"I want to go ahead of Father Time with a scythe of my own."- H.G. Wells.
I only recently learned that the missing and presumed dead Jonathan Creek series has resurfaced to hopefully redeem itself, after an ungraceful plunge into mediocre in the abysmal The Judas Tree (2010), in an as-of-yet untitled Easter special – to be filmed in early 2013. The episode was originally planned as a Christmas special, but Alan Davies' touring commitment delayed the production a few months.
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Personally, I'm as thrilled as an early 1900s shilling shocker! Jonathan Creek has always been a very hit-and-miss series and The Judas Tree represented an all-time low, illogical to the extreme and riddled with plot holes, but the show's creator, David Renwick, also penned a few solid contributions to the impossible crime genre (e.g. Jack-in-the-Box (1997) and Black Canary, 1998). And hey, if we can forgive John Dickson Carr for Patrick Butler for the Defense (1956), we can certainly forgive Renwick for The Judas Tree.
And as we eagerly await the first snippets of information on this new episode, I wanted to take a look at an older one from the second season, Time Waits for Norman (1998), which nobody seems to like except me.
To be fair, Time Waits for Norman is an unusual episode – even for Jonathan Creek! The impossibilities, up to this episode, involved tangible miracles like a body inside a sealed nuclear bunker or a murderer, dressed-up as a skeleton, vanishing from a closely guarded garage, but here it's a domestic phenomenon of a man who only does things by his watch.
Maddy's publisher, Antonia Stangerson, finds herself confronted with irrefutable proof that her husband, Norman, was in America and England around the same time! It begins when an employee of a burger joint returns the wallet of her husband, which he left behind, but that’s highly unlikely because: a) Norman is a vegetarian and b) he was in New York at the time the man says he was eating a hamburger in the city. The man's story is on the threshold of convincibility, but Norman's employer confirms that he attended an early morning meeting.
A most singular problem, if you have to believe the evidence. Norman had a mere seven hours to hop on a flight back to the UK, to apparently enjoy a burger at his leisure, and hurried back to Manhattan in time for an important meeting. Maddy becomes interested and automatically draws in Jonathan to pick Norman’s story apart. Clues vary from a photo of Norman, taken in the UK when he was suppose to be in a meeting, a cryptic note and a scald mark on Norman's foot corresponding with the story of him spilling coffee in the burger tent.
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I guess this makes it for some people a dull and unexciting story to watch, because it’s basically tearing an alibi asunder without a proper crime to go with. At least, not a legal one. The motivation behind it all was very well done, even better than the solution itself, but Renwick's biggest achievement with this episode was showing a modern crime story that integrated a completely impossible situation, crossing space and time, in a believable scenario – and understanding what makes Norman ticks is key to understanding what actually happened. It's also what made me enjoy this episode even more. Norman dreads the passing of time and as a bit of chronophobiac myself, I felt empathy for the poor sod and loved the idea that it was used as a basis for an impossible crime story.