Following 1990’s first series of Cluedo, later on in the same year there was a Christmas special. This episode technically had three titles. Christmas Cluedo is its onscreen title, but it was also known as Cluedo Christmas Special, and the episode itself was titled ‘Christmas Past, Christmas Present’.
Some things were unchanged from the first series. James Bellini was still presenting, and the title sequence remained pretty much the same, as did the names of the characters. The big difference however was that it was a new cast, with the title sequence now showing the new cast members. Most of the props used in the title sequence remained, but Reverend Green’s Save The Mole poster was changed to advertise the Carol Service instead.
The production values seemed noticeably higher, with the studio decorated all in red, and Arlington Grange itself looking a bit grander. The series also began to make use of computer graphics showing the Murder Cards.
The plot of the episode is that Richard Forest, the son of the judge who owned Arlington Grange before Mrs. Peacock, arrives dressed as Santa at the Grange’s Christmas dinner party, along with his chauffeur Ken. Forest gives our usual suspects wrapped present boxes, with each present wrapped in the colours each character is associated with, and each containing a murder weapon.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Kate O’Mara) has a blue present which contains a knife. Professor Peter Plum (Ian Lavender) has a purple present which contains a lead pipe. Miss Vivienne Scarlett (Toyah Wilcox) has a red present which contains a gun. Colonel Michael Mustard (David Robb) has a yellow present which contains a spanner. Reverend Johnathan Green (Derek Nimmo) has a green present which contains a bell rope. Mrs. Blanche White (Joan Sims) has a white present which contains a candlestick. Each object symbolises a past misdeed each character has done, and the reason Forest knows about them all is because he was the judge’s son.
There then follows the characters playing a Christmas game with a notebook and pencil. Detective’s notes and a pencil are often part of the equipment in Cluedo board games. If the characters were actually playing the board game Cluedo at Christmas it would be a real pop culture eating itself moment. This isn’t what happens here though, the characters have to find questions related to Christmas hidden around the house and jot down their answers.
It is announced that Ken has been murdered, but it turns out that “Ken” was actually Richard Forest the judges son, and the man claiming to be the judge’s son was actually Ken the chauffeur. They were pretending to be each other to protect the judge’s son from being murdered. However, the murderer had figured this ruse out. At the end it is revealed that the murderer is Miss. Scarlett, who in this version has already got off on a manslaughter charge. She killed Forest using a knife, intending to frame her stepmother Mrs. Peacock who had been a circus knife-thrower in the past.
It’s a little difficult to evaluate the cast and these versions of the characters as compared to the others where they have a whole series, these only have this special, and most aren’t given much to do. Miss Scarlett is given the most as she is the murderer, but Toyah Wilcox is probably the weakest member of the cast to be honest. She’s certainly a strange casting choice. I think she’s meant to be a femme fatale, but she comes off as more of an average EastEnders barmaid. Colonel Mustard is arrogant and smarmy, and is another who has probably murdered in the past. Completing the trio of characters who’ve escaped a murder conviction is Mrs. Peacock, who before reinventing herself as a lady of the manor had previously been a circus knife-thrower named Velma. She is very posh and elegant, and almost cat-like. Interestingly, the members of this trio are also the members of the usual love triangle.
Reverend Green in this version is dripping with slime, and has likely stolen money from the church funds. Mrs. White is fairly by-the-numbers, a plump cook in a polka dot dress, though I found Joan Sims to be far too hammy and over-the-top with the way she played her, even for this show. In this version, Professor Plum has a hopeless crush on Mrs. Peacock as opposed to Miss. Scarlett in series one. He looks a bit like John Major, and he his costume is a little weird, his bowtie and shiny purple jacket make him look more like a cheesy gameshow host in a sitcom than a professor.
Despite being made in the same year, this special has quite a different feeling to it from series one. The tone is a bit darker, both in the way it is lit and that the characters are more sinister. The episode has a reasonably interesting plot. Perhaps a full series with this cast might have helped them get through some of the teething problems they have here. Overall it has a stilted feel to it which makes it come off as a bit like a Comic Relief sketch. It’s fine for what it is, but it would be the first and only time the show would do a Christmas special, though three more full series were to follow.