as she’s dealing with her father’s death. She’s too nice and works to well with Jonathan, as they’re very close. There’s very little conflict and he isn’t embarrassed or annoyed with her at all. It’s a different dynamic, and it may have a pretty big impact on how the show works in the future. But for this episode, it suits the tone.

So, all in all a not-bad effort. I know that’s a wishy-washy response but while it wasn’t as scary, mysterious or as fun as what I’d come to expect from the show it still had some merit and worked with a different tone than normal. I can accept that for this episode, but here’s hoping it the show won’t change as much with permanently or the rest of the season will turn many fans off.


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