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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