For the third season (or "series," if you prefer) of "Jonathan Creek," writer David Renwick would slide further away from the locked room mysteries on which the title character thrived. And for good reason: the show was already dependent on a set formula, and rather than dry out the formula completely by rehashing the same conundrum six more times, Renwick would steer his intrepid investigators toward other mystery delights, mainly the (seemingly) paranormal.
Originally airing on the BBC from November 1999 to January 2000, the six episodes of season three provided further changes for Jonathan (still played by Alan Davies) and partner/almost-romantic interest Maddie Magellan (Caroline Quentin). Here, the duo have become moderately famous for their investigative collaborations, having co-authored a hit book on their impossible mysteries. This fame allows Jonathan to come out of his shell - he's no longer as much of a socially awkward recluse - while also allowing Renwick a broader range of excuses for Jonathan and Maddie to get involved in new adventures (as fame brings new invitations from strangers).
Not changing is the chemistry between the two stars. The will-they-won't-they aspect of the Jonathan-Maddie relationship comes to a head, although in the most wonderfully frustrating manner (perfect for the show), thus keeping the sexual tension fresh, long after it should've gotten stale. The lightness of the characters remains, with sly comedy carrying us through the heavy mystery.
And those mysteries benefit from a shift in Renwick's designs. This time out, he's not afraid to tiptoe through what appears to be "X-Files" territory: we get aliens and psychics and ghosts. Or do we?
The season starts off with "The Curious Tale of Mr. Spearfish," in which a young husband believes himself to be immortal after making a deal with the devil himself. In "The Eyes of Tiresias," an elderly lady is convinced her dreams can reveal the future. Both stories lead to predictable clarifications of real-world coincidence and trickery ("predictable" not in that we can guess the ending early, but we know Jonathan will debunk any paranormal explanations), yet even though we know where Jonathan's deductions will lead us, the journey's still plenty fun - more so thanks to lively character work that leaves the story just as intriguing without the mystery.
The two midseason episodes, "The Omega Man" and "Ghosts Forge," are the weakest of the bunch. Again, they deal in fascinating set-ups and clever character work (not to mention, in the case of "Ghosts Forge," a mystery-within-a-mystery involving Maddie's own attempts at magic), but their solutions fail them. "The Omega Man," in which an alien fossil disappears from a locked box, takes too long to get to its too obvious solution, while "Ghosts Forge" relies too heavily on a plot twist too far out of left field. In both cases, the ride is enjoyable, but the destination lacks a certain punch.
Our final stories, "Miracle in Crooked Lane" and "The Three Gamblers," both benefit from cracking head-scratchers, involving guest characters, and the right mix of eccentric humor and devilish morbidity. "Crooked Lane" is boosted by the presence of a Jonathan wannabe (Tom Goodman-Hill), which allows the show to poke fun at itself. Meanwhile, "The Three Gamblers," which involves a decomposing corpse that may have moved on its own, aims for genuine frights, and achieves them.
"Jonathan Creek" would not return to British airwaves until a Christmas special in 2001. Quentin opted not to return to the show, which has aired seven more stories sporadically ever since. Sadly, her absence leaves the series without proper closure for the Jonathan-Maddie relationship.
BBC Video collects all six episodes for their two-disc "Jonathan Creek: Season Three" release. Disappointingly, the 90-minute Christmas special from 1998, set between seasons two and three, is not included here.
The two discs are housed in a single-wide keepcase with a hinged tray. The episodes included are:
Disc One: "The Curious Tale of Mr. Spearfish," "The Eyes of Tiresias," and "The Omega Man."
Disc Two: "Ghosts Forge," "Miracle in Crooked Lane," and "The Three Gamblers."
Video & Audio
In an upgrade from the letterbox presentation of season two, season three comes to us in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality varies greatly due to source issues: daytime scenes are sharp and colorful, while darker scenes are overloaded with grain and visual muddiness. Black levels are weak throughout.
The Dolby stereo mix is adequate for a show of this sort, with clean dialogue and crisp music. Optional English subtitles are provided.
None, except for a few BBC previews that play as the discs load.
The paranormal themes show a strong desire from Renwick to avoid a batch of more-of-the-same, and while his solutions vary in enjoyability from episode to episode, the character work and the sheer sense of fun makes this third go around still quite worth it. Recommended.