Jonathan Creek series 5 episode 1 review: The Letters Of Septimus Noone

Jonathan Creek is back but not in the best of shapes. Here's Rachel's review of the first in a new three-episode series...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 The Letters Of Septimus Noone

The Letters of Septimus Noone marks the return of Jonathan Creek after the one off special aired over Easter 2013.

When a West End star ends up stabbed in her locked dressing room, it is up to Jonathan, his wife Polly (played by Sarah Alexander) and his overly enthusiastic young sidekick Ridley to solve the case. Unlike in previous episodes of Jonathan Creek, the machinations and devices used to pull off the stabbing are revealed straight off, along with who committed the crime and why. This leaves a small selection of less exciting cases to be solved including some vaguely saucy letters written to Polly’s late mother by a lover who seemingly was dead three years before the letters were written, and a newspaper article with a coffee ring that disappears miraculously.

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That’s it. That’s the episode.

Jonathan Creek’s long-awaited return to television after nearly a year off our screens is marked by an attempted murder shown within the first twenty minutes and some letter writing. The other stories and mysteries unravel slowly, but they lack suspense or invitation to work them out yourself which really detracts from the main draw of watching an episode of Jonathan Creek.

Sarah Alexander makes her second appearance as Jonathan’s wife Polly, however this time takes the role of female sidekick, left vacant by Sheridan Smith.  Alexander plays a very different sidekick from Smith; more in keeping with Caroline Quentin’s style – intelligent, loving and capable of her own detection and logic. Polly is slightly more cynical and determined for her and Jonathan to get a fresh start in the country away from the lure of locked room mysteries in London, an earnest intention that holds strong for all of seven minutes. Their marriage however makes a refreshing change from the ‘Will they, won’t they’ partnership style seen with his three previous sidekicks.

Unfortunately the main problem with The Letters of Septimus Noone is the writing itself. As a huge fan of writer and creator David Renwick, it pains me to say it, but the writing in this particular episode is unsophisticated with some of the key plot points so obviously signposted from the beginning, that the viewer is left desperately hoping for a red herring, or sting in the tale to hit you round the face later on, neither of which are forthcoming. It feels as though the episode is a little too tame and too contrived for its weekend BBC One prime time slot.

Weekend BBC primetime brings me on to the other unavoidable issue, that I will simply refer to as the ‘Sherlock Syndrome’. Arguably David Renwick had no choice but to reference Mr Holmes as the comparisons with the dry deductions and problem-solving ingenuity have been prevalent since Jonathan Creek returned last year. As a fan of both shows, I half expected there to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to Creek’s BBC crime solving team mate, to demonstrate to audiences that they were aware comparisons would be drawn.

What I hadn’t expected, however, was the joke to be laid on thick with a trowel in the opening fifteen minutes of the episode. Jonathan’s enthusiastic sidekick Ridley, a university student with a penchant for forensics and problem solving, bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Holmes with his dishevelled hair, long coat and fast-talking deductions. The editing team even go so far as to replicate the crash zooms into key clues and close-ups of intricacies missed by the untrained eye. The hilarious joke in this instance is that Ridley isn’t very good. His deductions are incorrect and he puts noses out of joint throughout the episode with his arrogant assumptions and declarations of how the crime was committed, all of which are incorrect.

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On paper, it is quite a nice idea, the problem in this instance is that the writing around the joke isn’t sophisticated enough to support it, so the punch line is too overt. It is the equivalent of that friend you don’t really like poking you repeatedly in the forehead through the episode and saying “D’you see? D’you see? Because they’re talking about Sherlock! Do you see? It’s so obvious, D’you see?” To play devil’s advocate, this could also be because this episode will have aired very close to the last episode of Sherlock. If there had been more space between the two, perhaps the joke would have felt a little less contrived.

My hope is that with two further episodes to come, this series of Jonathan Creek is going to find its stride and depict some more exciting mysteries, where the mechanics are not revealed at the start of the episode. There are some nice touches which I hope are developed; the great partnership between Alan Davies and Sarah Alexander being one. As an opening episode however, I was left disappointed and not on the edge of my seat as I have done with previous episodes of Jonathan Creek and… Sherlock.

Read Rachel’s review of 2013 Easter special, The Clue Of The Savant’s Thumb, here.

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