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Jonathan Creek: Daemons' Roost

"Revenge is sweet and not fattening."
- Alfred Hitchcock
After an hiatus of five years, Jonathan Creek returned to the small-screen nearly eight years ago with an entertaining and promising New Years special, The Grinning Man (2009), which received irregular followups in the succeeding years – culminating in a short season consisting of three episodes in 2014. Sadly, the quality of these episodes and specials left a lot to be desired.

The Judas Tree (2010) was an abomination of an episode and represents an all-time low in the series. Yes, some of the poorest and mediocre episodes, such as The Seer of the Sands (2004) and Gorgons Wood (2004), were definitely superior to whatever that atrocity was. It was a potential series-killer. There was a gap between The Judas Tree and the next Easter special, The Clue of the Savant's Thumb (2013), which was, regardless of some imperfections, an improvement on its predecessor and everyone seemed to assume the tone was set for the first regular, if short, season since the 2003-04 series – which included the excellent The Tailor's Dummy (2003). Oh, boy, where we wrong!

Jonathan & Polly Creek

David Renwick gave his series and detective-character a thorough makeover: Jonathan Creek shed his duffle coat, moved out of his iconic windmill, stopped working for Adam Klaus and was married off to Polly. Admittedly, this reinvigorated the comedic element of the series and gave the stories a dynamic, somewhat, similar to the wisecracking, mystery solving couples from the 1930-and 40s.

Unfortunately, the plots of these three episodes were either very slight (The Letters of Septimus Noone, 2014), boring and uneventful (The Sinner and the Sandman, 2014) or just average (The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, 2014). So this highly anticipated season quickly turned into a huge disappointment and seemed to be universally hated, even Alan Davies appeared to be bored, which looked as if the series had finally reached the end of its lifespan – ending, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Surprisingly, the story of Jonathan Creek did not end with those three episodes.

Last year, a brand new Christmas special was announced, entitled Daemons' Roost (2016), which impressed me as Renwick's mea culpa for the aforementioned episodes. The special still had some problems with plot, pacing and padding, but it was an improvement over its immediate predecessors. And the story was also written as potentially a final performance for Creek and Polly. It was an introspective story, with a glimpses of Creek's childhood and references to previous cases, but who knows, maybe there will be another holiday special this or next year. But, for now, lets take a gander at the latest one.

Daemons' Roost is the name given to a creepy, decaying mansion, which had once belonged to Sir Jacob Surtees, "a heartless nobleman of dark Satanic powers," who had his private chamber of horrors – where he chained women to the floor and forced them to watch a devilish magic trick. They would see how an invisible force plucked their loved from a cage and fly them through the air into a huge, burning furnace!

A charming homestead to raise a family. Or so a director of "cheesy horror movies," Nathan Clore, assumed when settling down there with his wife and three stepdaughters, but the place soon becomes a house of mourning. One after another, Clore's wife and two of her daughters passed away under mysterious circumstances. So Clore decides to pack up and send away the third one, Alison, who is left with "fifteen years of nightmares" and childhood memories of secretly overhearing the source of mothers fears – a creature known as “the hobgoblin.” After all these years, Clore has summoned Alison and her husband back to the home, to tell her what happened to her mother and sisters all those years ago, but, once again, tragedy struck. Clore suffered a crippling aneurysm and is now unable to communicate.

One hell of a trick!

So, while the story at the mansion slowly progresses, Creek was able to finally sell the windmill and the place had to be cleared out. As long-time viewers remember, the place was stuffed to the rafter with stage props, vintage theatrical posters and magic tricks, but also childhood mementos. We learn for the first time Creek had a brother, Terry, who's responsible for kindling an interest in magic and wonders. But these are not the only memories stalking Creek.

One of his biggest fans, Rev. Wendell Wilkie, tells him that the murderer from The House of Monkeys (1997) was released from prison, but "the monster in his breast is vanquished." Well, not entirely true, as he can be seen stalking Creek throughout the episode with a sharp knife in his hands.

