Jonathan Creek returned tonight, and joy of joys, The Letters of Septimus Noone is not a one-off, but the first episode of a short series. Jonathan Creek's investigations, devised by the witty and clever David Renwick, revived interest in the locked room/impossible crime story in the nineties, a remarkable as well as welcome feat, at a time when the form seemed long past its sell-by date. It's a marvellous example of how a gifted writer can breathe fresh life into a traditional and apparently old-fashioned form, making it seem topical and great fun all over again.
Renwick has - wisely, I think - decided that he simply could not ignore the passage of time since Jonathan Creek first appeared on our screens. So Alan Davies, as Creek, still has a female "Dr Watson", but this time he's married to her: and the dynamic is very different to the tantalising relationship he had with Caroline Quentin in the early shows. Polly Creek is the most glamorous of Watsons, played by Sarah Alexander. The job as magician's assistant, the duffel coat and the windmill-house have gone too.
Renwick's sharp humour, and love of classic detective fiction, were very much in evidence. So we had a musical based on Gaston Leroux's once-celebrated locked room mystery, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (an excellent choice bearing in mind that Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera was immortalised by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and there were several neat word games, as well as sly nods to the success of Sherlock, a show written with the same appealing blend of playfulness and intelligence.
It's very, very difficult to write a locked room mystery that translates well to television, a point which I think some of those who have criticised recent one-off Creek stories tend to overlook. Here, Renwick offered a handful of small puzzles, rather than an over-arching mystery. This meant the story felt a little fragmentary, but it didn't matter too much. Jonathan Creek remains a show that has great appeal to all fans of classic detective fiction..
(By the way, there have been some excellent comments on this post but you may wish to avoid them until you have seen the show as they include observations on the plot.)