Jonathan Creek – The Letters of Septimus Noone

James Gallagher

In the wake of the most recent series of Sherlock which, for me, was just one 270-minute long wasted opportunity, I was more eager than ever before to sink my teeth into a nice slice of light-hearted but engaging mystery drama. Who better then, to quench such a hunger for lateral thinking than duffel coat wearing ex-magician Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies), who returned to our screens for the first of a three episode mini-series on Friday evening?

Well, what a disappointment… I wanted to review Jonathan Creek because I’m a huge fan of the show but ‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’, our first hour in Creek’s presence since last Easter’s ‘The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb’, was one of the worst episodes in Creek’s illustrious 17-year history. For a “mystery dramedy”, there were three crucial elements missing; namely, mystery, drama and comedy. I haven’t been this disappointed with a TV show since Nick Hewer took over as host of Countdown and ran it into the ground…

Jonathan Creek’s modern dilemma is that it all feels tired and dated. For an hour we were forced to watch as David Renwick tried to justify his own show’s existence in the post-Sherlock World. For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought Creek was a much more accomplished show than Sherlock by the sheer virtue of its quirky originality. It gave audiences something new; it wasn’t about a professional detective or a sociopathic genius, it was about an ordinary man who just so happens to have a rather intuitive mind.

‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’, alas, was so far removed the show I love that I’ve had to assess whether or not I still even care about Davies’ floppy haired magician. Back in the nineties Jonathan Creek was brilliant. Some of the mysteries – of which personal favourites include ‘The Eyes of Tiresias’, ‘The House of Monkeys’ and ‘Black Canary’ – were utterly inspired, and Alan Davies always conveyed a morose pessimism in Creek that I found very endearing. Yet now, none of these quirks remain.

Now, “it just hasn’t been the same since Caroline Quentin left” is something you hear a lot when Jonathan Creek is discussed. It’s a vapid mantra which ignores just how great much of series 4 was (‘The Coonskin Cap’, to name but one of that series’ offerings, is a perfect example of an ingenious mystery story), though watching on Friday I began to realise just how much the show has changed. Sarah Alexander – who plays Creek’s wife, Polly – is a poor substitute for Sheridan Smith, who in turn was a poor substitute for Julia Sawahla… who was, you guessed it, a poor substitute for Caroline Quentin.

Just watch this instead…

Yet here’s the issue; I can live without Quentin. She was great but she wasn’t an integral cog in the show’s machinery. However, since Quentin left it’s as though Renwick has been on a one-man mission to dismantle the very framework around which his show was always based. The full, disastrous consequences of this were finally revealed to us on Friday. It’s not just that Quentin is no longer there, it’s also that the windmill, the duffel coat and Creek’s hilarious employer – the failed magician Adam Klaus (Stuart Milligan) – have also been done away with. On their own these things are almost inconsequential; they’re just a small fraction of what makes classic Creek so unique. However, if you strip them all away you’re left with a husk; a hollow, empty show, and one that constantly feels like it is playing catch-up with both Sherlock and its former self.

Onto the specifics, the plot of the episode revolved around two “mysteries”; neither of which were mysterious or entertaining. An actress is found stabbed in her dressing room. No-one could’ve gotten in or out of the room without being seen. It’s classic stuff, like the Creek of the good old days. Meanwhile, Polly has found a series of letters from a man named Septimus Noone which seem to suggest that her Mum was cheating on her recently deceased Dad. Jonathan is tasked with getting to the bottom of discovering who Septimus Noone is and explaining how an actress can be stabbed in a locked room.

Except – and this is the unforgivable part of the whole affair – there was genuinely no mystery! All the fun was unceremoniously ripped from the drama in the first fifteen minutes, when we got to see exactly how the actress was stabbed. That’s right! The best part of any given episode of Jonathan Creek – the rundown / explanation – was removed from the proceedings because, other than a few loose ends, we already knew how it happened! The whole point of Jonathan Creek is to baffle the audience into submission, so that when the mystery is finally solved we feel some sense of relief. Well, not anymore apparently. Oh, and as for the subplot with the letters? That was just insufferably dull.

All in all, ‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’ was a complete waste of time. Other than a mildly amusing parody of Sherlock the episode had simply nothing to offer to anybody. Davies looked bored, Alexander felt miscast and there was a distinct lack of humour, mystery and drama. With two more episodes to go this series one can only hope that Renwick was having an off-day when he wrote this particular episode because if things don’t improve drastically then it might be time for Creek to go the same way as Quentin, the windmill and the duffel coat…

What a terrible shame.

About James Gallagher

James is a film addict, a bitter misanthrope and a graduate from the University of Sheffield. Raised in Birkenhead, he is like a (very) poor man's Paul O'Grady. He has lots of opinions – almost all of which are wrong – and can normally be found reading, writing and drinking whisky. @theugliestfraud