Jonathan Creek review: The Clue Of The Savant's Thumb

Review Rachel Bowles 2 Apr 2013 - 10:03

Rachel takes a look at the Jonathan Creek Easter special. Here's her review of The Clue Of The Savant's Thumb...

This review contains spoilers.

The Clue of the Savant's Thumb

After a three year hiatus, the duffle coat-wearing illusionist-cum-super sleuth returned to our screens for a ninety-minute Easter special entitled The Clue of The Savant’s Thumb. Only he wasn’t wearing a duffle coat, and he isn’t an illusionist anymore. Hang on, am I watching the correct programme? Joey Ross, once again played by the brilliant Sheridan Smith, is similarly baffled to discover that Creek has hung up his trademark coat (literally, we discover), married Polly (Sarah Alexander), and become the head honcho at a city advertising firm.

Predictably though, Creek is lured back to his deducing ways by a baffling murder mystery whereby Franklin Tartikoff (played by Nigel Planer), a writer, producer, political campaigner and all-round polymath is seen dead in a locked room by two witnesses; his adopted daughter Fariba who has fainted inside the room upon discovering the grisly scene, and his wife Rosalind, played by Joanna Lumley who is positioned outside the door until it is broken down by her ‘friend’ Doctor Peter Churchill, only to discover that the body has disappeared.

If that wasn’t enough to whet Mr Creek’s appetite, Rosalind herself is caught up in a mystery from her school days in the 1960s, her guilty conscience is tormenting her after the sudden death of a school friend found in their dormitory with a mysterious red ring on her forehead and no obvious cause of death. Fifty years later, Roaslind attends the funeral of an old school friend only to have the tragic events of her school days come back to haunt her.

The Clue of The Savant’s Thumb is the first Jonathan Creek one-off special in three years, and for me, is certainly the best there has been since The Black Canary, the one-off Christmas Special from 1998. A much darker and more chilling mystery than Creek audiences have been treated to in recent times, The Clue of The Savant's Thumb aired at 9pm, exactly the time Jonathan Creek should be aired to allow for post-watershed jump scares, gory deaths and chilling discoveries - all of which this episode had in abundance.

Having referenced The Black Canary, I can’t go much further without mentioning the long awaited return of Detective Inspector Gideon Pryke, played by the superb Rik Mayall. Gideon Pryke, we learn, was rendered paralysed from the neck down by a sniper rifle a few years before, he does however still have the use of his right index finger, enough to be able to still put his gifted deduction skills to good use. We're fifteen years on and Jonathan Creek now has earned the DI’s trust and respect which although admirable, does lead to a slightly lacklustre relationship between the two and not the humorous and dynamic intellectual rivalry audiences might be expecting. Similarly, DI Gideon Pryke doesn’t have a great deal to do on this occasion as the mantle of ‘challenger’ to Jonathan Creek’s observational prowess has been somewhat taken by Joey Ross, who is more than capable at keeping up with Creek.

The two main mysteries themselves are wonderfully intertwined whilst at the same time maintaining a level of simplicity from the outset that really encourages the audience to feel they could solve this puzzle if they put their minds to it. This is a refreshing change from the previous two specials (The Grinning Man and The Judas Tree) which had mysteries so complex and far-fetched, that not only were you a million miles from unravelling them, but you felt slightly cheated by technological feats and wizardry when all was revealed. The two main murder mysteries this time around felt more like the Jonathan Creek of series two, where the clues were under your nose whilst also being just out of reach. A testament, I feel, to the writing and direction of David Renwick who himself makes a brief appearance at the start of this episode as the interviewer on television.

