Jonathan Creek
Series 3 and 4 Box Set

Starring: Alan Davies, Caroline Quentin and Julia Sawalha
BBC Worldwide
RRP: 44.99
Certificate: 15
Available 02 August 2004

A master of illusion, Jonathan Creek uses magical brilliance to outwit criminals and explain the unexplainable. With unorthodox methods that would make even Colombo wince, Creek embarks on a series of criminal investigations, teaming up with Maddy Magellan and Carla Borrego...

The third and fourth series of Jonathan Creek sees a dramatic shift in the on screen dynamics due to the fact that Caroline Quentin bows out as Maddy Magellan at the end of the third series and is replaced by Julia Sawalha's Carla Borrego.

Having not seen these episodes when they were originally screened, I must admit to not looking forward to the switch. Quentin and Alan Davies's characters relationship was what made this series what it was. The two worked well together and had a fantastic on-screen presense. However, I wasn't really prepared for what a fantastic job David Renwick would do in introducing Sawalha's character into the series, nor what a great job she would do of filling a very large pair of shoes.

It also helped that Adrian Edmonson was along, as Borrego's husband, to up the comedy values. And, unlike anything he's done in the past, Edmonson proves he can be a comic genius without throwing himself all over the screen, or hitting people over the head with frying pans.

Maureen Lipman, Jack Dee, Griff Rhys Jones and Rik Mayall are just a few of season three and four's guest stars - all of which put in first rate performances.

The episodes in season three and four represent a real mixed bag. Some, like The Eyes of Tiresias, have extremely clever and well thought out plots, while others, like Gorgon's Wood, seem very poorly thought out and in fact the mystery is nothing that special

Highlights of season three include:

The Black Canary, which is a double length Christmas special which stars Hannah Gordon. Creek is called in when it appears that Gordon's character has committed suicide. The mystery? A witness to the death saw her arguing with a strange man before she chased him off and then put the gun to her head. However, the ground is covered in snow and only one set of foot prints exist - that of the victim. So, who was the mysterious stranger and why did they leave no evidence behind that they had been there? This episode is one of the best in this collection, not just because of the introduction of Gordon, but also because of Rik Mayall's inspector - who injects some welcome humour.

The Omega Man is a very well conceived story with a sci-fi twist/ It's the old vanishing object from within a chained box routine. This time, the vanishing object is the body of an extra terrestrial. It doesn't matter, for once, that the solution is obvious way before the credits role, this is still a great episode.

In Miracle in Crooked Lane, the actual mystery plays second fiddle to the comedy elements. Here our duffle coat wearing clue solver is caught in the middle of a convention of Jonathan Creek fanatics. Not only do they all look like Jonathan, but at least one of them thinks he has a mind that is equally as analytical as the man himself, and insists on helping to solve the crime of a badly burned woman who appears to have made a miraculous recovery, appearing to a neighbour, before dying in her hospital bed.

The Three Gamblers is a spooky tale where a dead man appears to have climbed a flight of stairs. Although this mystery is not really one that should have been brought to Creek's attention - the murderer is already known as he handed himself in - the mystery of how a dead man climbed a flight of stairs is baffling enough. This episode also star Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf's Holly) as a slightly mad comic - which is her act in real life.

Julia Sawalha is introduced as Carla Borrego in the second Christmas special, Satan's Chimney. Apparently Sawalha's character was written in at the eleventh hour when Quentin stated she didn't want to do any more episodes. The switch is a lot smoother than I thought it would be and Sawalha's moaning, fussy character fits in extremely well. In Satan's Chimney, Creek examines the medieval practice of killing witches (by chaining them up in a special room in a strange castle). But, when a famous escapologist attempts to escape from the room he mysteriously vanishes.

The Coonskin Cap gets season four off to a good start. This sees a policewoman killed by an unknown assailant while locked in a room with no exit. I have to say that this is one of the most ingenious crimes, as well as one of the best episodes of season four.

Angel Hair stars Jack Dee as a record producer whose girlfriend, a pop star, is kidnapped. Jack Dee's performance in this episode was surprisingly good - he really should be doing a lot more acting. Sadly though, this episode is a little silly and not really up to the usual calibre.

Maureen Lipman stars in The Tailor's Dummy. This episode sees several people witness a man jump to his death in what appears to be a straight forward suicide. That is until Creek starts to investigate a little further. This is another well conceived episode with a surprising conclusion.

Other episodes in this season include: The Seer of the Sands, a very questionable episode. While it is extremely clever (you'll be confused as to how a dead man appears to be able to answer five questions and leave his message in a bottle under the sand in which the person asking the questions is sitting) but there is a slight problem with the solution to this. Without giving too much away, how did the person who wrote the note know where this person would sit? It's not as though she sat there every day; The Chequered Box, which was enjoyable but it was also the only episode that I managed to work out way before the end; and Gorgon's Wood, another episode that seemed a little pointless and poorly thought through.

The extras for this collection are a little thin on the ground and include video profiles of David Renwick, Alan Davies and Julia Sawalha; deleted scenes; and Hot Stuff pop video. Still, £45 is still great value for money for this 5 disc collection.

Amber Leigh

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