Inside Television: The Letters of Septimus Noone is a magic show for Creek-Freaks

 

Which BBC detective has a cult appeal that inspires intense devotion across the globe? Despite an attitude which could charitably be described as 'anti-social', he is beloved for his lateral thinking, his off-beat good looks and the coat that’s become a trademark. Alas, the short series only appear once every few years, always leaving fans wanting more. No, not bloody Sherlock. We speak, of course, of Jonathan Creek.

This evening, the mop-headed magician’s assistant returns to BBC1 to solve another howdunnit, involving a West End play, a locked room and a grinning corpse. ‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’ is the first episode in the show’s first series for a decade, and a few things have changed since Alan Davis first donned the duffel.

He’s onto his fourth female companion, for a start. Polly (Sarah Alexander) differs from writer Maddie (Caroline Quentin) TV presenter Carla (Julia Sawalha) and paranormal investigator Joey (Sheridan Smith), in that she also happens to be Mrs Creek. The man she married is older, greyer and more reluctant than ever to solve crimes, but otherwise the show retains its gothic-lite charm. In fact the biggest change since 2004 is one which took place outside the world of the show; the success of a new BBC1 detective drama called Sherlock.

Judging by the slightly chippy Cumberbatch references in tonight’s episode, this  comparison has also occurred to Jonathan Creek writer, David Renwick. He even has Creek confronted by a Sherlock-like amateur sleuth called Ridley, whose logic-based deductions are dazzling, and, alas, completely wrong. It’s not that Renwick is in awe of his fellow Conan Doyle obsessives, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, or even in competition with them. The relationship between the two shows is much more reciprocal than that. Viewers of both might have noticed that Sherlock included its own reference to Jonathan Creek episode, ‘The Problem at Gallows Gate’ at the beginning of the last series.

Could it be that Sherlock, brilliant as it is, isn’t quite the game-changer it’s often assumed to be? The proof of this is in the phenomenal success of a third BBC detective show, which airs its third season finale next week. Death In Paradise is cliched claptrap with plots as transparent as the Caribbean sea, but neither that, nor the casting of the irritating man off the BT ads has stopped 6m+ viewers tuning in every Tuesday. Sherlock has topped 8m, but, it’s only on three times a year.

Not only is Sherlock-mania no threat to the popularity of less flashy detective shows, but in many ways it provides the perfect cultural context for the return of the modestly satisfying Jonathan Creek. Sherlock Holmes is fundamentally a show-off, whose brilliance makes Jonathan Creek look all the more ordinary by comparison. And Jonathan Creek’s ordinariness, is exactly what makes him special.

Nowt as talented as these folk

This week marks 15 years since Channel 4‘s groundbreaking drama Queer As Folk first aired. Has anything changed in TV’s depiction of gay men? Debatable. There’s no debate, however, on the phenomenal TV talent that Queer As Folk helped launch.

Writer Russell T. Davis revived Doctor Who and is soon to return to Channel 4 with Cucumber, another drama about gay men in Manchester. Craig Kelly (Vince) had a role in Corrie - surely every actor’s dream - Aidan Gillen (Stuart), was Mayor Carcetti in The Wire and Littlefinger in Game of Thrones. Charlie Hunnam has beefed up to twice Nathan’s size to star in a string of Hollywood movies. Last year he made the wise decision to pull out of the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey adaptation. So, will the cast of Sky Atlantic’s Looking be so fortunate?

CATCH UP

Jonathan Creek, Series 1, Netflix

The appeal of the series might not have changed, but Creek himself certainly has. Thanks to Netflix, you can go right back to the very first episode on Netflix and marvel at how the meek, virginal anorak-man of 1997, turned into the suave, world-weary anorak-man of today.

The Necessary War/The Pity of War, BBC iPlayer

As part of the BBC’s centenary programming, historians Niall Ferguson and Max Hastings went head to head this week to argue their view on the causes of the First World War. On Tuesday, Hastings made the case that Britain’s decision to go to war was necessary, while tonight Ferguson will use a lecture in front of a live studio audience to call it “the biggest error in modern history”. Watch them back to back for the full effect.

One Born Every Minute, 4oD

Never mind the anxious fathers, the heroic mothers or those teeny-tiny babies - the star of the latest series of One Born is midwife Lara. She takes such pride in bringing the next generation of Bristolians into the world: “Once they’ve been touched by my hands, that’s it - they’re set for life.”

The Voice, BBC iPlayer

Thanks in large part to ‘The Kylie Effect’, the ratings for the BBC’s singing contest are up on previous years, with 7.25m viewers last Saturday compared to Ant n Dec’s 6.05m. Is it Kylie’s pop-music experience and showbiz charm that viewers respond to? Or is it her impressive ability to sexy-dance, while still seated in a chair?

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