My only criticism of the plot, and it's a small one at that, is that it seemed to suffer slightly from ‘additional ending’ syndrome. At the point where the two main mysteries had been unravelled, we were treated to a slightly clumsy extra puzzle involving Franklin Tartikoff and his production of a satirical parody of a conversation at Whitehall, so realistic in its staging that the upper echelons of state have decided it is a threat to government and should be destroyed. Despite one or two minor hints earlier on about missing finger prints and data discs, the last fifteen minutes felt somewhat tacked-on and out of sequence when compared to the rest of the drama, culminating in a surreal hostage scene in an offline editing suite. A small criticism as I say, but it left me feeling that the either the whole thing needed to be half an hour longer in order for that additional mystery to have had some leg room, or it could have been removed completely to save us having to watch a government hitman with no hair use a comb, just to point out the fact he has a comb, and it makes a noise a bit like that one you heard earlier. You remember? It was about an hour ago.

This aside, The Clue of The Savant’s Thumb was a fast-paced, chilling Jonathan Creek mystery which pulls the rug out from under you right from the word go. There were brilliant and humorous performances from Sheridan Smith and Alan Davies with a fantastic supporting cast of Nigel Planer, Joanna Lumley, and Rik Mayall, the sum of which makes you feel like this Easter special really is special, and certainly has left me excited and optimistic about the news of three more Jonathan Creek episodes to be produced in the Autumn of 2013.

Read Rachel's interviews with Alan Davies, Sheridan Smith, David Renwick and Rik Mayall, here.

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I love Jonathon Creek, but this was terrible. Would a daughters reaction to finding her father decapitated by a chainsaw really be to scoop up the head and try to use it to fool her mother that god exists? Really? What sort of mentalist god is she trying to push?

Alan Davies looked bored through the whole thing, and his marriage made no sense. Is Creek meant to be happy with his new life? He looked miserable - his only reaction to seeing his wife with a gun in her mouth was a slight sigh. And would the British government really go on a murderous rampage over obviously faked footage of Tony Blair? Again, really?

The only good bits were the lines 'I can't do November as I'll be dead by then', and the sub plot in the convent had some nice mysteries; should have gone more that route. The whole scarecrow/head thing was cheap and enormously disappointing.

Also, how did Rik get his chair up all those stairs?

I agree completely with this review. This was an absolutely brilliant special almost as good as my favourite episode Black Canary. The mystery was brilliant and had a wonderful conclusion. The humor was great with solid performances all round. Yes it was a bit silly but the series has never taken itself very seriously and I've seen episodes with a lot more outlandish plot. Having not watched JC for so long I completely forgot what a fantastic show it is and just how much fun it is to watch. I atcually cheered very loudly when Creek took out the duffle coat. However I do agree the ending felt tacked on and for me there is something very wrong with a Jonathan Creek finale set in a high rise office building rather than a Victorian mansion. But otherwise absolutely brilliant! Just hope we get to see the windmill again and Adam Klaus. I really missed those two even though it made sense for them not too be there. Maybe in the other three episodes. Finger crossed.

Spoilers below.

Overall an improvement on the last special, The Judas Tree, but nowhere near as coherent or watchable as it was at its peak. Ever since the fourth series JC has had a serious problem with establishing motives for the "impossible" crimes. This particular episode had no discernible motive whatsoever for the vanishing trick beyond the desire to give someone a "mystical" experience. There simply was no reason not to just call the police after the accident which led to it. The "Cove"/"Coven" thing was blindingly obvious, the Quiet room mystery ditto. The conspiracy plot which was chucked in at the end was simply idiotic and clearly just there so there was a legitimate bad guy to deal with. At any rate, it reminded me in a bad way of the Spearfish episode, similarly tacked on and unguessable, which is a sin in this kind of story.

There were good one liners and little references, no one reviewing seems to have noticed a subtle one: Creek says something about the mysterious meetings and possible devil worshipping as being the locals going "all Wicker Man": as it turns out, the solution to the Circles on the girls faces is very Wicker Man: if you were thinking of the remake involving bees!

What next for JC? I would love to see a straight adaptation of "The Three Coffins" or the Judas Window, obviously they might need rewriting a little bit to update them, but it would be nice to see John Dickson Carr finally recognised as the true author of JC, and a glossy version of The Three Coffins is well overdue.

"Joey Ross, who is more than capable at keeping up with Creek." - would this be the same Joey Ross who managed to work out a cypher after Creek had? That's not keeping up, that's trailing behind.