We also learn of a so-called untold case, "The Striped Unicorn Affair," which took place six years ago and had Creek acting as consulting detective in a poisoning case. The wife of a research chemist, Stephen Belkin, had been receiving threatening letters, signed "Anti-Money," which unsettled her and precautions were taken – securely locking and bolting the bedroom door and windows. One night, they took "a brand-new sealed bottle of mineral water” with them, but the glass she poured for herself, somehow, contained poison. And not a trace of it was found in the bottle or his glass of bedside water. So, naturally, the police arrests him on suspicion of having killed his wife, but Creek figured out how a third party could have introduced poison inside the locked and bolted bedroom.

By the way, the flashback shows Creek in his old, trademark duffle coat, which was a nice little nod to the past! Anyhow...

The poisoning trick was not bad, clever even, but there was a single objection against Creek's original explanation and perception of the case. One that could have been smoothed over with the introduction of a simple coaster. After all, when there's a coaster on the table, you're very likely to place your glass or mug on it without a second thought. Just saying.

Old-School JC

In any case, this old poisoning case is connected to the problems going on at
Clore's mansion: Stephen Belkin remarried and his second wife is Alison. So, remembering Creek helped out her husband, she contacts him, but he's unable to prevent a second, baffling impossibility. Alison and Stephen are taken from the home, to the mysterious chamber from the local legend, where Alison sees how figure, dressed in a red, uses magic to pull Stephen from a cage in the wall and make him fly through the air – straight into a burning furnace. Honestly, I loved the grand simplicity of this seemingly impossible situation, which is, somewhat, in the same tradition as Satan's Chimney (2001) and The Grinning Man. And for all his flaws, Renwick really knows how to handle such type of tricks.

Well, that being said, Daemons' Roost is far from perfect: the padding of the plot is murderous to the pace and you can nitpick a thing or two about the overall story. One of them is how the culprits seem to scheme like a bunch of incomprehensible comic-book villains and some viewers will probably have reservations about how Creek was (forced) to dispose of one of them. Or why Creek pretty much threw away his entire childhood. Some of that stuff impressed me as the last tangible memories about his (dead?) brother. But the plot was still miles removed from being the mess that was The Judas Tree nor was the story as sleep inducing as The Sinner and the Sandman. A bit padded and drawn out? Yes. But nowhere near as bad as some past episodes.

So, to cut a long review short, I was not disappointed about Daemons' Roost. Not one of the best in the series, but also far from the worst. I'm glad the series (potentially) ends with this one instead of the previous three episodes.

4 comments:

  1. I think we felt similar about this. I think the base mystery (the magic killings) was a neat trick, the atmosphere reminded me of earlier stories and I did like the Polly interactions (Jonathan talking about his past makes more sense with his wife than any of his earlier assistants), but man, this episode suffered heavily from uninspired padding. Had this been the length of a normal episode, it would've been great. Now it takes ages for the plot to really get going, and even then it's filled with elements that don't really work out well ("The oven incident"). I did like the poisoning trick + resulting hint a lot, but because it's presented as a flashback, a lot of information is withheld which makes it a bit hard to swallow.

    Overall, I'd say it's a more tightly constructed story than earlier specials (which suffered very much of random subplots), and I thought this special was more entertaining on the whole than series 5, but I can't really talk about this special without adding a lot of 'buts'.

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    1. You know what else would've made this a great story? A two-parter, both the length of a normal episode, which would, firstly, explore "The Striped Unicorn Affair." It would end with the viewers getting a hint that Creek got it completely wrong. That way, the second episode can do more justice to all of the good bits from Daemons' Roost (i.e. the magic killings).

      But, yeah, lots of "buts" about this special.

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  2. Great review, and glad you were mainly positive about it! Much the same feelings for me too about the episode, and I also thought of the coaster idea! Would have made it much more solid. Although I still thought the solution and it's subsequent subversion was neat.

    I agree with Ho-Ling as well that sharing his past with Polly was more believable, and I felt that I believed a little more in this grown up, moving on Creek than I did in the rushed series 5. A fitting end I thought, but we shall see I guess!

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    1. Who knows? The special was definitely written as a potential gate closer on the series, but the BBC might commission a new special for next Christmas or Easter 2018.

      Funny you had the same idea about the coaster, but then again, we're probably not the only ones.

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