Jonathan Creek: The Letters of Septimus Noone review

Jonathan Creek Noone BBCThe most recent episode of Jonathan Creek was an awful abomination with one of the most ludicrous endings I’ve ever seen in a mystery programme. This episode never reached those lows but it was still a long way short of what this show used to be.

The Letters of Septamus Noone had Jonathan investigating two mysteries: the first, the death of a woman involved in a play Jonathan and his wife Polly went to see, and the second the mysterious goings on around the death of Polly’s father.

Both mysteries lacked any real bite and the episode was an inane and boring sixty minutes lacking anything gripping or exciting beyond the initial stabbing and death of the actress. It was less ‘the adventures of Jonathan Creek, amateur detective’ and more ‘the adventures of Jonathan Creek, husband, with the odd uninteresting mystery thrown in.’

For some strange reason the writer decided to reveal how the first murder was committed to the audience in advance. One of the main reasons to watch this show is to try and guess how the murder is done so it spoils a lot of the fun when the show goes into Columbo mode and reveals it all at the start.

And this mystery was particularly ludicrous. There’s always been an element of tortured logic to this show, but when it was handled correctly, and as long as it wasn’t that bad, it could be overlooked and was actually a part of the show’s charm. Here, we had to accept that someone would be stabbed in the side and not only not report it to the police, or go to a hospital, but to struggle on for 24 hours with a life threatening injury without any medical care.

The second mystery came in two parts: the first about an old woman who thinks she sees ghosts, which would be a weak storyline in any context, the second about Polly’s deceased mother having had an affair, which would only be interesting if the audience were engaged with Polly’s character. But we’ve only seen one prior episode featuring Polly. The long scenes exploring her feelings about her family are unearned, and boring to an audience who doesn’t care about her except in relation to Jonathan.

The explanation for that latter mystery really pushed credibility. ‘Believe it or believe it not,’ the friend of Polly’s mother said, before revealing that the whole situation had been set up by Polly’s mother in order to fool her husband into thinking she’d had an affair with another man. That is just not, in any way, believable human behaviour. You are on your death bed and your last wish is for the person you love most in the world to spend his remaining years thinking you cheated on him? Maybe I’m looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t remember Jonathan Creek being this ridiculous.

Jonathan Creek SherlockThis episode introduced a new character, a wannabe detective who followed Jonathan around, and who was deliberately based on the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes, in a little dig at that other detective show. That is a very risky thing to do. A joke or two here or there about Sherlock would have been fine, but to devote an entire character to mocking another show risks people drawing comparisons, and Jonathan Creek doesn’t come off well when placed side-by-side with a show that, even with the poor third series, is better than this show has ever been.

Bits and pieces of the episode were okay though. I liked the little kid with the imaginary friend horrifically killed by an imaginary dragon, running around carving ‘R.I.P’ in everything, with her mother trying to explain it away as her carving part of her name: ‘Ripley.’ And the upside down painting was a neat trick.

The episode had more missteps than high points though. It lacked any interesting conflict, had nothing that reached out and grabbed your attention, and had, for a mystery show, an unforgivable lack of intrigue. And that’s what happens when you reveal the truth behind one of your show’s mysteries in the first 15 minutes and devote the other to developing a character nobody cares about. ‘I think I’m just getting old,’ Jonathan said at one point. This is the fifth series of Jonathan Creek, and we have another two episodes to find out if those words apply equally to the show as it does to the character.

Random notes:

  • The hanging scene had a really inappropriate mix of comedy and ghastly shock horror.
  • A box to be destroyed after someone’s death without being opened? I was sure it was going to be porn.
  • The Sherlock piss take was a little funny – talking about the elongated giant suspected of being the murderer, and the mimicking of that show’s flashy directing – but they dragged it out to much.
  • The Mystery of the Yellow Room is a real story. You can read it online. I highly recommend it.
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3 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: The Letters of Septimus Noone review

  1. “Maybe I’m looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t remember Jonathan Creek being this ridiculous.”

    I’m pretty sure Johnathan Creek was *always* that ridiculous. For example (spoilers):

    – Woman impersonates twin sister after said sister’s tragic death, and nobody notices for two decades, even her husband
    – Man with fear of time shares identity with former business partner
    – Serial killer’s ponytail is mistaken for coonskin cap
    – Man commits suicide because sandfly lands on piece of paper, he mistakes it for a comma, causing him to misconstrue good news as bad news
    – Career housebreaker convinces temporarily amnesiac author that he is her husband
    – Woman with potentially fatal concussion hides in newly delivered cupboard, dies of aneurism

    I didn’t mind the Colombo-style mystery, because since series 3 at least the mysteries have been so tortuous that it has been basically impossible to work them out at home (at least two of the specials have a solution of the form “house in which mystery takes place contained obscure and unrealistic historical deathtrap which has remained working for decades or indeed centuries.”

  2. Yes, just not very entertaining…. I found the whole thing a bit tedious and the most serious flaw, I think, is the obvious lack of ‘chemistry’ between Alan Davies and Sarah Alexander. One of the best things about the show, previously, has been the ‘banter’ between Jonathan and his ‘sidekick’ – Sheridan Smith, in particular, suited the role very well!

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