Completely agree, it was awful. Badly structured, badly directed, appallingly stupid last 15 minutes, just dreadful. DofG you're being far too kind.

Very enjoyable episode, although with the utterly unnecessary subplot as you mentioned. Creek's marriage is an interesting development, although crying out to be properly explored. I'm grateful we'll get at least 3 more episodes with a proper chance to develop it.

Really? I thought it was completely awful. If you found your father accidentally decapitated would you seriously proceed to make a dummy of him and then stick the head on top? Or is it just me? And the sub plot of the school girls' death was baffling. What was the point of it? The whole programme was ridiculous and contrived.

The marriage idea could be very useful,if there prove to be problems around Sheridans availability in the future.I would expect Renwick to use her character to involve Jonathan in future mysteries.It's about time we saw some evidence of development in Jonathan considering how long Renwick has been writing him now.Hope Rik Mayall's character returns again to,as i thought he did a great job.All the creepy visuals of trees branches tapping windows and deteriorating statues were very Moffatesque.

Really surprised by this review. For me (and many others judging by Twitter last night) it was one of the worst Jonathan Creek episodes ever. Just made no sense whatsoever (just call an ambulance if an accident happens - why would your mum seeing him die be better??!!) and had many plot holes. (One example being a clue found by a text containing Circles with a capital C but then it was found to have been corrected by predictive text from Cerces, so it would have been corrected to circles with a small c....therefore no clue here) If they are making more, they better be written to a much higher standard than this...don't know how it made it on to air???

I thought it was utter crap too. I could not believe half the stupid things they did. Who could throw shoes out of a window like that, and then have them land EXACTLY like they did in the mud up against the wall. That was a bit convenient. The fact that the girl had time to run around with no one noticing and hide everything before the police arrived.
Then there was the chainsaw. I have stripped down and repaired three chainsaws over the last five years. There is no way that one bolt coming un done would release the entire blade and chain.
The chain runs around the long blade in a groove. If it came off from the drive in one piece it would stop turning more or less at once. OR the chain blade would fall out of its guide on the track and drop off...etc etc.
But in this show it manages to come off, still turning around on the blade , even though its not being powered by anything, fly through the air, and provide power enough to chop off a mans head.
It was just stupid. That's just my practical example. Phil is right in his comments about the daughter too. Never mind the idiots believing faked footage of Tony Blair or Rik M. and his amazing spring loaded screen etc...

Far too generous, and to compare it to the sublime Black Canary is madness. While I agree the mechanics of the tricks were nicely grounded, any semblance of reality was lost with the motivations behind the crimes themselves which were absolutely nonsensical. Creek has always been far-fetched, but this was a complete mess.

The episode fell apart badly when it hit the hour mark and never recovered. A huge shame, as the first 45 minutes were intriguing and the tricks themselves were fine. But Renwick clearly paid too much attention to that, and not enough to coming up with logical reasons why these tricks would be used. The thinking process of the adopted daughter and the government agents being particularly barking mad.

At its best, this show can be truly outstanding. But this was sub-series 4 quality and, like too many recent episodes, full of too many unanswered questions.

It was truly terrible in every way, now i remember why I never watched it, a waste of 90 minutes of my life, shame on you bbc.

I ruined this one for myself and others.. The moment i saw the body i instantly shouted out "i bet thats a bodyless head".

To be fair, they did establish that the chainsaw was tampered by the "government agents" or whoever they were supposed to be. Not much considering I thought the Blair bit was complete nonsense, but I'd imagine if tampered with in the right way, a chainsaw could be made to do that with considerable effort.

I have mixed feelings about this episode to be honest, the mysteries were reasonably solid, but the motivations weren't even close to being grounded in reality. And the whole cover up sub-plot was just pointless, degrading what was a decent episode to me into a complete farce.

I don't think Rachel Bowles was watching the same programme. It was really poor. Who tried to strangle Sheridan Smith, and unfortunately, failed?
I missed The Murdoch Mysteries for this...

