Jonathan Creek: The Judas Tree


Rating 2

Written and directed by David Renwick

Starring Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek), Sheridan Smith (Joey Ross), Paul McGann (Hugo Dore), Sasha Behar (Harriet Dore), Natalie Walter (Emily Somerton), Doreen Mantle (Mrs Gantry), Ian McNeice (Father Roderick Alberic), Florence Hall (Young Emily), Susanne Ahmet (Kim) and Stuart Milligan (Adam Klaus)

Emily Somerton is hired to help the aging housekeeper of a large house where a mysterious and still unexplained death occurred more than a hundred years previously. Emily suffers from a nervous disposition following a strange incident several years earlier when she saw a house that seemed to disappear and was then attacked by an old man slithering through the long grass in the field where the vanishing house had stood. Her state of mind is made more fragile by strange happenings in the house where she has gone to work and live and she asks self-styled psychic investigator Joey Ross for help, who in turn involves Jonathan Creek. Before long they are desperately trying to solve the puzzle and prove Emily innocent of the charge of murder.


‘Jonathan Creek’ ran for four seasons and 25 episodes on BBC1 between May 1997 and February 2004, attracting an audience as big as 11.5 million viewers. Each episode was written by David Renwick, who is otherwise best known for the often surreal sitcom ‘One Foot in the Grave’, which subverted the form with some inspired black comedy. Renwick also dramatised four episodes of ‘Agatha Christie’s Poirot’ starring David Suchet in the early 1990s, amongst his portfolio of other work.

Following a gap of nearly five years, a new episode of ‘Jonathan Creek’ was broadcast at New Year 2009, attracting an audience just shy of 10 million, and now after a further lengthy break comes another “special”, broadcast at Easter 2010, with the promise of more to come.

Jonathan Creek designs illusions for a cheesy and amoral stage magician called Adam Klaus, the only other character to have been featured in the whole of the series. Creek also solves seemingly unsolvable mysteries, placing the emphasis on discovering how something was done and not the identity of the perpetrator. Klaus is not involved in these mysteries and his presence in the series is for comic purposes. For example, in an irreverent and irrelevant sub-plot in ‘The Judas Tree’ he becomes the victim of an online prankster and is painted as a racist. Klaus is not racist; he is simply entirely self-absorbed. The role of Adam Klaus was played in the very first episode by Anthony Head, whose future involvement after that was presumably curtailed by ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Stuart Milligan assumed the role in the first episode of the second season in January 1998.

Creek’s foil was initially an investigative writer called Maggie Magellan (played by Caroline Quentin), who would quite happily lie and use dishonesty in pursuit of material for her books. She frequently involved a reluctant Creek in her investigations and they had an on-off sexual relationship. Quentin played this role in the first three seasons up to January 2000. There was no new season in 2001 or 2002, but Julia Sawalha made her first appearance in the Christmas 2001 special, playing Carla Borrego, a theatrical agent. Sawalha became a regular cast member in season four in 2003, by which time her character had married and become the presenter of a real-life crime show on television. Her husband was played by the comic actor, writer and musician Adrian Edmondson, whose frequent on-screen partner Ric Mayall had guest starred in a season two episode.

Following the five-year hiatus, Sheridan Smith made her first appearance in the January 2009 special, playing Joey Ross, and has repeated that role in ‘The Judas Tree’. Smith is probably best known for the sitcom ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’. Her other television work includes the comedy-drama series ‘Love Soup’, which was created and written by David Renwick.

David Renwick has said one of the reasons he stopped writing ‘Jonathan Creek’ after the fourth season was that it was becoming increasingly hard to think up new puzzles and mysteries for his title character to solve. His reason for bringing the character back was largely because the only other viable option was to retire, unless he attempted to create an entirely new show, something he says he does not have the energy for. ‘The Judas Tree’ does seem to indicate that his powers are waning. Although it starts quite brightly, the story never really goes anywhere and there is very little for Jonathan to ponder. Worst of all, the twisty ending is very sloppy and undefined. Jonathan does not solve the puzzle at all, although he has put most of the pieces in place, and it has to be explained to him, following which it is not entirely clear how it all ends.

Having said that, Jonathan has always been a likeable character, albeit one with a mixture of detached reticence and off-hand arrogance, and the one-time stand-up comedian Alan Davies is a perfect fit for the role, although he was not the first choice. A number of other actors had been approached and at one point Hugh Lawrie was signed to the project before Davies was eventually hired. Sheridan Smith has also, I think, proved to be a successful addition to the cast. She does, of course, have the advantage that she has not immediately succeeded Caroline Quentin and it is now ten years since Quentin left the show.

Familiarity and likeability work in favour of ‘The Judas Tree’, which is otherwise a rather weak and undistinguished addition to the list of ‘Jonathan Creek’ episodes. The symbolic significance of the Judas tree that perpetually fails to flower remains somewhat elusive.

Review posted 6 April 2010


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