‘Jonathan Creek’ special review: ‘Daemons’ Roost’ is the best the show’s been in years

[To the tune of the show’s ‘Danse Macabre’ title sequence…]

‘Jonathan Creek, Jonathan Creek;

In recent years his show has been quite weak.

The quality’s begun to leak;

Is this one much better? Let’s take a peek…’

Well, Jonathan Creek‘s 2016 Christmas special, ‘Daemon’s Roost’, is neither festive, nor particularly special but it is the best that the show has been in recent years. Although if you recall ‘The Sinner and the Sandman’ you’ll know that that’s not a particularly high bar to vault.

Much like the Christmastime it has nothing to do with, ‘Daemon’s Roost’ is a mixture of pleasures and annoyances, none of them new to the show. It’s an episode that shows both the delights of the programmes in its ’90s heyday as well as the bad habits its fallen into in recent years.

It begins with great entertainment and promise, as a 1960s Hammer Horror style trailer plays, featuring Vincent Price-type Nathan Clore (Ken Bones, aka The General in Doctor Who), introducing a schlocky shocker. I’ll bet the Thrupenny Bit from my Christmas pud that David Renwick has, at some point, seen the utterly terrible ‘tits n’ gore’ Italian horror film, Bloody Pit of Horror. Or, if not, then at least the trailer for it, because it’s such a fine imitation of Euro-horror and the Hammer style.

It’s a great way to open the show. By the time Danse Macabre’s finished playing it looks like it’s going to go hard on the horror and the grand guignol. Certainly the TV guide synopsis sounds like it’s going to be a bloody thrill every minute, minus the boobs, with talk of ‘sinister twists’, ‘gruesome rituals…frighteningly revived’, and ‘horrifying consequences’. That’s the kind of purple language you expect to see on a Hammer Horror poster.

But, as it has done in its recent weaker episodes, Jonathan Creek takes a thrilling macabre mystery and then surrounds it with too much fiddle-faddle. An episode that could be a tight, intriguing hour is a bloated feature-length 90 minutes, as stuffed with as much filler as the scarecrows in that odd parochial cul-de-sac of subplot.

The flashbacks to Jonathan’s childhood, and the reveal that he had an older brother (in an alternate reality, probably in between reporting about President Hillary Clinton and Bowie’s next album, BBC One is airing another episode of Terry Creek) might actually make for a good episode themselves when parcelled up at the heart of a story but here they feel like something to pass the time while Jonathan is throwing his history into a skip at the orders of his wife Polly.

Oh Polly.

Chronically underwritten to the point of uselessness, Sarah Alexander is again left stranded to react to things and be part of a truly tasteless joke about picking cotton. How the hell did that make it into the shooting script, let alone the final edit?

None of this is Sarah Alexander’s fault, at all. She does the best with the little she’s given. But without any agency of her own, Polly is resigned to nagging Jonathan about putting the first three seasons of the show in the big skip, being Creeksplained to, and watching her husband BURN A MAN TO DEATH.

Oh. Yes. That’s a bit odd, seeing Jonathan technically kill a man in a furnace. Last time he was in a truly life-threatening scenario he managed to do a quality bit of escapology by throwing a playing card. It was ‘The Three Gamblers’, the final episode of Season 3, the final featuring Caroline Quentin’s Maddie, and very much the end of an era.

Remember it? The show’s keen you do: Warwick Davis’s Rev. Wendell Wilkie – who’s so broadly drawn he could’ve been played by anyone – mentions it as if he’s just re-watched it on DVD, as he drops by to recall the good old days and inform you that he’s got some buttons to shit out later.

Here’s what’s lovely and weird and aggravating about this Creek: it’s keen to remember its past only then to lug it into the skip and move on. It brings back Alister Tyree, the murderer from the ‘House of Monkeys’, only to shove him in a box. It puts the Duffle Coat on Jonathan but it’s only in flashback.

But god help me, this is still Jonathan Creek, a drama that began so long ago that it feels antiquated compared to current mystery/crime dramas, and yet I still have time for it, even if it’s not time well spent. It’s woefully out of its time but struggling on nonetheless, given some reprieve simply because it’s almost defiantly unlike its murder-mystery counterparts. It’s like a lot of old, worn things; you can’t bear to part with it out of reasons of pure nonsensical sentiment. That’s especially apt at Christmas. If we still eat sprouts and turkey, we’ve got time for Creek.

As Christmas Specials go it’s no ‘Black Canary’ or ‘Satan’s Chimney’, but it isn’t a complete turkey either. It has all the hallmarks of what makes Jonathan Creek keep creaking on.

Alan Davies, now doing a perfect impression of Alastair McGowan doing an impression of Alan Davies, remains the master of starting to talk only then to stop mid sentence and go ‘of course’. There’s a big spooky house. The central puzzle is thankfully neither too outlandishly unbelievable nor too guessable.

It’s not the show returning to its best, but this is an episode that proves there is some life still left in Creek. It just needs to bring in a strong female voice, and for no episode to be longer than an hour. And maybe to be shown just after Doctors on a weekday afternoon.

Will it be back? In the past few years I’ve believed that every episode that’s aired will be the last. But after ‘Daemon’s Roost’, I’m hoping this won’t be.

Because this proves there’s still some life in Jonathan Creek; the biggest mystery is just whether the show can find the rest of it again.

Aired at 9pm on Wednesday 28 December 2016 on BBC One.

Buy the complete Jonathan Creek box set on Amazon here.

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