Oh dear. Ok look. I did say I had repaired them. I know how they work. I know its a bit like nit picking but there is no way it could have done what it did. Even if it was tampered with by the X MEN it could still not have done it.

Here is why -

The blade is a solid piece of metal a long oval that BOLTS onto the body bracket of the engine of the saw. It has at least 4 bolts. They are all covered by the outer cowling of the saw and are not visible to be touched. You have to strip the cowling and safety covers off first to even see them. Some models have more than 4 bolts.

In Jonathan Creek we only saw one nut / bolt unscrew on the outside of the saw.

The actual blade runs around the outer circumference of the saw BLADE in a groove and is kept tight by a tension mechanism so it cant drop out of the groove or come loose. There is a lubrication device that drips oil into the blade groove to let it slide freely all the time as well. It cant just slip off the blade etc.

When the engine is revved up and running the saw blade slides quickly round the groove. The minute you let go of the throttle, or stop it, it slows right down and stops. Its part of the safety of the saw. You cant just let go of the saw and have the blade still running flat out at the speed it would be to cut down a tree.

Some models have a chain break or cut out so if the blade jams in a cut it stops at once and does not kick back or leap back out of the cut.
In Jonathan Creek the chainsaw somehow falls apart in his hands, and the blade which has the saw in its groove comes off from the engine and saw body. It then flys through the air, while not connected TO ANYTHING and still running at high speed, and chops of Nigel Planers head.

To do this all four bolts would have had to have been missing at the start. All that would happen is the saw would jam and not run at all as it would fall apart and the blade would drop out of the groove.

If by some billion to one chance it worked and came free, what would happen to the chain and the blades? They are still connected to the cogs and gearing to make them turn round remember? So the blade would fall away leaving the chain loose and rattling. That's if it managed it somehow, because it would defy the laws of physics to get to this stage.

How then does it still have power to turn the chain, on the blade as its flying through the air to cut his head of cleanly at the neck?????

Its just stupid. Idiotic and utter Rubbish.

But what do I know about it eh?

Completely disagree. Alan Davies looked completely bored throughout the entire episode. Surprised no one has mentioned the frankly incredulous moment when Rik's wheelchair went all Karate Kid on the 'bad guy'. Can anyone explain who tried to strangle Joey? Where'd they go? Why?

It was the fake policeman

Hmmm... reckon the reviewer watched a different version than I did. How far JC has fallen. The first two seasons were topnotch. Since then it has been going downhill.

This episode is essentially the same trick as the one with the person in a skeleton disguise going into a garage and disappearing. As always the tricks are done solidly, but the bits around them are sorely lacking.

I thought it was a ok episode my main issues where that it took 20+ minutes to finally see jonathan again to then learn that the things that were part of him , his coat and windmill no longe applied (granted the coat came back which was cool), I felt the cold case of the whitewax hall was ok but the reveal was rather a let down then in the 2nd mystery it felt that jonathan was rather given the answer and the last 15 minutes seemed rather pointless but overall it was a good episode

I used to love JC, growing up it was the highlight of my week. So I was more than a bit nostalgically excited by this. But really, which episode was the reviewer watching? It was really, really terrible. Almost unwatchably so. The person below who said Alan Davies looked bored throughout is spot on. He just wasn't the same character. It was like he was asleep through the whole thing.

So many completely pointless parts of the plot. Even the mystery itself was needless - he died from a chainsaw accident (or so they thought), what possible reason would there be to stage that as a mysterious disappearing death? Just call the ambulance.

Bad acting, bad story, bad reveals, bad ending... and I'm usually a positive person!

I get that you know a lot more about chainsaws than me, what I'm saying is that if we're suspending our disbelief enough that shadowy government agents are involved then it's not too much of a stretch that they replaced the chainsaw with something that would never have operated as a chainsaw, it was entirely engineered to kill the operator.

I'm saying that the whole thing was ridiculous, but once you've accepted shadowy government agents, this is no great stretch to make it a little more ridiculous.

