Has Jonathan Creek lost its magic?

Is the BBC1 mystery drama as good as ever? Or has it lost its spell over viewers? Critics Ben Dowell and David Brown have their say


Alan Davies returned this evening for the first new series of Jonathan Creek in a decade – but was it a case worth solving? Two crime drama aficionados examine the evidence and come up with their own conclusions. But which verdict have you reached? Read their opinions and then cast your vote below!



I have a weak spot. I have tried to fight it, but I always give in. Yes, my name is Ben Dowell and I absolutely love a grumpy duffel coat-wearing frizzy-haired sleuth. Yes, I am addicted to Alan Davies’ Jonathan Creek and no-one telling me that he has had his day will stop me watching him as avidly as I have for the past, what is it, 17 or so years….? Blimey. I am old.

Yes I know we have just watched the first of three episodes where he has ditched his duffel coat. And the windmill is no more. And he is now married, closing off (at least for as long as Sarah Alexander’s Polly Creek lasts) the will they won’t they vibe he has had with all his assistants (Caroline Quentin, Julia Sawalha and co).  But what is this other than proof that it can move with the times?

There is nothing quite like Creek: as we have just seen. It’s a detective story without a detective; more a howdunnit than a whodunit that has all the elements of posh hokum comfort viewing we all secretly like (go on, admit it). But it’s fresh in other ways as well and has maintained its dose of – what can I call it? – original creepiness that has clearly found favour at the BBC which has brought it back after a hiatus (apparently BBC head of vision Danny Cohen is a big fan).

Yes Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock may have stolen some of its thunder but tonight’s episode showed that it could have a pop back – the spoof pastiche of the revived Holmes was a delight and showed how unafraid writer David Renwick is of taking on today’s TV big guns.

In this episode, Renwick also proved his skill at revealing the reveal at the beginning, following the Columbo-like device of watching Creek gradually work out how it was done. It was skilfully done, although I am assured that we return to the more conventional plots for the next two, and will find out what happened with one of JC’s fabulous reveals.

It may be unfashionable to like Creek, but it is a witty, original and cleverly plotted show. “We will never be the hot ticket,” Alan Davies told me at the show’s launch. “It is difficult to keep it a hit drama when you cover so long a period. You go back 17 years and you have Our Friends in the North and Paul Abbott and Russell Davies’ drama.”

And of course Jonathan Creek. A true TV great which has stayed around for a reason: it’s ruddy good, watchable fun.


Jonathan Creek could once solve any locked-room mystery, but I’m afraid it’s time to throw away the key.

There’s no denying that he’s gone from ingenious to tedious, with tonight’s case not even giving us a seemingly impossible crime to crack. Instead, we were shown all the whys and wherefores in the first ten minutes and given far too much time to dwell on the plot holes.

Nobody was behaving in the manner of actual human beings. Would anyone really receive news about the death of a close relative via text? Who takes family snapshots at the funeral of a child? Why was that security guard convinced that Creek’s wife Polly had fallen down the stairs when she’d made no noise?

And most importantly of all: why do a Columbo-style ‘open’ whodunit and not have any psychological cat and mouse tension? I’ve honestly had more thrills watching episodes of Scooby-Doo.

True, there were a few good gags from David Renwick – the Sherlock parody, for instance, taking some well-aimed pot shots at Steven Moffat’s Holmes reinvention. But the fight seemed to have gone out of the character of Creek himself. Robbing him of both duffel coat and windmill seems to be the equivalent of shaving Samson’s hair.

There’s very little chemistry between him and his missus – just five minutes in their company makes you yearn for the glory days of Maddy Magellan. And it seemed to take him an awfully long time to work out that the painting had been hung upside down. It’s never a good sign when the viewer is a few steps ahead of the sleuth.


Back in the late 90s, Creek’s charms were truly magical. A decade-and-a-half later, it feels like he should be performing his final trick.