Earlier this evening, I was feeling somewhat tired when I happened to remember a comment on my latest “Sherlock” review which recommended the “Jonathan Creek” Christmas special.
From the description and a few other things I’d read online, I was very curious about the show (curious enough to order some DVDs of it when I saw that they were going cheap online) and then I remembered that there was still an episode of it on the BBC’s iPlayer.
I’d originally planned to watch the first few minutes of “Daemon’s Roost” just to see whether the show was anything like what I imagined it would be like, but I ended up watching the whole thing. All ninety minutes of it. So, I thought that I’d review it.
This review contains some SPOILERS.
“Daemon’s Roost” begins with a wonderfully melodramatic 1970s Hammer Horror-style trailer for a film about someone called Jacob Surtees who used evil magic to murder men by levitating them into a fiery portal, whilst forcing their lovers to watch helplessly.
In the present day, the director of this film is an old man who is dying and has summoned his stepdaughter and her husband to his old mansion in order to tell them something important. The old mansion where Jacob Surtees used to live in the 19th century….
Meanwhile, Jonathan Creek and his wife Polly are moving into a new house in the countryside. There’s still a lot of stuff from Johnathan’s old house to be sorted through, a local scarecrow-building competition, an eccentric vicar and a paroled criminal who is out to get revenge on Jonathan.
Following a series of strange events at the mansion and a near-miss with the criminal, Johnathan and Polly end up retreating to the mansion to investigate….
One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is an absolutely perfect blend of old-school horror, eccentric comedy and Sherlock Holmes-style detection. In other words, it fits into three of my favourite genres! Ok, there wasn’t anything from the cyberpunk genre in there, but it was still one of the best modern TV shows I’ve seen for a while.
Imagine a cross between James Herbert’s “Haunted”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Musgrave Ritual” and …something else (I’m not sure what)… and that would be a good description of the atmosphere of this episode. The horror-based scenes are genuinely suspensful. The detection-based scenes are well-thought out and filled with interesting deductions and fiendish schemes.
The comedy in this episode is slightly on the subtle side, but it not only will make you smile at least a few times, it also gives this episode a uniquely quirky atmosphere too. Plus, there are also a few brilliantly cynical moments of dark comedy in this episode (such as a laugh-out-loud scene involving delayed funeral directors, and a body’s temporary resting place).
In terms of the characterisation in this episode, it’s surprisingly good. Although I haven’t seen any other episodes of “Jonathan Creek” at the time of writing, there was enough characterisation to ensure that the episode wasn’t confusing. Many of the characters are realistic enough to be believable, but eccentric enough to be interesting. Whilst Jonathan Creek might be a genius detective, he also seems like the kind of person who you might find drinking cider in an old pub on a saturday afternoon.
The best supporting character by far probably has to be the vicar. Whether he’s trying to conduct an exorcism (whilst receiving instructions by phone) or talking enthusiastically about random subjects, he manages to be authentically vicar-y (if this is even a word), whilst also being gleefully irreverent and enthusiastically eccentric at the same time.
As for the mystery itself, some parts of it are a little bit contrived – but this is done in a knowingly theatrical way that is reminiscent of 1950s American horror comics or some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more unusual detective stories (like “The Problem Of Thor Bridge”). Plus, there is a logical explanation for every strange thing that happens in this episode. Something the writers of the BBC’s “Sherlock” series could learn a thing or two from! Best of all, there are even a few red herrings and hidden clues too.
Likewise, one part of the ending has a surprisingly Holmesian touch to it, when Jonathan actually decides to let the culprit go (since he didn’t entirely disagree with the crime and also feels guilty about not preventing it when he could have done). But, in a stroke of genius, this scene is also slightly played for laughs too.
Jonathan, Polly and the vicar go to all of the trouble to set up a meeting with the culprit in a fancy restaurant. There’s even a vaguely Agatha Christie/Conan Doyle-like scene where Jonathan explains how and why the crime was committed. And then everyone just kind of shrugs and lets the culprit go becacuse, they’re just four people sitting in a restaurant and.. well.. what else are they going to do? Cause a scene? This scene is both theatrical and realistic at the same time, and it is hilarious!
All in all, I really loved this episode. I’m honestly surprised that I’ve never watched an episode of this show before, despite hearing about it occasionally. This episode contains so many brilliant things – ominously creepy horror, distinctive characters, Holmesian deductions and quirky comedy. This is an episode that manages to be both brilliantly stylised and brilliantly realistic at the same time. It’s brilliant!
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.