I know, fair enough I agree. Its just that up till the last half hour or so it was all faintly grounded in reality and everything had a logical realistic explanation.

So they were going for maximum believability with some slight comedy / lightness, then all of a sudden it all went right out the window, starting with the laws of physics and practicality defying chainsaw. After that it just got so stupid. When the shadowy government agents turn up, having believed some stupid plot tape of Tony Blair etc, with actors that LOOKED NOTHING LIKE THEM, I was just going WTF?????????

Then we get Rik M smacking them in the nuts with a spring loaded wheel chair screen. It just fell apart into pieces. All of it.

That's leaving aside the stupid girl and the "hide daddies head in a globe" moment etc...it was mental.

It goes into my collection of shows that I watched that were fun to see the first time, entertaining , but made no sense and fall apart on repeat viewings, and become something you would never watch again, because in the cold light of day, its revealed to be utter crap. The Phantom Menace fits into this category etc.

i agree with you on the physics of this, ie this would never happen. but mechanically iv never come across a chainsaw where the bar is bolted to the body. it fits onto the chain tensioner, and then the side cover bolts onto the the body with TWO bolts (one on some smaller saws) which holds it all in place. never come across bolts which directly bolt the bar to the body underneath the the side cover.

Hah! That's a pretty good summary of my feelings towards it. It does remind me of what a friend said to me after watching Tron Legacy. I'd just finished saying how the plot went off at the deep end towards the end and he replied with "But, was there any point in the last hour that you weren't entertained?"

I do think there's something to be said for media that's fun to watch once.

It depends on the make, model power of the saw, and how old it is. Some are very very old, but still work fine. The last one I had to fix had never worked from new. Some workmen dumped it at the local tip! I took it away and on stripping it down, the fuel feed pipe was trapped under the engine and kinked so no fuel got through, so it would never start.
I soon sorted that out and made a bit of cash in the process. I had to laugh at the workmen trying to get it started and their mind set -
"F**K IT! Its not working lets dump it!!"
You can imagine how it went. People have no patience at all these days, and I got a brand new saw for nothing...idiots.

Yes it is fun to watch once. However it starting to become the norm with things. I have not watched RTDs Doctor Who series again since it went out and I saw it the first time. Because its all emotion / soap elements and so on. The first time I saw Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen on Doctor Who, and I was heart broken for the Doctor.

Then on watching it again it becomes a shallow , emotional rollercoaster, and you cant feel the same way about it because its lost that emotional power that it had the first time, because you have seen it.

There is no real depth to back it up.

Yet I still watch a lot of the classic series, and old films, because they had to have a good story, good characters and good acting and drama and tension to make up for the lack of effects. Its gone completely the other way now sadly.

Very poor episode. They take all the time to notice his hand wasn't in his pocket in the usual manner but fail to ask the most glaringly obvious question. If the daughter was genuine then why did she lock the door behind her and take the key out! It seemed very weak and unconvincing

Why would they even know to tamper with the chainsaw? The trick was supposed to be secret!
A truly awful episode - i just watched it on iPlayer. Every point i was going to make has already been voiced. I very nearly didn't bother as the last couple were so terrible. Wish i hadn't now!

Oh well, at least two of you (and the reviewer) enjoyed it. :-)

I suppose they'd known about the fake recording for a while and had followed him to find the best way to make it look like an accident. But then honestly, I don't know why I'm defending that plot, it was just so ridiculous.

Liked the sub-plot with the convent but the last 30min were really terrible: I do not recommend anyone under the age of 15 to watch this as my little sister got nightmares!

black canary: 'went to find god in a sugar cube'.

SO many elements/references to the black canary are foun in the clu of the savant's thumb

and each have a character of ambiguous gender

As a fan I have to agree with the negative coments or if connections of the show are reading,constructive critism.....Straightaway the locked garage episode and the Mr. Spearfish episode came to mind...Although the last 15 mins seemed pointless,it did clear up who tried to kill the stepdaughter with the statue....But my major gripe that hasn't been mentioned is why anyone would take the picture through the keyhole.....

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