Jonathan Creek: The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb review – BBC One

Jonathan Creek the clue of the savant's thumbJonathan Creek is back, with an episode that had the dumbest concluding 15 minutes in the history of murder mysteries. Good god was it awful. The first two thirds though were fine; standard Jonathan Creek. Mystery with occasional comic relief. It’s basically a sophisticated Scooby-Doo. And I don’t mean to insult the series as I’ve always enjoyed the show, but it has become very formulaic. There’s a supernatural mystery and Jonathan exposes the grounded murder behind it. I guess they shook things up quite a bit this episode; it’s just a shame they did it via sheer idiocy.

Joanne Lumley stars as Rosalind, the wife of writer Franklin Tartikoff, who turns up dead in a locked room. The body disappears and expert detective Gideon Pryke is called in to solve the murder, which is given added mystery by Rosalind’s supernatural experiences growing up in a girls’ boarding school.

Jonathan Creek meanwhile has given up sleuthing. He’s married now, with a proper job. But he can’t resist the pull of his old profession and joins up with his assistant Joey to solve the crime.

The series has always been very good at keeping the mystery element of the show engaging throughout, teasing out little details here and there, and keeping a suspenseful atmosphere. But this episode really stretched plausibility in order to do that. There was one scene where somebody grabbed and strangled Joey through a poster covering a hole in a wall. Why? What exactly was he trying to achieve by blindly grappling at someone he couldn’t see. Aren’t there better methods to scaring people that aren’t as risky? And then there was the attempt to kill Franklin’s daughter by pushing a statue from a roof onto her standing below. Is that really the most effective way to kill someone? As we find out later, the murderer is a professional hitman. I would have thought hitman 101 is: ‘Don’t use a giant statue of an angel as a murder weapon. Use a gun.’

In another scene, a character writes a note of a meeting’s location on her arm in massive letters, which is fortunate, because Joey is nearby and can thus see it. The note says ‘Eastbarn.’ But it turns out it actually said EA St Barn, meaning the initials of the person who would be at the meeting – EA – and ‘St Barnabas.’ Oh, of course. What an awkward but narratively convenient way to take a note.

And then there was the object the whole mystery was centred around: a photo Rosalind took through a keyhole of her murdered husband. Why did she do this? Who the fuck knows. A critical person might argue that the photo was necessary for elements of the mystery to exist, so the writers didn’t care if taking a photo was in any way a realistic thing someone would do after seeing their husband’s dead body.

At this point, the episode was still pretty enjoyable though. Rik Mayall was great fun as the disabled detective and Alan Davies has always impressed me with his acting in this show. His character is really quite different from his own personality, and from other characters I’ve seen him play.

Jonathan Creek Rik MayallBut then we came towards the end of the episode, and it was revealed that Franklin accidentally killed himself with a chainsaw. Wait, what?

One of the best things about a murder mystery is trying to work out what happened. How exactly were we supposed to guess that the victim accidentally chainsawed-off his own head while building a magic trick? And then his daughter carried the head into the house, and assembled it in the study because…I don’t know. Something about giving her mum a science defying mystery.

And as the audience is still trying to wrap their heads around this nonsense, it turned out Tony Blair had sent assassins to kill everyone in the show. Seriously. I have no idea what they were thinking with that ending. It is terrible. Powerful unnamed people got wind of a (fake) secret recording of Blair and decided to kill anyone who knew about it. They just stuck that in at the end of the show. Why the hell not I suppose. Once you’ve decided to solve the murder mystery by having the victim decapitate himself and then be carried into a locked room for no clearly plausible reason, why not just do anything. Why not aliens?

The episode was really let down by its writing. I’m not sure if the show is just getting tired after 16 years, but I’m not really looking forward to future episodes, and this is a show I used to enjoy a lot. I wish I could welcome back Jonathan Creek with a good review, but this episode was really poor.

Random notes:

  • Sarah Alexander is always good in everything I see her in, and she was good in this too, though given little screen time.
  • ‘It’s like nothing you’ve ever come across,’ said Joey about the mystery. I guess that turned out to be true.
  • ‘The last week of November is no good because I’ll be dead. Any chance they could bring that forward?’
  • I’m gad they moved Jonathan on in his life, giving him a wife and a job. It will be interesting to see how this works in future episodes, which will be aired next year.
  • The assassins/secret agents/whatever were terrible. A bald guy with a comb; how inconspicuous. That guy needs to go back to hitman school.

6 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb review – BBC One

  1. In all fairness you could never solve Jonathan Creek anyway. They always ended with Jonathan going “Yes. This is the last piece of the puzzle.” Then Maddie says “What? What is it?” but Jonathan refuses to tell her and you before the next murderer revealing scene.

  2. I have to totally agree with the review. Im a huge fan of creek, but just didn’t understand or care for hardly any of it. What was the point in all of the drama RE the girls school, when Lumley new the bloody reason for all the rings and mystery in the first place? Granted, her mates were dyeing off but for me it was just a totally pointless plot.
    The idea of Rik Mayall being in a wheel chair, for me i hated. Most people have said it was amusing but he could have been the same or possibly better used in scenes with Creek if he was walking normally. The ending, im not even going to waste my time moaning about, as it was just terrible, but the most annoying part of the entire story, and it angers me sooooo much, is that the actual trick with the detached head, was actually very clever, simple and pure Creek style genius. But why in GODS name did it have to be an accident with a chainsaw, which NO ONE saw coming as it was just out of the blue and why in GODS Other name did the daughter hear the news about the death and suddenly think, ‘oh i know, i wont contact the police /services and explain the situation, noooooo, i’ll stick it in a bag, drive to my house, run upstairs, make a false body, go to great lengths to stage it, frighten the living shit out of my mum ( who i love to bits ) and watch her die in a hospital bed, NOT looking all happy and content at the mystery of her husbands disappearance.
    And don’t even get me started on Creek being married and working in business. And Where…….the……. hell…….. Was the windmill………

    The new series better start with Creek waking up and realising the entire last episode was just a dream!!!!!

    • Agreed; I wish I’d written something about how pointless the girls school stuff was. I think it was only there to add mystery and was completely shoehorned in. I’m with you entirely on the dream thing. Let’s just pretend this episode never happened. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I was deeply, deeply appalled by this show too.

    And not just by the dreadful plot and pointlessness of the murders and attempted murders.

    What bothered me most was that in the end JC didn’t even solve it – the perps just blurted out a confession!

    I have been a JC fan for years and was excited by the cast, but it was truly awful and so disappointing.

    Also, I’m pretty sure I could tell if it was petrol or apple juice that had been splashed about the room!

    Oh, and what a stroke of luck that Rik Mayall thought there was something suspicious about his assistant cops carrying a can of petrol, in a 4WD, in a semi-rural area, and decided, on the off chance that they might be planning to immolate some of the other cast members, to swap it for apple juice. Lucky he was right of it could have seriously stuff an engine up.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid and terribly disappointing.

    • By the Tony Blair bit I was starting to think they were just fucking with the audience. The episode was like a sketch show parody of Jonathan Creek. Thanks for the comment, good to hear others were as equally baffled as me.

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